Every year as April 1st approaches, people around the world rev up their engines to unleash some of the most creative and outlandish pranks for a few laughs. If you’ve ever woken up to your shampoo being swapped with hair dye or the sugar replaced with salt, you know what we’re talking about.

While you may have experienced being pranked by your roommate or sibling, and may even come to expect it at this point, the pranks don’t end there. Today, brands are also trying to get in on the game and pull a fast one on their audiences with their April Fool’s Day marketing stunts. But let’s be real; sometimes they hit the mark, and other times they look like they deserve a permanent spot in the cringe hall of fame.

Just imagine you’re scrolling through your social media and you suddenly come across this:

2018 Burger King’s April Fools’ Day Prank | www.eater.com

You’d probably pause for a minute and ask yourself why Burger King would create such a monstrosity before somebody points out that it’s April Fools’ Day and you have a little chuckle or roll your eyes at the sheer audacity of the stunt you’ve just fallen victim to.

That’s the beauty of April Fools’ Day marketing campaigns. It’s a very high-risk strategy but if you get it right, it can be a high-reward outcome where brands that put their reputation on the line can secure a few laughs or even go viral.

We’re sure you’ve seen quite a few doozies over the years—and so have we. So let’s take a look at the brands that we think nailed it vs the ones that failed it.

Nailed It! – Lego’s ‘SmartBricks’

If you’ve got kids, or are around kids, you’ve surely felt that sharp, agonizing pain of stepping on a Lego. With this in mind, Lego ‘introduced’ SmartBricks, which was a clever and kind of on-the-nose prank that everyone ended up loving.

The marketing campaign got over 15k likes and 3,000+ reposts because not only was it funny but it was also something that people could relate to because who among us hasn’t hopped around in pain and embarrassment after accidentally standing on a Lego?

The concept of SmartBricks? Lego bricks that automatically move away from your path as you walk by. It’s a pretty impressive concept that not only has a bit of humor in it but also points out some negatives that are associated with the brand and pokes fun at the brand itself.

Failed It! – Tesla Goes Bankrupt

March 2018. Not a great month for Tesla. From auto recalls, factory production issues, and a downgrade of its credit status, the electric car company wasn’t doing so well. And the federal safety agency was also investigating their Model X, which was involved in a fatal car crash in California.

Going through all this negative publicity would push any other company to stay away from controversy but Elon Musk threw caution to the wind and announced on 1st April 2018 in a Tweet that Tesla had gone bankrupt.

It may have created a stir but investors didn’t see the humor in it. Instead of people praising it as a true ‘gotcha’ moment, according to The Washington Post, shares fell 5% with business experts questioning Musk’s ability to lead the multi-million dollar electric car company. Elon Musk may have a lot of hits but this simply wasn’t one of them.

Nailed It! – McDonald’s ‘Milkshake Sauce Pots’

Ever dipped your McDonald’s fries in a milkshake? Believe it or not, there’s a whole group of people who swear by it. It first started in the U.S. and then made its way around the world as a ‘must-try’ combo.

It became such a hit that McDonald’s used it in their April Fools’ Day marketing campaign by ‘launching’ mini milkshake sauce pots.

McDonald’s 2019 April Fools’ Day prank | The Caples Awards

For people who swore by this combo, they were excited about this launch—until they realized it was all a prank.

The ad went on to rack up over 875k views on X and over 8,000 likes. While some were disappointed that it was just an April Fools’ Day marketing stunt, it did present a unique opportunity that even McDonald’s may not have caught on to at first.

It’s not just about how funny the pranks are—it’s also a great way to test out new products. Many brands have gone on to do just that. ThinkGeek, for instance, is known for coming out with products based on its April Fools’ Day pranks and has even gone on to be written up in The New York Times!

It just goes to show that even something as simple as an April Fools’ Day stunt can bring in many impressive ideas and innovations that can help skyrocket your sales if you get the job done right.

Failed It! – Google’s ‘Mic Drop’ Prank

In 2016, Google’s April Fool’s Day marketing prank backfired and the company had to issue an apology to its users.

The company announced that it was launching a new feature for Gmail called the Mic Drop which was supposed to make it easier to have the last word on emails by adding a GIF of a minion dropping the mic.

‘Mic Drop’ Google April Fools’ Day prank gone wrong | Reddit

However, a coding error made by Google programmers created a storm of negative feedback because the GIF appeared on emails unintentionally and needed to be turned off manually. 

After the joke failed to land, the company issued an apology: “We love April Fools’ jokes at Google, and we regret that this joke missed the mark and disappointed you.”

Nailed It! – Lululemon’s ‘Spray-on Yoga Pants’

A good idea isn’t easily forgotten no matter how much time has passed and that’s why we wanted to include something from 2014 when Lululemon—a specialist in gym attire—partnered with Jimmy Kimmel to create a spoof that involved spray-on yoga pants. This was largely in response to a ban in U.S. schools that prevented yoga pants from being worn because they were too tight.

Priced at a stunning $1,200 per pair, the product description read: Goodbye pants, hello comfort. Designed for lightweight flexibility and versatility, our newest innovation, Spray-On Yoga Pants, will take us to and through our practice without the fuss. The breathable, seamless construction provides next-level comfort whether we’re headed straight to class or the cafe.”

Lululemon and Jimmy Kimmel partner for April Fools’ Day prank | Lululemon on X

The video clip has been viewed 6.8M times and was covered by media outlets around the U.S. and internationally. Not only did it hit the mark on creativity but it also stood up against the schools that banned them.

Tips for your next April Fools’ Day marketing campaign

Brands use humor to get attention all the time—if it’s pitched right. The best campaigns are the ones that know how to use humor to get results that work for their brand.

Here are five questions to ask yourself if you’re trying to create a joke that makes your audience laugh instead of turning them into an angry mob.

Does it suit your brand?

The chances of success for your April Fools’ Day marketing stunts are much higher if you align them with your brand’s approach. But if you’re a serious brand, this may not be the right strategy for you.

If you do decide to go this route, keep in mind that you’re going to need buy-in from the top of the corporate ladder because if your leaders or your business doesn’t want to deal with criticism, it’s better to leave it alone.

Is it really that funny?

Poor jokes and lame jokes can easily tarnish the reputation you’ve spent so many years building. If you’re not sure if the joke will have a positive or negative reaction, it’s always a good idea to get a focus group with diverse people and get their opinions before you go ahead.

Is the timing right?

If you’re pulling an April Fools’ Day marketing prank, make sure people know it. Volkswagen, for instance, wanted to pull a prank by rebranding in 2021 ahead of the first EV release. Unfortunately, they made the press release on 29th March which was way too early for anyone to get that it was an April Fools’ Day prank.

What was worse was that it didn’t have any humor to make it sound like a prank. People thought it was real and the brand’s share price increased, which got US regulators involved in an investigation. Needless to say, it was a dark day for Volkswagen’s marketing strategy.

What if it disrupts function?

Gmail was functioning just fine until the ‘Mic Drop’ stunt hit users like a ton of bricks. Aside from automatically being added to emails, users also found out that the feature didn’t let the sender receive any replies to their emails.

So it wasn’t a surprise when the brand faced a storm of unhappy users who were caught in the middle of an April Fools’ Day disaster.

Should you make it believable?

You want your prank to fool people but only until they read the caption or the press release and realize it was all a part of a prank. The pranks need to be believable but also ridiculous so that you’re not creating a media storm where people believe it’s an actual marketing campaign.

Is a mixed bag of laughs the way to go for your brand?

April Fools’ Day marketing campaigns can be a whirlwind of hits and misses. Some brands know just how to hit that sweet spot with funny, creative, and harmless pranks.

These campaigns know how to entertain and also show a more laid-back side which leaves a positive impression on the audience. Keep in mind that there’s a thin line between funny and offensive, and some brands (like the ones we’ve talked about) can result in a lot of eye-rolls and facepalms instead of genuine amusement.

Ultimately, the success of any marketing strategy depends on understanding your audience, knowing your boundaries, embracing creativity, and aiming for laughter instead of cringes.

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