It's Time To End April Fool's Day

Ed Zitron 3 min read

So this morning I was on Good Morning America for roughly five seconds talking about Volkswagen’s “April Fool’s” gag. The reason I put it in quotes is that the gag - changing their name to “Voltswagen” - was “accidentally” posted on Monday, then really posted on Tuesday, and then walked back on Wednesday, three days that were in March, not April. Their spokespeople refused to decline that it was an April Fool’s gag, and kept the ruse going in a vague attempt to promote their one electric vehicle.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Generally April Fool’s jokes happen in April. In some cases people post them on March 31st because they’re too excited to put out whatever milquetoast “joke” they have.
  2. A lot of people, including Volkswagen, have conflated “April Fool’s jokes” with “lying to people.”

I’ve said for a while that April Fool’s jokes are bad, especially during a global pandemic. They really only have two forms - a joke that isn’t really funny, or an outright lie that’s posted on April 1 with the intention of shocking or upsetting people, and then giving them brief relief when they realize the date. The point of them is that they’re meant to get attention for a brand, perhaps making it into one of the vacuous lists of “best April Fool’s pranks” that are really just wastes of marketing budgets for a joke that will be at best forgotten in a week.

The reason it keeps happening is because people wrongheadedly believe that all press is good press, when that’s completely incorrect.

Let’s go through the scenarios that could come out of an April Fool’s joke:

  1. The consumer laughs. Now what? Does laughter equal a purchase? I guess they’re vaguely aware of you for something…that isn’t true? Great job. And how funny are you really? The answer is “not that funny.”
  2. The consumer is upset because they were lied to. Okay, now they’re upset, because you misled them into believing something bad is happening, and when they realize they were misled, their reaction is still negative. Why mislead them? Nobody wants to feel tricked.
  3. The consumer is excited to buy something that doesn’t exist. Now you’ve given the customer hope and then taken it away. Great stuff!

I really hated Stack Overflow’s April Fool’s joke - which they posted almost an entire day before - which said that there would be a copy paste limit added to any account that didn’t buy “the Key,” a piece of hardware that had only three buttons.

Let’s see how people reacted!

Forgot it was april fool's and my heart skipped a beat lmao. Was ready to start writing my resignation letter and begin looking at farmland to purchase.
It isn't April fools in my time zone yet so I was very confused
Same. I was instantly furious.
I honestly got really upset.
This would literally ruin careers lmao
Mother fucker
What if they are really trying to implement that and just to know the public pulse they tested it on April 1st?
What the hell? Why is stackoverflow turning worse and worse every day?

What is the value in creating this kind of feeling in a user? Was it worth getting one or two pieces of coverage to upset people, even briefly?

I like to call things like this the empty calories of branding - things that may drive awareness or attention to you that also fail to create any sort of value. Publicity stunts as a whole kind of suck - kind of like firing a loaded gun into the air and saying “well everyone was looking at me!” - and April Fool’s is worse.

The only way to make an April Fool’s joke work is to make it so blatantly obvious it’s not real that it’s just, honestly, a joke about something that didn’t happen, at which point it’s not particularly funny. Making an entire joke based on lying is just boring, and on a company level there’s absolutely zero value in doing so.

The only thing to do on April Fool’s is a real thing that people might thing is made up that is real, and make it a good thing. If people are pleasantly surprised you’re doing something that’s real and good, that’s going to make people happy. But most companies see this as a day to make some sort of corny, boring joke that they use hours of people’s time to create, like Starbucks making a coffee shop for dogs. Who cares? Is that brief laugh really that interesting?

I really encourage you to not indulge in this pointless crap any longer. No more April Fool’s! Be done with it! Lying to people is boring and unfunny! You’re not making any friends, and whatever anecdotal “my buddy made sales off of April Fool’s” story you have is false. It’s time to give it up.

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