For three hundred and sixty-four days of the year brands work hard to build trust with their audiences, curating a brand image based on their values and expertise. But when that sneaky day arrives, all can go awry if a misplaced April Fool’s joke creates a blunder. It begs the question, is executing an elaborate escapade for one day worth potentially damaging the rest of the year’s brand building?

Don’t get us wrong, sometimes these practical jokes can be a hit. They may align perfectly with a brand’s existing image and thus, April Fools can be one of the most important dates on the calendar for engagement. But when these hoaxes misfire, it can negatively influence swathes of consumers who once trusted your brand. This post will detail the copious capers large brands and businesses have found themselves in and highlight the hits when it comes to April Fool’s Day successes. We’ll go through how to incorporate an April Fools campaign into your business whether or not humour is in your sphere.

Consider your brand persona

First you need to determine if humour is part of your brand already. If you’re a corporate, formal business with a heavy reliance on customer or public trust, chances are that making a random joke will come out of the blue and possibly fall flat. Manchester Police Department found this out the hard way when its failed attempt at an April Fools stunt enraged locals. The department tweeted a competition to ‘vote for your favourite prisoner to be released’, which angered the families of victims and showed just how important knowing your audience is when it comes to social media pranks.  

But if humour is already integrated into the way your business works, or the demographic you’re speaking to, then a practical joke will feel right at home. McDonalds has long established a fun and friendly stance when it comes to branding. This is highlighted in their mission statement, ‘We don’t just serve food, we serve moments of feel-good, all with the light-hearted, unpretentious, welcoming, dependable personality consumers know and love.’ McDonalds already uses humour in TV ads, billboards and social media, so it’s no surprise April Fools is always a marked calendar event. Dedication to the light-hearted, feel-good moments is why its April Fools campaigns always work so well, whether it’s an all-pickle burger or milkshake flavoured dips, McDonalds always hits the nail on the head when it comes to fun and inventive practical jokes.

If you find that humour is not part of your brand image but still want to incorporate the date into your campaign calendar, there are alternative ways to engage with your audience. You can win your audience’s trust with a non-hoax campaign, as exemplified perfectly by a branch of BMW in New Zealand who ran an ad in a local paper claiming the first person to bring the ad to the showroom would win a brand new car. This type of non-prank can fit well with brands who don’t want to lose a carefully curated reputation as the result of a backfiring gag. Instead, creating email campaigns or ads with similar too-good-to-be-true deals can increase conversation around the brand and thus increase sales.  

Know your audience

Similarly, really knowing your audience can increase the chances of a successful campaign. If a joke doesn’t resonate with your audience, it’s going to fall flat. So before you start brainstorming ideas for outlandish campaigns, consider who it is you’re aiming the joke at. Knowing the behaviours and needs of your audience can help integrate the audience into the campaign. When a brand understands the nuances of its customers, integrating popular ‘in-jokes’ can make for a successful April Fools campaign. 

LEGO is a great example of this, with its brick-sorting vacuum cleaner, Find My Brick app and SmartBricks, which promised you would ‘never step on a LEGO brick again!’ LEGO users globally understand the rigmarole of sorting colours, the frustration of needing just one more yellow brick, and the shocking pain of accidentally standing on a brick. Adding these nuances into the yearly prank shows just how connected a brand is to its audience and can even add believability to the stunt. Look out for common conversations your audience is having, think about common frustrations they may encounter and use your creative skills to show just how much you understand them. But be careful not to fall down a hole where the audience becomes the butt of the joke. 

Automotive antics

BMW, Ford, Volkswagen. Your typical car manufacturers don’t exactly scream humour. But for years now, each brand has made a stab at the yearly tradition. Some of their jokes are outlandish, and some believable. BMW’s moon powered Lunar Paint was praised for its ingenuity and managed to easily integrate similar available products, stating ‘We hope you enjoyed this year’s BMW April Fool’s. Whilst Lunar Paint may not be of this world quite yet, BMW does have an innovative range of existing charging technologies for you to discover – including solar and digital.’ This is a perfect example of using April Fools as a selling tactic and not just for brand awareness.

In an unfortunate event, Volkswagen missed the mark when they accidentally sent out an early press release for their Voltswagen campaign, where it committed to an all-electric future and complete rebrand. Volkswagen’s stock prices shot up and an inquiry was opened to determine if the German company broke the law. This was a devastating event for a manufacturer already recovering from a trust-breaking scandal. It puts into question how much a spring jape is really worth and highlights the importance of assessing individual circumstances to avoid having to engage in damage control. 

Trust the product

When it comes to integrating existing products into an April Fools campaign, H&M had an award-winning approach when they rebranded some of their Basics range for a unique capsule collection in collaboration with Mark Zuckerberg. The collection gave customers ‘one less thing to think about in the morning’ and even won a webby award. Incorporating existing products into the wacky campaign not only brought to the fore its extensive basics range but emphasised its mission of delivering ‘fashion and quality at the best price.’ This is a strong tactic when brainstorming ideas for an April Fools campaign. Trust in the products you sell and let the campaign create a buzz around your brand.

Get creative

There are so many ways to create a compelling April Fools campaign, regardless of whether your business exudes humour. And in the digital age, there are so many outlets to make your mark. From social media, to paid advertisement. It could be a witty email subject heading, with a click-to-reveal gag or an elaborate video advertisement. Either way, it doesn’t have to break the bank. But however you choose to fool your audience, be careful to watch your step to ensure you don’t end up looking the fool.

Creating an April Fools campaign should be a well thought out idea, with creative brainstorming and a collaborative input. Not just a last-minute gag. Pulling your resources together means you can construct an elaborate prank that your audience will love and reach a whole new audience at the same time.