Prank Campaign Retrospective
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You Can’t Be Serious: An April Fools’ Prank Campaign Retrospective

Social media has turned April Fools’ Day into a sort of Super Bowl for online pranks. Certain companies put as much thought into creating over-the-top ways to fool their customers on April 1 as they do into any other serious campaign intended to drive sales. The end goal? Be relevant, be memorable,  and show customers that you’re more than just a marketing machine. In order to win big, you have to plan well — and also, increasingly in these surreal times, know how to tread the fine line between humor/parody and clickbait or sensationalized news.

Here’s a roundup of some brands that clowned expertly on April Fools’ past. We hat-tip to them, because we know how hard it is to: a) convince a brand to spend significant resources on a prank with a 1-day window of relevance; and b) achieve that perfectly shareable prank piece. Funny can be hard.

5 clever campaigns for April Fools’

Starbucks – New Drink Sizes

Prank Campaign Retrospective

We can all give Starbucks props for being one of the most self-aware corporations in modernity. The company knows what drives people insane about it, and it also knows what will drive 50% of the population crazy and get the other 50% sharing photos all over social media. For proof, look no further than the Unicorn Frappuccino. Were they even serious with it? We’ll never know — but they rolled it out exactly in time to ride the unicorn food trend.

Quite a bit further back in the annals of social media history, Starbucks once (in 2010) clowned its most hated packaging elements, i.e. ridiculous cup names and over-sized large cups. On April Fools’, it rolled out the Micra — basically the size of an espresso cup — and the Plenta, which bloggers compared to a KFC family bucket. We’re pretty sure the Micra is an actual Starbucks espresso cup, albeit not with that name.

Warby Parker – Warby Barker

Regardless whether you love the specs by this ur-hipster startup or not, its 2012 April Fools’ video announcing a line of glasses for dogs is pure genius. It’s short, peppy, and probably didn’t cost much to produce. It also is endearing for being self-aware – just like Starbucks, only with Brooklyn ridiculousness. Best moment: the pug in the monocole.

Twitter – Pay for Vowels

Prank Campaign Retrospective

Little did Twitter know in 2013 that vowels and, indeed, any kind of proper spelling, would soon become totally dispensable as far as hipster millennial artists and identity designers are concerned. OR, DID THEY….? This announcement of  “two-tiered service” where only paying customers get access to vowels has gained irony in five years, because it is so entirely believable that Twitter or any hot, disruptive startup rolling out a new product might decide to brand it XCTLY L!K THT. (Inspired by Vanna White and Pat Sajack? Perhaps.)

Burger King – Whopper Toothpaste

Because everyone knows that flame-broiled, cheesy, oniony burger breath is absolutely desirable, especially the longer it lasts. Burger King played up the gross factor to the hilt in this 2017 hoax spot, even bringing in a fake doctor to tout the many benefits of Whopper Toothpaste. The perfect gross-out grace note? When the lead actor finishes brushing, swishes his mouth, and then… swallows. UGH!

Hulu – Hu

Prank Campaign Retrospective

The teaser for Hulu’s 2017 “micro-content” prank faux-rollout is so similar to an actual network highlights teaser, it‘s actually hard to tell whether they’re serious or not till the end. At the point where the “Goldfish approved” stamp appears, you can be pretty sure it’s a joke. Especially because the comment section is very much in the know. But still, to be sure, I at least went over to the landing page to click around a bit and see how far the streaming service went with this micro-short content idea.

Basically they only go to the point of calling out that the average human attention span is now 8 seconds, on par with goldfish. As for Hulu devising the perfect content format for the post-ADHD era? They didn’t, but the whole campaign reminds you that its content library is full of good stuff — and sends the message that this brand is still highly relevant, though it hasn’t become the giant that Netflix has yet.

 

Lena Katz

About Lena

Lena Katz's credits as a development producer, casting producer and locations manager include cable TV (WEtv, Revolt, HGTV), and digital-first productions (WhaleRock, mikeroweWORKS, Tastemade). She worked directly for major brands including Suzuki, Hormel and Brown-Forman. Learn more about her company at Variable Content.

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