April Fool’s Day, when thousands of youngsters look up the word ‘gullible’ in the dictionary, is an annual opportunity to have some fun and indulge in the age-old human custom of bullsh*tting.
For companies, it’s a high-risk, high-reward scenario.
If it goes well, you can demonstrate your brand has a sense of humour – which can help increase customer loyalty and ultimately drive up sales.
If the joke falls flat, because it’s in poor taste or just not funny, you might alienate the very customers you’re trying to entice.
In fact, some companies now adopt a risk-averse policy towards April Fool’s. Microsoft’s CMO, Chris Capossela, sent out a memo to staff, forbidding any practical jokes. He wrote:
‘I appreciate that people may have devoted time and resources to these activities, but I believe we have more to lose than gain by attempting to be funny on this one day.’
It’s for you to decide whether the risk is worth it in your organisation. Nevertheless, here are some examples of companies who got it just right in 2019.
As you can see in the video, Google announced a brand new feature for its Android devices – a tool for cleaning your screen from the inside out.
The joke itself is good, but what’s more extraordinary is the high level of production standards. This video is shot to the same level as any other Google advert, and it’s complete with all their usual features: (annoyingly) chirpy Valleyspeak narrator, appealingly symmetrical birds-eye shots, seamless editing and flawless integration of graphics.
All in all, its purpose is to parody the ubiquitous short videos that announce new features, and to provoke the incredulity of audiences hungry for rapid tech advances.
It’s almost as if Google is saying – even when we’re joking, we still put in the effort.
This is impressive from a CX perspective. When you think about it, Google’s attention to detail is at the cornerstone of its brand – it’s what allowed them to rank pages better than anyone else, and then expand successfully into a whole range of web products and services.
Making a video like this, even though it’s in jest, reinforces the idea that Google doesn’t do half-measures.
Move over @librarycongress! @Shutterstock is opening the world’s largest brick-and-mortar stock library with 250 million images, 14 million reels of film & 20,000 music tracks. Check out the enormous structure: https://t.co/zwo8lW9Fpp #ShutterstockLibrary #ItsShutterstock pic.twitter.com/0fU5BGP7nW
— Shutterstock (@Shutterstock) April 1, 2019
The media company sent out an April Fool’s tweet saying they were going to open a physical store.
In what would have been the largest library in the world, Shutterstock announced plans for an enormous physical collection.
When users clicked on the link in the tweet, it diverted them to a page on their website that revealed the true nature of the announcement.
But what did this prank achieve?
Firstly, it got users on their site. It may have been clickbait, but there’s more forgiveness for that sort of thing on April Fool’s Day.
Shutterstock also carefully crafted the copy on the page to maximise retention:
‘No, our brick-and-mortar library isn’t really in the works, but our online library of 250 million stunning images, 14 million reels of film and 20,000 music tracks is very real, always open, and totally amazing.’
So what we saw with Shutterstock was a good two-pronged approach: engage the users with fanciful content, then successfully steer them back to the core idea.
— BMW UK (@BMW_UK) April 1, 2019
The carmaker displayed their dry wit this year with comically-exaggerated claims about their electric cars.
They claimed to have developed ‘revolutionary photovoltaic paint’ that allows cars to be charged by the moonlight.
Again, this is in keeping with BMW’s brand image. Their slogan is ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, and their reputation for technological excellence is at the heart of their reputation. This joke aligns closely with that. By crossing over into the realm of science-fiction, they are associating their brand with enormous technological breakthroughs.
Won’t Get Fooled Again
So what are the main lessons from this?
The most important one is to make a joke relevant to your brand. It needs to touch on something familiar to customers, perhaps one of your USPs.
The topics should be kept light, uncontroversial and in good spirits. The last thing you want is a backfire, like McDonald’s having to tell angry customers that the pickle burger isn’t real.
And this leads me on to the final point – you need to know your customers well enough to know what they’d like. In the case of McDonald’s, it was rather ignorant to assume that there weren’t customers out there who loved pickle so much they wanted a McPickle burger!
So do Microsoft have a point? Perhaps. The McDonald’s marketing team will certainly agree after this year’s performance. But at Google they’ll be extremely pleased with the reception.
How much you involve your company in April Fool’s is up to you. But remember – in business as well as April Fool’s – nothing ventured, nothing gained.