Is America ready for brand pranks and jokes despite the ongoing pandemic this April Fools’ Day?
Marketing experts say to approach with caution—but bring on the parodies, slapstick and whoopee cushions as audiences continue to search for coping mechanisms and ways to de-stress.
Last year, brands’ traditional April Fools’ Day campaigns were nearly non-existent as marketers treaded lightly with their messaging in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As coronavirus cases and deaths climbed, the notion that companies would step away from charitable or frontline support efforts to give away fake products, misdirect consumers or pull gags felt wrong and irresponsible. Brands that typically create for the holiday—Google, Honda, Shutterstock, SodaStream—skipped the day altogether. T-Mobile went so far as to launch a campaign called “#GiveThanksNotPranks,” telling followers it would donate $1 to Buys & Girls Clubs for every tweet with the hashtag.
With 27% of the U.S. population now vaccinated and spring bringing confidence that a slow, but steady return to pre-pandemic life is underway, at least as far as consumer spending goes, industry experts say the landscape has changed dramatically since this time last year. One factor that could temper optimism is a new wave of inflections across Europe that could foreshadow future lockdowns in the states. Still, experts believe consumers could benefit from some April Fools’ Day campaigns, although ones that are less deceiving or purposefully misleading than in years past.
“April 1, 2021 is shaping up as very different from April 1, 2020,” says Matt Creamer, co-head of creative at Forsman & Bodenfors New York, who’s worked on his fair share of April Fools’ Day campaigns for brands like Seagrams and is in the process of discussing this year’s work with a client.
“A year ago, there was incredible confusion around the pandemic sweeping the world. In the heat of that terrible moment, people didn't have time for pranks or tricks and brands were right to avoid adding any additional confusion to a very chaotic environment,” says Creamer. “This year is different; while we have a long way to go, there isn't the same cloud of confusion hanging over the world. We know what we have to do. That said, as always, brands need to be sensitive, but there is more room to explore humor, if it's done tastefully, carefully, and clearly.”