Many brands will join traditional publishers tomorrow in posting April Fools’ stories. But how many will make misjudgements, maybe missing an opportunity or – worse – scoring an own goal?
1. Two nations divided by a common prank – April Fools’ Day isn’t approached the same way in every country. Over a decade ago when Dr Who, in its rebooted guise, had become one of the most popular shows in the world, my team revealed that Bill Gates was to have a role (being a big fan and all). Unfortunately no one told a sister publication in the US which reported this straight. First rule: cultural context.
2. Keep it harmless – A UK technology publication (they know who they are), a few years earlier had reported a certain chip-maker’s processor was to be in an upcoming version of the Sony PlayStation. Perhaps not that funny – especially when the chip-maker’s share price rose on the news. Rule two: don’t break the law, move stock markets or similar.
3. Get your etiquette right – One sure-fire way not to pitch an April Fools’ story properly is to miss the window in which to tell it. In the UK that’s generally from midnight to midday on 1 April. But in this age of always-on online content, be conscious that you might have readers from around the world. No easy answer to this but sounds like an argument to date stamp posts. Rule three: Timing.
4. No way to make friends – This isn’t so much a rule as a lesson. One year, our April Fools’ story related to the newly-imposed ban on driving and using a mobile phone at the same time. We reported that people within London were generally acknowledged as too important for such a law to apply to them, so would be exempt. One company boss, upon hearing this, didn’t just write in to complain (nor did he resort to social media to vent his rage – mainly because such social media hadn’t been invented) but ordered his PR firm to issue a statement. Rule four: Beware backlashes.
We’re in favour of companies having fun with their content. For some, it’s a natural extension of their brand. For others, it’s a chance to show personality where day-to-day business offers little other opportunity.
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