April Fools’ Day is one of the best times of the year to make a marketing campaign go viral. Many brands have taken advantage of this day of practical jokes in order to get people’s attention.
Often referred to as “hoax marketing,” it has been a way to market to the masses while spending a fraction of what you normally would (guerrilla marketing at its finest). The concept is to basically create a hoax that is believable in order to make it go viral, only to let people know in the end that it was just a joke.
The great result about these campaigns is the cost versus the return. With the digital age of marketing, you only need to spend a little bit of money to get one of these campaigns off the ground. If you are good with making videos and writing press releases, your cost can be reduced to nothing.
Now, before I start providing examples I want to give a word of caution. While April 1st has provided a great window of opportunity for some, it has also backfired on many others. You will want to make sure everyone you want to include in the campaign is on board, including your legal team (that’s not a joke).
Here are some of the marketing homeruns that have taken place on April Fools’ Day over the last couple of years.
Esurance Election Insurance, Don’t Leave the U.S. Without It
“Protect your home in case of a sudden move to another country with Election Insurance.”
2016 was the year of a very contentious presidential election. Esurance was able to take advantage of this on April 1st when its advertisement for election insurance went viral online.
Being a neutral observer to the election, Esurance offered insurance to anyone leaving the country depending on the election results. The insurance was to cover the policy holder’s property they left behind when moving to Canada (a common threat made by people to voice their distaste for the candidate they do not support). It issued a press release and a YouTube advertisement which quickly went viral.
Of course, the insurance wasn’t really being offered, but a press release and YouTube video brought a lot of exposure for Esurance without spending a ton of money. One thing that kept the campaign from backfiring was the company not taking a particular side on the presidential election and instead bringing a little humor into it.
Elections can be turned into a viral marketing topic if done correctly. Just make sure to remain neutral or it could backfire on you.
The Hoverboard is Here, Finally
As if the site did not already have enough visitors, Funny or Die was able to get a ton of traffic and new followers over the release of the hoverboard. We have anticipated its release since it was first shown in the 1985 film Back to the Future. So in 2014 when the commercial came out for the first available hoverboard the internet went crazy.
Press image of the HUVr hoverboard from the HUVr website, set up as part of the hoax.
In addition to the video commercial, a website was set up for HUVr, the fake company behind the product. This added to the credibility of the hoax and gave something for people to think was real.
Now, unless you are reading this article 20 years after I posted it, chances are hoverboards still are not around. The announcement from Funny or Die that it was fake didn’t spark any protests as most people knew they weren’t available yet. However, the thought that they could be resulted in the website getting plenty of traffic.
How successful was the campaign? Well, the video for the product has more than 17 million views as of November 2016, a little more than two years after it was announced.
Everyone Likes Bacon, Well Almost
Yes, people have found many innovative ways to incorporate bacon into their products. My favorite is chocolate bacon, but that doesn’t really mean anything when it comes to April Fools.
In 2013, Scope (Procter & Gamble) came out with a new product that everyone would love … bacon mouthwash.
Amazon.com screenshot of a bacon scented candle from Yankee Candle. Products such as this gave Procter & Gamble all the ammunition it needed to push its “bacon mouthwash” hoax.
The idea made some excited, some disgusted, and most in disbelief. Even watching the commercial leaves the taste of bacon in your mouth. That alone probably drove sales for the authentic, non-pork flavors of the product.
Most people realized it was a joke, but it was funny enough for people to share the video with their friends, generating viral traffic for Procter & Gamble. Audience engagement is key to a viral marketing campaign and P&G nailed it. The only one who wasn’t amused was former P&G Facebook follower, Steve Ellsworth, who wrote:
“OK, I just unliked your page, never fool with bacon.”
Hooters Turn to Roosters to Expand its Business Model
Remember Hooters? That place with the cute waitresses that also sells hot wings? Well, in 2015 many people who may have forgotten the place were reintroduced. As were many people who learned of the place for the first time.
Hooters has been met with controversy in the past for not hiring male waiters to service in its restaurant. So it was a believable concept when they introduced their Roosters brand, a male version of the company’s restaurants.
“Finally, a restaurant that provides good eats and eye candy for women!” – College Candy
Hooters made the announcement, along with the results of their “survey” which showed that 74 percent of people asked said they would likely frequent the restaurant. While many were happy with the news, the joy turned to disappointment when it was discovered to be an April Fools’ joke.
Press image of the Roosters concept announced by Hooters on April 1, 2015.
Good news for Hooters is that it jumpstarted the brand, even if only for a short time, without spending millions in ad campaigns. Who knows, maybe the interest generated by the campaign will lead to the concept becoming reality.
The Selfie-Shoe from Miz-Mooz
Miz-Mooz is a shoe brand I had never heard of before April 2015. That is when it launched its new “selfie-shoe” which took the world by storm.
First, this was one of the funniest commercials I have ever seen. It made me do more research to find out if the company was real. Ultimately, I now know all about the brand thanks to its efforts with a simple hoax marketing campaign. Mission accomplished.
Most people knew this was fake, but it was funny enough that people watched and shared the video more than 2 million times. It mixed in the “selfie” phenomenon with those who hate people taking selfies. Who would think that a shoe company would bring the two together?
Taco Bell Bombs Historically, Wins Free Publicity
Hoax marketing has existed even before the internet. The digital age has just made it cooler, and funnier, and easier to debunk. Unfortunately for Taco Bell in 1996, the internet was unable to help them out of a hoax marketing campaign that backfired.
The “Taco Liberty Bell” had the making of a great April Fools’ Day joke, although some people didn’t see it that way. The company took out a full-page ad in major city newspapers announcing they had purchased the Liberty Bell. They had also renamed it and Taco Bell would be the new sponsor of a national treasure.
The New York Times announcement from Taco Bell about the purchase of the Liberty Bell.
In 1996, the internet was no help in seeking answers to this news. Who was? The National Park Service who received hundreds of calls from people complaining, including politicians who were outraged that the government had sold the Liberty Bell to a fast food chain.
While the campaign got Taco Bell a lot of attention, it wasn’t necessarily the attention it wanted. While there is no such thing as bad press, there was some ill-will that Taco Bell had to deal with for a while after recanting its April Fools’ Day prank.
Despite the backlash, this campaign is considered a model of hoax marketing. The cost to put the ball in motion was $300,000. The result of the campaign was an estimated $25 million worth of publicity.
Math isn’t my strong point, but that seems like a pretty damn good return.
BMW Takes the Crown
And now, we crown the king of April Fools’ hoax marketing. One of the pioneers in the space who has really taken advantage of it better than anyone else. That would be BMW.
1987 magazine advertisement from BMW warning of fake BMW vehicles. In addition to the picture above, it contained detailed instructions for how to determine if your BMW was authentic or fake.
The car company began running campaigns for April Fools in the early 1980s. They actually perfected their techniques prior to the internet being available to the public. A company known for disruptive engineering, it took that label to a whole new level each year.
Some of the best new features for BMW cars announced on April 1st have included:
- Dashboard tire pressure control – This is now a reality (almost), but not in 1985 when BMW announced it. Their new models would give you the ability to see the tire pressure in individual tires and adjust them with the touch of a button.
- Optiglass – No longer do you need to wear prescription glasses in your car. Thanks to this 1995 hoax marketing campaign, BMW now installs windshields with the driver’s prescription.
- Magnetic tow – If your BMW should ever break down, simply tow it with another. The new magnetic tow technology introduced in 2009 lets you tow a BMW using magnets installed in the bumpers.
- BMW pickup – This one was brilliant. In 2011, BMW introduced an all new BMW pickup truck. Well, not exactly. They let the press introduce it. They brought it to a test track where they try out new vehicle concepts, knowing photographers would be spying on the latest and greatest innovations. The truck was a concept all right. A marketing concept that worked wonders for BMW.
Now, I wanted to go a step further to explain just how well BMW has perfected its hoax marketing. In 2015, it ran what has been referred to as the first “reverse April Fools’ Day joke.” The company took out an ad in Newspapers in New Zealand, offering to give the first person to come to the dealership a new BMW.
Of course, most people knew it was an April Fools’ Day joke so no-one was rushing down to the dealership or standing in line. However, when someone finally did show up, the dealership actually gave away a free BMW. People were shocked and the story went viral. BMW was able to generate hundreds of thousands worth of free publicity for a fraction of the price (the cost of the car).
I’m not saying you need to give away a car, but if you can steal a BMW advertising executive, that would be just as good.
Final Word on April Fools’ Day Hoax Marketing
Having fun with your marketing campaign is, well … fun. Just keep in mind that you can go too far sometimes. Make sure everyone involved with the campaign is on board before launching in order to avoid any lawsuits or complaints. Who knows, maybe you will be the person we write about for having a hoax marketing campaign that goes viral.
Tell us about your favorite hoax marketing campaign.
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons. Depicts an April Fools marketing campaign in Denmark, showcasing a new subway system in Copenhagen.