Last week’s April Fools’ Day was a bit of a damp squid for me. Not because there was a lack of creative, funny and almost believable April Fools’ Day stories doing the rounds but because of the way a lot of people reacted to them.
April Fools’ Day has historically been an opportunity for brands and their audiences to share a lighter moment. The day has been a chance for publicists to slacken the chains of creativity and come up with harmless stories that make people ask ‘Really? Are they really going to do that? Surely that’s not true? Is it?’
I remember Uri Geller encouraging breakfast TV viewers to place a slice of bread on top of their TV as he was going to toast it using the power of his mind! My grandpa nearly wet himself as I became an April Fool. I was only about 10, I hasten to add.
Previous generations have also been duped by spaghetti growing trees, BBC staff fighting behind Des Lynam as he presented Grandstand, and Big Ben going digital to keep up with the times (sorry!) More recently, Burger King introduced the Left Handed Whopper and YouTube RickRolled us to watching Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up far too much.
Two years ago, Lava ‘discovered’ the world’s oldest store loyalty card in the foundations of the Waterside Shopping Centre during the mall’s redevelopment. Quite a few people came into the centre to look at it when it was displayed between 9am and midday, and I don’t think anyone moaned about the prank when they found out it was an April Fools’ Day joke.
This year, we were once again behind a 1st April prank for the centre. We joined several local companies who issued humorous, fictitious stories for the media to cover (if they wanted to join in the fun). Further afield, Mumsnet Jobs announced it was partnering with NASA and the European Space Agency to find the perfect mother and baby team to go into space as part of a trial investigating the viability of space travel for infants. Professor Green Tweeted that he was changing his name to Professor Green Tea as part of a deal with PG Tips and Honda introduced the first ever emoji number plate.
What I noticed this year was the amount of people who took to social media to berate companies and organisations about their 1st April stories. Some people even got political and expressed their disbelief that taxpayers money was being used to fund these far-fetched, ludicrous developments.
Has it always been this way? Have people always reacted to April Fools’ stories in such a negative way or has social media given the ‘angry minority’ a louder way for them to air their views? I don’t know.
What I do know is that when you’re planning an April Fools’ story you need to be very careful indeed. Look at Google and its plans for a Mic Drop feature in Gmail.
“Today, Gmail is making it easier to have the last word on any email with Mic Drop. Simply reply to any email using the new ‘Send + Mic Drop’ button. Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it. Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it,” the firm said on its Gmail blog on 31st March.
The internet giant introduced Mic Drop to millions of Gmail accounts. Unfortunately, an error in the programming, meant that the feature went live when people clicked the normal send button instead of the Send + Mic Drop button. For some users, the feature was live for 12 hours! Obviously, this had a severe impact on people and shows what happens when brands take things too far.
Businesses need to think very carefully about how they communicate with their audiences and the way they try to engage with people. If they get it wrong, social media now gives people – even if they’re a minority – a very loud way of venting their frustrations.
Whether it’s an April Fools’ Day joke that people don’t think is funny side or a delayed train or plane, people now have a way of making their feelings known without entering into a face-to-face conversation and this is giving consumers confidence to come back at companies. No longer will people say to a waiter that their meal was fine even though the steak was burnt – they’ll Tweet their opinion or post it on Facebook or TripAdvisor for the world to see.
On the whole, this is a good thing, as complaints, if justified, give companies a chance to make improvements.
However, it also gives people a chance to type first and think later. My worry is that marketers will become too cautious and overly concerned that publishing anything light-hearted, especially on 1st April, will just result in a wave of negativity and we might lose the tradition all together.