• Steve Saleeba

Brands and April Fools’ Day

Some brand marketing teams spend months planning for the big day, launching full-on marketing campaigns around nothing more than an amusing joke.

The goal, generally, is to raise some positive brand awareness. “Hey, look at us, we’re a brand that knows how to have fun.”

These pranks are older than the internet, a la BMW’s 1980s rain-reflecting open top car. But if nothing else, April Fools’ Day was made for the marriage of brands and the internet.

There’s even an actual Museum of Hoaxes that has records on April Fools’ Day brand pranks.

There’s the absurd – Virgin Atlantic’s flapping bird-wing airplane, the almost believable – Tinder’s height verification tool, the parody – FarmRich gender reveal mozzarella sticks and the legendary – YouTube’s 2008 Rick-Roll.

If they’re good enough, you’ll land in one of the many “Best April Fools’ Pranks by Brands” rundowns.

Then there’s 2021s early leader in both the best and worst categories: Voltswagen.

VW launched their “prank” several days early, issuing, according to the Associated Press, “false statements this week saying it would change its brand name to ‘Voltswagen,’ to stress its commitment to electric vehicles, only to reverse course Tuesday and admit that the supposed name change was a joke.”

The carmaker when so far as to email reporters "a press release that quoted its CEO announcing the fake change."

The goal: "The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fools’ Day, highlighting the launch of the all-electric ID.4 SUV and signaling our commitment to bringing electric mobility to all," a company spokesperson is quoted as telling USA Today.

The good: Volkswagen certainly achieved its goal and broke through the typical noise of April Fools’ Day brand pranks. We all know now that VW does electric vehicles. And the campaign probably won’t directly deter anyone from buying a VW. So, no harm done, right?

The bad: Dozens of media outlets took the bait. In an environment where institutional trust remains low, reporters have every right to be particularly sensitive about their credibility. And this is certain to infuriate many of them. The next time VW PR calls up an auto industry reporter, they shouldn’t be overly surprised if the reporter hangs up on them.

The ugly: AP reports, “The fake release could land Volkswagen in trouble with U.S. securities regulators because its stock price rose nearly 5% on Tuesday, the day the bogus statement was officially issued. Investors of late have been responding positively to news of companies increasing electric vehicle production, swelling the value of shares of Tesla as well as of some EV startups.”

The AP report also rehashed the company’s 2015 auto emissions scandal, reminding readers of the huge credibility blow they took from it.

The moral: April Fools’ pranks can be fun, but don’t forget they can backfire. It’s important to consider all the ways a prank can backfire. And in the end, sometimes it’s better just to stay quiet. That’s right, when it comes to protecting your brand’s image, no publicity is better than bad publicity.

If you’re questioning how a conceived prank might be received by your stakeholders, seek the advice of a qualified public relations professional. My email is steve@hollywoodagency.com.

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