Head of News

April Fool’s is one of the biggest days in a lot of brands’ content calendar – but, our new head of news Sam Christie sets out why social media success should be the goal – rather than column inches.

As a journalist, I’ve seen it all and it usually isn’t great. I’ve heard countless colleagues grumbling over being swamped with irrelevant and frustrating April Fool’s press releases and even seen hapless workmates fall hook, line and sinker for some that seemed a little too real. 

Funny at the time, maybe – but is stirring newshounds’ anger the best way to get noticed, when effective PR is about building strong relationships with key contacts? Of course, occasionally you get a shining example of April mischief, when the stars and the news agenda align to create the perfect viral moment. 

The Mirror ran a blog this year as they knew it would be a traffic driver and successful pranks included Square Babybel, B&Q perfume range and Silent flights. 

Most of these were created and shared with compelling content on social media channels targeted directly at brand fans. Rewarding the community who love you with a light hearted moment of entertainment and generating a basketful of goodwill.

But all too often, pranks backfire, misfire or don’t fire at all. 

In 2021, an April Fool’s Day prank pulled by Volkswagen was sussed out before the day itself.

The firm was going to joke that it was changing its name to “Voltswagen” in the US – but it was leaked to the media days early by mistake.

A radio DJ pranked listeners in 2001 by claiming a replica of the Titanic could be seen from Beachy Head, Britain’s highest chalk sea cliffs.

Hundreds of people flocked to the viewing point in Eastbourne, East Sussex, and coastguards found a 5ft crack in the cliff, likely due to the weight of the crowds, and police had to urge the public to stay away.

A few days later, part of the site collapsed into the sea and the radio station issued an apology.

This week Royal Mail apologised after a manager announced a pay rise for striking staff in what turned out to be an April Fool’s prank.

A letter seen by staff said the company had agreed a breakthrough salary increase of 11 per cent, backdated to April last year, and staff would be able to use their own cars to make deliveries.

The notice was put up at the Royal Mail Gloucester North branch, but was widely shared because it urged staff to spread the word on social media.

The enduring lesson for brands? Only do an April fool’s if it will achieve your overall strategic objective. 

If that’s to be noticed and to disrupt, it can work – but in my opinion, there are 364 other days in the year that can be more effective.