April Fools Review: The Thin Line Between Success and Failure for Social Media Pranks

Joseph Alessio (dribbble).jpg

How brands can successfully accomplish a festive brand promotion without drawing the ire of internet trolls or general backlash.

April Fool’s Day is always an entertaining day in the calendar to engage in fun jokes/pranks with friends, family and colleagues. Brands have become more involved over the years in these festivities with strategic promotions played off as pranks that are spread to consumers.

The practice lives mostly on social media, to control the spread of the message, rather than on more traditional channels.

However, with the saturation of case studies year after year consumers are becoming much more vigilant and unforgiving in their responses to these kinds of promotions.

Take this prank from White Castle promoting a new “whey protein” product. It was clearly meant to be light-hearted and fake, but it was lambasted for its shoddy production quality and random message.

Granted, this could have been a deliberate attempt to make use of a cheap pop culture term and go viral, but that signals a larger problem of vision and quality in marketing campaigns.

When pranks are pulled off correctly, they can be big boosters for a brand’s image, but marketers must be careful not to be perceived as out of touch with different subcultures on the internet. Studies showing the importance of the humor in advertising are often touted, but content that is one-dimensional will often fall on deaf ears.

On the contrary, a great example of a brand prank from April Fool’s Day was from a startup textbook rental company Chegg. They “introduced” a new energy drink called Chugg to help students get through their stressful finals season.

While it is not groundbreaking, it is a clever brand extension that is both humorous and relatable to their core clientele. The promotion does not attempt to co-opt a viral trend but rather speaks to the target demo directly while subtly showing the value of their own product.

A great example of a celebrity marketing hoax came from NBA star Anthony Davis in association with Red Bull. For the entirety of his career he was known for his uni-brow look that ran counter to traditional grooming culture. The week before April 1st, Davis posted a poll on his Twitter account asking his fans whether it was time for a change. The day of, he posted a video where he appeared to shave it off.

Yet, the next day he revealed it was all a hoax. Some may consider it cheesy, but the stunt garnered front page coverage on sites like ESPN, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, USA Today, and Sports Illustrated.

As I mentioned previously in my blog on the topic, April Fool’s Day promotions/pranks can be valuable given the proper circumstances and creative vision, but marketers must also be careful to properly gauge the pop culture environment and not overextend their efforts into content that consumers will not appreciate.

photo credit: Joseph Alessio via (dribble)

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