No joke – why fake news is great for business (but only once a year)

calendar april 1st

The article from the BBC news website said that children under 13 were to be banned from accessing the internet.  New government legislation would come into force at noon preventing children from accessing all online content on any device.  Credible academic sources were quoted describing the impact of internet addiction on developing minds; from sleep deprivation to poor social skills.

BBC website hoax alison read

The desperate howls from households across the land were imprinted on Facebook timelines with glee, as knowing parents recognised the telltale signs of an April Fools’ prank and inflicted it on their wide-eyed progeny.  My own son was more prosaic.  He read the article, shook his head in dismay and said ‘This means that after lunchtime I can’t go online again for six years?  So, can I go back on until then?’

Fool me once

Of course, it wasn’t true. Sadly.  It was the first of a slew of April Fools’ Day posts being shared around the internet.  Parents loved it and shared it generously.  The joke was on the kids, and perhaps a tad cruel since many of the younger ones, like my son, would have had no clue of the significance of the date.  I suppose they could have Googled it…

How deliciously ironic that in this era of ‘fake news’, there is one day a year on which we celebrate the best (and the worst) of deliberately dishonest content.  April 1st is a unique annual content marketing opportunity!

The power of the prank

Newspapers have always understood the marketing potential of a good April Fools’ day hoax and would vie with each other for the best fake news article.  Circulations spiked as people pored over every article, trying to be the first to spot the dud.  In 1957, the BBC Panorama programme, normally a respected news source, presented an item on the world spaghetti harvest, in what is believed to be the first televised April Fools’ Day hoax.

With the growth of the internet and social media, everyone can join in this tradition, and done well, your post or page could reach thousands of people around the world, in a very short time.  The global brands know this and some spend months, and a considerable amount of money, creating glossy ads, such as this one from Lexus, or this, the Google Gnome.

But it doesn’t take a sky high budget to join in, the best hoaxes are often the simplest.

What does it take to pull off a great April Fools’ day joke?

It should be almost believable; enough for some people to be taken in, yet leaving clues for the cynics to notice and have a laugh at the expense of their gullible friends (or children, as in the original example).

Ideally, it should be funny. Funny things get shared and that’s what will up your organic reach.

But not funny at the expense of someone, or something. Gwent Police released a press release on their latest sniffer dog, a dachshund named Ray.  To many people, the idea of a little sausage dog doing serious police work is funny.  Apparently not to devotees of dachsunds, who thought it was a marvellous idea, fitting for such a noble breed, and were quite offended to find out otherwise.

Gwent Police sniffer dog april hoax

Add an image. Goes without saying. If you want something shared on social media, make it visual.  The fact that I failed to find any examples that didn’t have visuals probably reinforces this point!

Try to relate it to your products or service.  People will make the connection, and remember the company, not just the pun.  This Facebook post from a local caravan park got 54 shares in less than an hour.  And they get extra content marketing points for engaging in some great banter with the commenters. Did you know the Moray Firth is home to the world’s largest colony of mermaids?!

April fools hoax beach hut

Even better, make it reflect your brand values. Emirates unveiled the world’s largest commercial airliner, the first in the sky to include a swimming pool. Ridiculous, of course. Yet, if anyone would be able to pull off an indulgence like that, it would be luxury brand, Emirates.

Luxury airliner hoax april fool

Put it together and what have you got?

I’ve saved my favourite till last.  This one from Funeralbookers has it all. The home cremation kit. It’s credible, it’s visual and very funny. The copywriting is very clever, with some great puns – ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, ‘Home is Where the Hearth is’, ‘Disco Inferno’ and ‘Ash Back Guarantee’.

Top marks to this firm that I had never heard of before, until I came across their link in a piece in The Telegraph yesterday.

fake news cremation kit

How strange then, that today their Facebook page still has just 95 likes?

Oh well, you can’t win them all.  Even the greatest content needs the right marketing strategy!

With thanks to Karl, Karen, Margaret, Tug, Paula and Sarah, among others, for their dedication in tracking down the best of this year’s hoaxes! x

 

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