April 1, 2016

Brands, everyone’s had it with your rubbish April Fools. Here’s why.

Have you gotten the impression that April Fools’ Day has turned a bit of a corner this year? And not a good corner, either. More like it’s wandered off the nice, familiar main road and stumbled into a dismal dead-end alleyway. And then fallen down a hole. And broken many important bones.

Plenty of people seem to have had enough of it, anyway – including several members of our team (see @LillyRubber and @maddoxhardcore‘s tweets below). And especially when it comes to brands trying to push some kind of ‘hilarious’ April Fools’ wheeze…

Screenshot of tweet: 'An insanely weak year for April Fools pranks, just awful!'

Screen shot of tweet: 'Comprehensive list of funny April Fools' press releases:'

Screen shot of tweet: 'Is your brand leveraging the Power Of The Prank™? Speak to one of our banter specialists about lolgineering your own larketing plan today.'
Tweet: 'Ban brands from April Fools'

Why is it that so many brands on April Fools’ Day, when they’re aiming for engagement, are hitting only irritation?

Yes, part of it is perhaps just straight-up over-saturation. There are now live-blogs from a host of major media outlets dedicated to cataloguing April Fools’ stunts from around the world. You can follow hundreds of journalists on Twitter and see them gripe in real-time about the flood of dud press releases they’re having to wade through.

But we suspect it’s also because many brands still haven’t quite fully adjusted to the ‘social’ bit of the social media landscape that now predominates. The way content is going to be distributed obviously shapes what that content should be. And, just like any other form of communication, you can get a feel for what will and won’t work. And it feels like too many brands haven’t yet gotten a feel for how to make content that will work in a world of social sharing.

We’ve been making online videos that people love to share for well over a decade now. Here are three things that we’ve found to be powerful factors in successful social/shareable content, that can all too easily get trampled by the rush to ‘have something’ for April Fools’ Day (or any other ‘landmark’ occasion). Many of the more tiresome, eye-roll-inducing campaigns, pranks, press releases and gimmicks doing the rounds today are critically lacking these elements:


Content that charms people has a great chance of going beyond merely ‘watchable’ and into ‘remarkable’ territory. Charm’s an elusive thing, admittedly. There’s no formula for it. But some things are almost always charmless. And one of the most consistently charmless traits is naked attention-seeking. Too often, with branded April Fools’ stunts or similar, it’s all too obvious that this is a desperate or even crass plea for attention. And that’s charmless, and that makes it highly unlikely to work in the world of social sharing.

Chart showing ratio of organic views increasing, divided into three categories: 'watchable', 'shareable' and (the highest) 'remarkable'


Likewise, content that takes risks – that surprises people. We love to be caught unawares by something, to be reminded that the world doesn’t always conform to our expectations. But a brand pushing out an April Fools’ Day prank or spoof press release or quote saying the opposite of what they actually think or so much more blah – we’ve all just come to expect that. It’s banal. Mundane. Predictable. The exact opposite of ‘remarkable’ content.


Lastly, content that gets shared is content that can serve as part of the audience’s self-expression. They don’t want to say something about your brand, they want to say something about themselves. And here again we hit the same problem with the slew of April 1st material: too often, we, the audience, know it’s all about you (the brand or company or product). Too much of the content has given too little thought to how the intended audience might take ownership of it for themselves – and that’s vital when it comes to successful social sharing.

Maybe the PR calendar needs shaking up a bit. Don’t just look for ‘national days’ – look for opportunities to make something people will share for their sake. Charm them, surprise them, facilitate their conversation – and you’ll get the benefit. At least, that’s always been our experience.