As the completely gullible victim of many an April Fools pranks, I was determined to be on my guard today. I was not fooled by the radio station on my way to work. I ignored a phone call from my little brother because I knew it was coming. I was waiting for Alex to try something all morning – but he must have been feeling nice today, because I got nothing. And then I log on to Gmail…and BAM, I’m a victim once again.
I’m about to sign in when something catches my eye. Google is offering a new Auto-Pilot feature that will scan your messages and offer the perfect reply for you automatically? Looking back – it is of course a prank. But for about 2 minutes, they had me. I mean, this is a company that really has created an application called Google Goggles to stop drunk emailing. I wouldn’t put anything past them….
This momentary slip made me wonder what other brands were going to take advantage of April Fools to get in consumer’s heads, and whether or not participating in this could be part of a good brand strategy. I know I got a laugh out of the Google prank. But that’s Google. And I’m good natured. What if the wrong brand crossed the wrong person?
Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM Public Relations and author of Punk Marketing: Get Off Your Ass and Join the Revolution, says that April Fools pranks are an invaluable marketing opportunity. “Many people think of big companies as cogs in a wheel,” he explains. “A clever April Fools’ Day prank is a great way to change that.” This holds especially true during a recession, when many people are “desperate” for laughter.
But George Silverman, the Market Navigation president who penned The Secrets of Word of Mouth Marketing, urges struggling companies to think twice before pulling pranks. The same gag that earns raves for “fun, innovative” Google and Facebook, he says, could backfire on banks and automakers. “Imagine if General Motors or Ford pulled an April Fools’ Day prank,” he says. “You probably wouldn’t laugh. You’d be too busy wondering why they were joking around instead of making better cars.”
Like any good joke – it’s all about delivery, timing and knowing your audience.
For a list of some of the greatest brand April Fool’s pranks in history – click here. One of the greatest? April 1, 1996 – Taco Bell announces that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and was renaming in Taco Liberty Bell.
Looking for a laugh? Check out the Gaurdian’s April Fool’s prank. They’ve announced that they are publishing exclusively in 140 tweets. (I knew I could get Twitter into this post somehow!)
And be on your guard today – we’ve still got a few hours to go.