We all know of the “holiday” on the first day in April, along with the sneaky pranks that follow. Gluing quarters to sidewalks, plastic wrap surprises and switching sugar for salt are just a few of the classics.

Some clever companies started leveraging this day to their advantage. In fact, some of them have built a reputation for getting us pretty good. They tease us with fake announcements and mock promotions. They get us excited for products that seem too good to be true – and usually are.

The widespread adoption of social media has added fuel to the fire with its relatively low buy-in and ability to spread virally, if done well. No matter how the prank is shared, there are a few things to remember when creating a successful campaign.

Things to Avoid when creating an April Fools’ Campaign:

  • Don’t fool them into thinking there is something they’ll hate.
  • Don’t scare them or it will come back to bite you.
  • Avoid divisive tactics that will pit one target against another (i.e. political themes)
  • Don’t be mean-spirited
  • Don’t make your audience feel bad about themselves if they didn’t get it

When Pranks Go Wrong

One example of what can happen when a prank doesn’t avoid the list above, was a hoax last year with two Kansas City Radio DJs. They started talking about a chemical in their pipes, rivers and sewers called Di-Hydrogen Monoxide. They talked about the side effects it can cause such as sweating and wrinkled skin. Di-Hydrogen Monoxide is the scientific name for water. Before revealing the joke an hour and a half later, 911 call centers and the water department was inundated with urgent phone calls from terrified citizens. The people who were fooled by this prank, as well as the call centers themselves, did not find it funny at all. City officials described it as akin to a terrorist attack. Although it garnered some attention to the radio station, it wasn’t the kind they were hoping for.

Tips for Making a Successful April Fools Campaign

  • The prank is unbelievably believable. By that, I mean it’s so amazing that some may think it’s so preposterous it couldn’t be a lie. At the very least, the premise is believable enough that maybe one could fool one of their more gullible friends.
  • The campaign touches on a collective need or want that people have in some way. If the response is, “Oh my gosh, they finally made it, and you can buy it here!” – you can count on a lot of positive attention.
  • The ad ends with a positive “gotcha” feeling. When the ribbing is good-natured, it is far more likely to be shared with a greater number of people – thus giving you more market penetration.

Great Examples of Successful April Fools Pranks:

Samuel Adams: “Heli-YUM”

Samuel Adams did an online video where the new ingredient for one of their beers was not hops, but Helium. Or should we say, “Heli-YUM.” The founder, Jim Cook, talks about his creation and how helium adds so much flavour. He takes a sip and continues while his voice gets higher and higher. He then offers his beer to a pub, who also wax on about the flavour with their ridiculously high voices. The notion that you could add Helium to beer is something most have never thought about, but would love to try if it existed. This campaign was viewed 1.2 million times and counting. It all adds up to a lot of awareness for Samuel Adams.

Starbucks: “Size Matters”

In 2010, the cafe chain announced the addition of two new sizes to their coffee lineup. The Plenta (128 fluid ounces) and the Micra (2 fluid ounces). They continued the gag on their blog by suggesting other uses for the used cups, like a rain hat for the Plenta and a kitten dish for the Micra. This captured a lot of attention amongst the caffeine addicts across North America.

Hotels.com: “A Moon with a View”

Hotels.com issued a press release promising it would soon offer rooms on the moon. “We are confident that a stay on the moon will be truly out of this world,” they said. The release advertised rooms starting at $1,200 – not including travel costs of course. Expedia.com countered this by advertising a hotel on Mars starting at just $99. Both sites saw an increase of traffic to their sites, and who knows, maybe one day they will have a hotel on the moon – just don’t use the outdoor pool.

This quirky holiday gives a unique opportunity for companies to be both playful with their audience as well as generating strong awareness for their brand. Following the tips above can leave a great impression with your audience.