It’s No Joke: Brands Beware the April Fools Trickery

A few years ago, I got this wild idea of creating a funny post on my work Facebook page. At the time, I was still doing social media for the Sheriff’s Office and we were trying to find ways to make sure people were being smart during the holidays and staying safe. I had just seen a few agencies in Florida post about arresting The Grinch and things like that, but I wanted to go bigger.

That’s when I thought of this:

I showed it to my then PIO and Supervisor, and he had some reservations so I added the fine print at the bottom. I kept the hokey “hee hee, this isn’t real, don’t kill us” kind of vibe, and he agreed with the idea and we posted it.

It became a huge hit.

People were making all kinds of puns related to Home Alone, saying thanks to our deputies for nabbing the Wet Bandits, the whole nine yards. It was great for a bunch of reasons, but the main ones were we got to laugh, we reminded people to lock their doors and keep their homes safe during the holidays, and everyone was able to participate.

But on the chance of sounding old-fashioned, those days are long gone and today we are living in a world where the insane headlines are actually true and there is no joke wild enough that could be “obviously” kidding.

April Fool’s Day is usually a time where people and brands alike try to out-wit each other with jokes and gimmicks to buy into a fad that died decades ago. If you are thinking about participating in this fossilized idea, I beg you to reconsider. You could do serious damage to your brand’s reputation and risk the chance of being considered tone-deaf in the middle of the pandemic.

History of April Fool’s Day

According to History.com, historians speculate that April Fool’s Day dates back to the 1500s, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one. Then, the new year began with the spring equinox around April 1st.

Back then, people were slow to get news, or simply failed to recognize that the start of a new year had been moved to January 1st and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called “April fools.”

These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person. And so, April Fool’s Day began.

In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations, and websites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences. Even major brands like Taco Bell, NPR, Burger King, and Google participated in the pranks.

But as I said before, those were different times.

April Fool’s in A Pandemic

Thanks to a survey conducted by Hootsuite, NO ONE wants to see your brand do an April Fool’s post. Literally. The below graphic is from Nick Martin, an employee for Hootsuite focusing on global social engagement, who pulled this information for me after a conversation between him, myself, and a few of my colleagues from the Government Social Media Organization.

The numbers don’t lie: People don’t want a joke; they want real information. And given some of the headlines from 2020, it’s hard to decipher what’s real and what’s fake anymore anyway. Below are just a few examples of real headlines that sound completely fake:

“Murder Hornets” Arrive in United States

Chocolate Snowed on a Swiss Town

The US Government Confirmed that UFOs are REAL

Suspicious Seeds show up at Thousands of Homes

Stop for a moment yourself and think about some of the craziest headlines you can think of from the last 18 months. Now try to imagine what crazy thing you could possibly come up with that would try to top that as a joke.

Could you? I mean, is there even a chance that you could come up with something viably crazy enough to be seen as a joke? Because I know I can’t.

My Top 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t

There are a lot of reasons why you should just let April Fool’s Day just pass on by as just another random Thursday, but here are my top 3 reasons:

Your Reputation Is At Stake: There are a lot of people out there that trust a brand explicitly. It becomes the only brand they trust for whatever it is that they use it for. When a brand makes a joke, some people will see it as not being responsible and making light of situations (or a time?) that should be taken seriously… That could damage your reputation and cause you to not only lose faith from your fans, but fans altogether.

Fear-Mongering Isn’t a Joke: There was a post done in one of the social media groups I follow talking about how she wanted to make a post regarding gators in the sewers for April Fools. A lot of people told her it was a bad idea, and she didn’t see the damage it could do. I assumed she was from a state that didn’t have gators everywhere like we do in Florida.

Here’s how that post can go wrong: You make a joking post about gators in the sewer and suddenly your emergency lines start blowing up. People are concerned because they read on Facebook that there are gators in the sewers and they want to know if it’s in their neighborhood, where their pets are or where their children play. And then they wonder, oh my God, can they come up from the sewer into the toilets and bathtub drains? What else can do that? Snakes? Spiders? Tarantulas? THE LOCH NESS MONSTER?! What does that do to our water supply? Nope, no more drinking tap water, go out and buy all the bottled water you can. The gators are in the water supply!

Seem irrational? It is. But that’s how people think when they panic. Look at the toilet paper shortage as a perfect example.

When The Joke Backfires:  This kind of plays into the fear-mongering above, but it gets its own category because it doesn’t need to be something scary to cause a violent reaction from people, or even a joke from that matter. I remember a post I did about how a deputy had to kill a snake ended up causing calls to Animal Protective Services against the Sheriff’s Office. (Just so you are aware – it’s not illegal to kill a snake, and we were well within our right to do so if it were to save human life.) But imagine if you put a joke out there and it backfires on you. Kind of like the Tennessee Police Department and their Meth Gators.

You can lose the trust of your followers when things go wrong, and that can be detrimental to what you are trying to accomplish – no matter who you are. Government agencies can’t afford to lose the trust of their constituents, and brands can’t afford to lose their fans.

Still Planning a Prank? Heed These Tips:

If you made it this far and you are still planning a prank or joke, then heed these warnings to protect your brand:

  1. Make it obvious: Gonna have gators in the sewer? Make it Killer Croc and call Batman to come take care of his evil ways. That way, you can be sure that no one will be calling 9-1-1 in a panic. Maybe throw in some fine print at the bottom of the graphic/photo so to cover yourself in case someone tries to pull something legal on you.
  2. Make it short: Don’t drag it out all day long. Pick a time where you want to drop your prank, make it a big deal, then let it go and carry on with the rest of your messaging. Making it an all-day thing gives it time to grow into something it doesn’t need to be.   
  3. Make it one platform only:  and put it on your most popular one to get the best engagement you can. Use photos and/or video if you can, and make it all it can be… but on ONE platform. Be choosey.

Now, if you’ll excuse me: Sam and Dean are picking me up tonight to case out St. Augustine and try to take on some of the ghosts here. Dean promised me I can drive the Impala if I wear his favorite flannel shirt. Anyone know where I can get some extra rock salt? 😉

Published by jljohnson

Just a city girl, living in a screwed up world... Oh, wait. That's me screwing up song lyrics again.

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