The ideology of April Fool’s Day is simple: Trust no one and question everything. Which is why brands and universities should be very, very careful when considering pranking their audiences. After all, brands spend a lot of time and energy building trust and loyalty among their fans. The risk of planting seeds of distrust is real. And distrust could damage your credibility.
But not all April Fool’s Day pranks are epic fails of distrust. In fact, carefully connecting with your audience on a less corporate or less institutional level could encourage a deeper level of sincere connections. Being playful on April Fool’s Day could be a rare opportunity to show your social audience a lighter side to your brand and make you appear more relatable. Just be thoughtful and calculated about how your approach it. Just ask Google, it could go terribly wrong.
Highlighting two successful CSU pranks
In 2015, we stepped up our April Fool’s game on Colorado State’s social media channels. We wanted to fool our audience, but also make them think that what they were seeing was so believable, it could actually be true. After several ideas were tossed around, we agreed on our concept. Our student center had recently been renovated so it could be completely viable that we might have commissioned a painting from a local artist. The commissioned piece would insert our mascot, CAM the Ram, into an iconic piece of traditional art. Believable, right? Sure, why not!
All three paintings – the CAMona Lisa, the angles from the Sistine CAMadonna and our version of AmeriCAM Gothic – definitely got our Facebook audience talking. Some thought the paintings were awesome, others thought they were terrible. Some sarcastically commented about seeing their tax dollars hard at work, and one person even offered to start a crowdfunding campaign so all three could be commissioned. We had a great time replying to their comments, including this gem of a thread from one student, whom in good humor, threatened to transfer:
Overall, the hoax didn’t garner stellar engagement, but is was not a flop. And for the most part, we think most people were initially fooled. Mission accomplished. ✔️
This year, we were bound and determined to top our 2015 effort. A couple weeks before April Fool’s Day, we posted an old photo of Leonardo Dicaprio wearing a CSU hat, that went gangbusters on our platforms, thanks to the fact that he’d just won his first Oscar. This got our wheels turning. We thought, “Humm, if only there was another famous CSU fan.” Which turned into, “Well, I suppose anyone could be a CSU fan on April Fool’s Day with a little Photoshop love.” The next step was picking the right celebrity. It couldn’t be someone political or polarizing. It couldn’t be someone controversial. It had to be someone relatable, loved, respected. It had to be someone people would know. Of course it had to be Jimmy Fallon.
We posted a Photoshopped image of Jimmy Fallon sporting his signature button-down shirt, on all of our major channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We had a feeling the Jimmy post would be popular, but we had NO idea just how popular it would be. The engagement was overwhelming. In fact, it was SO popular, it now ranks as our second most popular (photo) Facebook post. Ever. Second only to Love Wins. And don’t worry, we sent Jimmy a replica of one of his signature Thank You notes ahead of time that included a CSU shirt 😉
And of course there was the reveal…
This goes to show that with some thoughtful conversation and planning, silly April Fool’s jokes can work on social media for serious Universities and brands. Here are three tips to executing a successful April Fool’s Day hoax that’s no joke:
1. Keep your brand positive
Above and beyond anything else, don’t jeopardize your brand for a joke. It’s simply not worth it. Make sure your quirky plan still shines through in a positive light and continues to align with the overall goals and mission of the brand’s messaging. Speaking of brand, be sure to cleverly tie yours into the hoax.
2. Make sure no one gets hurt or offended
Make it believable, not malicious. It’s ok to be playful and mischievous, but stay away from anything that could cause serious offense to your fans. The best way to take the temperature of an out-of-the-box idea is to pitch it to several people in your office, not just the boss. Ask people of varying demographics what they think. This could help ensure that your joke does not unintentionally offend anyone. You want your audience to feel as if you are laughing “with” them, not “at” them.
2. Don’t try too hard
Humor can be really difficult for a brand to nail. Keep your prank clever, amusing, lighthearted and creative, but if you struggle to find the right idea, don’t force it. When we develop ideas for April Fool’s Day, we elect to take more of a “gotcha” approach with less of a “ha ha” feeling to avoid coming off as desperate.