April Fools Day: Dear brands – don’t do it

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It has become customary for brands to make hoax announcements around April Fool’s Day. Brands in the tech domain seem to do it regularly – Google has been doing this for 16 years now. The hoax seems like a natural fit for news brands too as all it takes is just another seemingly plausible article. Consumer brands have joined the bandwagon too resulting in a surfeit of such hoaxes every year. Such efforts usually involve putting out a product announcement which is either bizarre or too good to be true. The consumer is then strung along for a ride only to be revealed that it was all a joke. The consumer is then expected to have a good laugh and enjoy the ’fooled you!’ emotion which the brand conveys. Admittedly, it worked sometimes. In my view, it is time to junk such efforts. Here’s why:

Surreal news all year round: thanks to BuzzFeed, its several clones and even ’BuzzFeed-ication’ of mainstream, hitherto ‘serious’ news sites it is common to see surreal, bizarre news through the year. Some sites have dedicated sections for such news. Add satire & parody news sites, social media accounts to the mix and you have a situation where it is often hard to tell a fake news from the real one. So, an April Fool’s hoax announcement is no longer that ‘refreshing’, if that’s the word.

Consumers’ expectations from brands have never been higher: thanks to the ubiquitous presence of brands across platforms, brand ‘content’ is everywhere. The consumer’s ability to comment on such content is also high. A painstakingly crafted ad or any other ‘content’ created after of month’s of effort can be trashed in a second, via social media comments. Meeting consumer expectations in terms of product performance, service and advertising content is a huge challenge for brands. It also leads to the consumer being more fickle in terms of paying attention or buying into the brand in some form. While it has always taken relevance, context and creativity to get a consumer’s attention toward’s brand content – the effort required across platforms & screens is perhaps the highest today.

Prank is not in every brand’s DNA: there are certain brand’s and categories for whom being a prankster comes naturally. Not every brand can be mischievous and having fun at the consumer’s expense and get away with it. I

The chance of it backfiring are high: even Google, with all their experience of such hoaxes got roasted with their Mic Drop activity this year

Time better spent elsewhere: such activities need some effort in terms of planning & execution and that means managerial time, which means money. Aren’t brands better off focusing on creating more meaningful customer experiences?

Very rarely does it work – cons outweigh the pros: I am not sure if Urban Ladder’s job posting was part of April Fool’s Day activity but it seemed fun and had relevance to the category. Some of the news stories seem so obviously fake that they don’t get a second glance – they are too ridiculous to be taken seriously. If the residual feeling for the consumer is ‘OMG, I got fooled but that was fun!’ it  rarely happens. Most often it leads to irritation, frustration or being taken for a ride.

In the larger scheme of things, the cons outweigh the pros. I would wager that the ROI is greater if the brands are alert for some good topical advertising opportunities.

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