No Fooling: April 1 Is A Marketing Moment For Surprise & Delight

Quilt­ed North­ern Rus­tic Weave and Esurance Elec­tion Insur­ance prove April 1 is about mak­ing con­sumers hap­py in 2016 – not fool­ing them.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

If you were look­ing for­ward to arti­sanal, bespoke, small batch toi­let paper that is “hand-pulped and hand-per­fo­rat­ed” and “gen­uine­ly tree-to-toi­let,” we have some bad news: It’s April 1. How­ev­er, it’s most like­ly, like Portlandia’s hand­craft­ed arti­sanal light­bulbs, that you had a hunch some­thing wasn’t quite right. And that, in a nut­shell, is the gist of April Fools’ con­tent in 2016: Con­sumers are in on the joke and can play along.

But pranksters shouldn’t despair. Prankver­tis­ing still has a time and place – just not on April 1 any­more.

Fool Me Once…

On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell issued ads in sev­er­al major news­pa­pers, along with a press release say­ing it had pur­chased the Lib­er­ty Bell to help ease the nation­al debt and hence­forth this nation­al trea­sure would be known as the Taco Lib­er­ty Bell, result­ing in thou­sands of calls to the Nation­al Park Ser­vice, includ­ing staff aides for sen­a­tors from New Jer­sey and Nebras­ka. Twen­ty years lat­er, the world is a dif­fer­ent place. With every minute hol­i­day, brands roll out con­tent, like Piz­za Hut on Pi Day, IHOP on Nation­al Pan­cake Day and Mole­sk­ine on Nation­al Hand­writ­ing Day, mean­ing con­sumers in 2016 are not only savvi­er and have more resources at their dis­pos­al to debunk brand hoax­es, they’ve also been desen­si­tized and are more sus­pi­cious this time of year. Look at recent sto­ries about the Pep­si Light Dumb­bell Bot­tle and the Jurys Inns Hotels duvet suit. Both imme­di­ate­ly raise red flags even though the brands/agencies report­ed­ly insist­ed they were not pranks – although the Pep­si agency lat­er con­firmed the bot­tles were nev­er man­u­fac­tured or dis­trib­uted.

Both imme­di­ate­ly raise red flags even though the brands/agencies report­ed­ly insist­ed they were not pranks – although the Pep­si agency lat­er con­firmed the bot­tles were nev­er man­u­fac­tured or dis­trib­uted. Even Chipo­tle sell­ing ham­burg­ers seems fishy, but the brand filed a trade­mark for “Bet­ter Burg­er,” so it may be legit. And when Ama­zon Dash, the brand­ed Wi-Fi con­nect­ed devices that enable con­sumers to reorder items with the press of a but­ton, was announced on March 31, 2015, the brand­ed in-home effort seemed so out­landish, it also gen­er­at­ed April Fools’ skep­ti­cism. (Although what a dif­fer­ence a year makes as Ama­zon is now gar­ner­ing praise for the release of Ama­zon Dash for con­doms.) So with con­sumer skep­ti­cism at an all-time high in 2016, is it pos­si­ble to pull off brand­ed April Fools’ exe­cu­tions any­more?

I Pity The Fool

Brands still try – in part because pranks retain a cer­tain appeal. If exe­cut­ed prop­er­ly, they can attract huge atten­tion – like the Dev­il Baby Attack for the movie “Devil’s Due”, for exam­ple, which has near­ly 53 mil­lion views to date on YouTube alone. How­ev­er, it’s worth not­ing this video debuted in Jan­u­ary 2014, not April.

Last year, Momen­tol­ogy looked at how brands can suc­cess­ful­ly prank con­sumers and found brand­ed pranks typ­i­cal­ly fall into one of three cat­e­gories — fun­ny and quirky; warm and fuzzy; and scary and/or mean – like Ford Mus­tang Speed Dat­ing for Valentine’s Day 2015, WestJet’s 2013 Christ­mas Mir­a­cle and Budweiser’s Blind Taste Test, which debuted dur­ing New York City Beer Week in March 2015. In oth­er words: None of these pranks were for April Fools’ Day, which means they were car­ried out when con­sumers weren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly expect­ing them.

What A Fool Believes

There’s anoth­er rea­son brands con­tin­ue to roll out April Fools’ efforts in the dig­i­tal era. These well-mean­ing pranks not only human­ize the brands behind them, they also help forge mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions with con­sumers who then have a new point of ref­er­ence. How­ev­er, instead of trick­ing con­sumers as Taco Bell was able to do, there’s been a shift toward sim­ply sur­pris­ing and delight­ing them. In oth­er words, brand­ed April Fools’ cam­paigns in recent years are eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able, which let con­sumers in on the jokes, so they can laugh along­side brands. Case in point: There’s the Hon­da­HAIR in-vehi­cle hair-groom­ing tool, the BMW P.R.A.M., or Post­na­tal Roy­al Auto Mobile, and the Learn How to Bark at Your Dog e-Learn­ing Course from Groupon.

It’s fun­ny enough to share and sil­ly enough to iden­ti­fy as a prank,” said Tra­cy Willis, con­tent strate­gist at cre­ative mar­ket­ing agency N2Q Con­sult­ing, of the Groupon prank. Indeed, Scott Hamu­la, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and chair of the Depart­ment of Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Roy H. Park School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Itha­ca Col­lege, said pulling off a prank can mean either “the tra­di­tion­al, ‘Ah, ya got me!,’ which is very dif­fi­cult to do,” or, “Oh, that’s awe­some.” Fur­ther, Hamu­la adds, “With every­one expect­ing some­thing on April 1, it’s more like­ly that a brand will be suc­cess­ful at this sec­ond approach, main­ly, cre­at­ing an unex­pect­ed, super-cool April Fools’ prank-like idea, flaw­less­ly exe­cut­ing it in a 360-degree way…with the result being the audi­ence gets a sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ence with­out the ‘gotcha’ moment.” It also helps to tie a prank-like idea to a pre­dom­i­nant cul­tur­al theme, like BMW did with the roy­al baby or Scope did with its bacon mouth­wash “for breath that siz­zles” in the bacon-crazed era that was 2013.

Foolhardy

And that’s pre­cise­ly what brands are doing for April 1, 2016. Quilt­ed Northern’s Rus­tic Weave https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRlBtabKRFM&feature=youtu.be Toi­let paper brand Quilt­ed North­ern, for exam­ple, is the com­pa­ny behind the afore­men­tioned arti­sanal, bespoke toi­let paper, Rus­tic Weave. “This hand­craft­ed, small-batch prod­uct will be unlike any­thing on the mar­ket today and estab­lish­es the brand as an unlike­ly entrant into the craft space,” the brand says. “The demand for sim­ple, hand­craft­ed, her­itage prod­ucts is stronger than ever, but no toi­let paper sat­is­fies this grow­ing sec­tor.” Rus­tic Weave is part of Quilt­ed Northern’s Designed to be For­got­ten cam­paign, of which Jason Ippen, senior brand direc­tor at par­ent com­pa­ny Geor­gia-Pacif­ic says, “The best bath­room expe­ri­ence is one you don’t remem­ber.” Designed to Be For­got­ten aims to intro­duce the brand to younger con­sumers, so it includes humor­ous takes on how hard the brand works to cre­ate a prod­uct con­sumers don’t remem­ber. In fact, Ippen calls Rus­tic Weave a “fun­ny lit­tle riff” on the craft move­ment as the brand seeks to inject itself into con­ver­sa­tions and rein­force its mes­sag­ing. “I don’t think any­one will be sur­prised by this video,” Ippen said. “We’re jok­ing around…this is a fun way to engage con­sumers and per­son­i­fy our brand and build on the per­son­al­i­ty we’ve built out over the course of the last year.” Esurance’s Elec­tion Insur­ance

Sim­i­lar­ly, in a video and press release, insur­ance com­pa­ny Esurance says it will offer a home­own­ers pol­i­cy, Elec­tion Insur­ance, to pro­tect aban­doned homes for four years while home­own­ers flee after the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. “Every four years, we hear from count­less dis­sat­is­fied Amer­i­cans who threat­en to leave the coun­try if the ‘wrong’ can­di­date is elect­ed into office,” said Alan Gell­man, chief mar­ket­ing offi­cer at Esurance, in the release. “This year…if your pre­ferred can­di­date los­es the elec­tion, Esurance will pro­tect your home so you can move out of the coun­try wor­ry free.” Per Esurance, home­own­ers can choose between stan­dard pol­i­cy options that include week­ly home main­te­nance and pre­mi­um options like “hol­i­day over­achiev­er,” in which “your hol­i­day lights and yard décor will keep up with the Jone­ses.” The video and press release also come with a clear dis­claimer that note “Elec­tion Insur­ance is not avail­able in any states.” The Zebra’s In-Car Self­ie Pre­ven­tion Alarm

For its part, car insur­ance com­par­i­son start­up The Zebra says it is releas­ing a fake com­mer­cial for a fake prod­uct called ICSPA, or the In-Car Self­ie Pre­ven­tion Alarm, which “detects van­i­ty” in cars and acti­vates a smart­phone kill switch if van­i­ty exceeds cer­tain lev­els. “It’s fun­ny and very tongue-in-cheek as it mocks self­ie-obsessed peo­ple,” said Alyssa Con­nol­ly, man­ag­er of com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­e­gy. “How­ev­er, we ulti­mate­ly dri­ve toward a pur­pose­ful mes­sage to raise aware­ness of dis­tract­ed dri­ving. We’ve built a fake web­site for the fake prod­uct and writ­ten a blog post about dis­tract­ed dri­ving that round out the ele­ments of the cam­paign.” Ibex Out­door Clothing’s Dog Fur Fiber

Riff­ing off of the Ibex promise to source the finest fiber on the plan­et and pulling in the brand’s dog cul­ture, Social Media Man­ag­er Evan Kay says the idea of Ibex’s D.F.F., or Dog Fur Fiber, was born for an April Fools’ exe­cu­tion in 2015. The brand took advan­tage of one of its part­ners vis­it­ing from New Zealand ear­li­er that year and used his accent and fiber exper­tise to add cred­i­bil­i­ty to the sto­ry, Kay said. The brand also cre­at­ed a ton of con­tent, includ­ing an Ibex-brand­ed D.F.F. logo, new prod­uct SKUs, fake fab­ric labels, an email cam­paign and fake prod­uct pages on the web­site. In addi­tion, YouTube and Face­book received new cov­er pho­tos, Ibex sent out an embar­goed press release and it ran a live Periscope on the 1st.

It also sent D.F.F. prod­uct to five influ­en­tial out­door media edi­tors a week pri­or. “This in my opin­ion was key, because on April 1, you’re com­pet­ing against every­one else in your mar­ket,” Kay said. “If you can get in front of the key influ­encers before­hand, it’s going to make your cam­paign that much more suc­cess­ful.” As a result, Kay says the brand gen­er­at­ed a ton of expo­sure that last­ed for weeks, con­vert­ed new cus­tomers, brought in a lot of rev­enue, and it fooled a lot of peo­ple, includ­ing “a fiber spe­cial­ist from Patag­o­nia who sent our CEO a con­cerned email.”

How­ev­er, Kay also notes the goal wasn’t to real­ly fool con­sumers per se. “We put a lot of hints in the video to demon­strate that it was joke. For instance, one of the fake fab­rics was a cross between 50 per­cent shih tzu and 50 per­cent bull­dog, or bull­shit,” Kay said. “The oth­er was when we dis­cussed the side effects, ‘clean­ing with your own sali­va’ and ‘it retains odor very, very well.’ We cre­at­ed it with the mind­set that some peo­ple would fall for it, and, yes, it would be a good way to engage with our cus­tomer. Our cus­tomer ser­vice had a great time talk­ing to peo­ple on the phones.” So per­haps the final les­son here is that if you’re going to attempt a brand­ed April Fools’ exe­cu­tion, you’d bet­ter back it up with a lot of con­tent, whether or not you expect con­sumers to believe it.

If you can get in front of the key influ­encers before­hand, it’s going to make your cam­paign that much more suc­cess­ful.” As a result, Kay says the brand gen­er­at­ed a ton of expo­sure that last­ed for weeks, con­vert­ed new cus­tomers, brought in a lot of rev­enue, and it fooled a lot of peo­ple, includ­ing “a fiber spe­cial­ist from Patag­o­nia who sent our CEO a con­cerned email.” How­ev­er, Kay also notes the goal wasn’t to real­ly fool con­sumers per se. “We put a lot of hints in the video to demon­strate that it was joke. For instance, one of the fake fab­rics was a cross between 50 per­cent shih tzu and 50 per­cent bull­dog, or bull­shit,” Kay said. “The oth­er was when we dis­cussed the side effects, ‘clean­ing with your own sali­va’ and ‘it retains odor very, very well.’ We cre­at­ed it with the mind­set that some peo­ple would fall for it, and, yes, it would be a good way to engage with our cus­tomer. Our cus­tomer ser­vice had a great time talk­ing to peo­ple on the phones.” So per­haps the final les­son here is that if you’re going to attempt a brand­ed April Fools’ exe­cu­tion, you’d bet­ter back it up with a lot of con­tent, whether or not you expect con­sumers to believe it.

So per­haps the final les­son here is that if you’re going to attempt a brand­ed April Fools’ exe­cu­tion, you’d bet­ter back it up with a lot of con­tent, whether or not you expect con­sumers to believe it.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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