PR Advice for April Fools and Beyond: Lighten Up, But Keep it Real

"Ceci n'est pas une pipe bomb." by oztenphoto

“Ceci n’est pas une pipe bomb.” by oztenphoto, a tribute to Boston’s overreaction to a too-clever marketing campaign

Well, it’s that time again: time to sift through your inbox and tweet stream, figure out what’s real and what’s not, and maybe laugh a little in the process. Yep: it’s April Fools Day, the national holiday of marketing professionals (even for us no-frills Bostonians).

To prepare for today, I’ve spent the last couple of days reading up on hoaxes, hacks and hilarity. I also re-read my copy of Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, the bible of all modern prospective media hoaxters.

Holiday earned quite the reputation after coming clean with some of his bigger, more underhanded media campaigns. This 25-year-old marketing pro reminds every would-be viral marketer that competition in today’s market for attention comes from every possible corner. Or, put more concisely by Holiday in an interview with Chase Jarvis, “porn is a click away at any given moment.”

Making a headline-grabbing April Fools campaign is a lot like becoming the center of attention at a large, noisy social gathering: you have to use everything at your disposal. The two most important assets at a cocktail party are looks and voice. Let’s explore each.


Humans evolved to respond to visuals. If it moves, we tune it in. Once we’ve tuned it in, if it’s visually pleasing, we stay tuned in. Magicians take advantage of it to amaze us. Marketers have known this since the dawn of advertising. Our fascination with visuals is what makes YouTube the number two search engine in the world. It’s what leads Facebook’s “EdgeRank” algorithm to favor images over links and text when deciding what to show in you news feed.

The more popular of today’s hoaxes will have a visual element. A few of my favorites from recent years included clever visuals, including these two from Starbucks and Google:

Google, by the way, isn’t slacking off this year. Fresh off of the furor around killing Google Reader, it has announced it’s killing YouTube next…

However important sight is, we’re easily distracted by shiny objects. If you want to keep our attention, you have to use your voice.


The next most important thing in a cocktail party is your voice. Loud voices carry, but humans are damn good at tuning people out. In fact, there is an entire area of study in science devoted to studying this so-called Cocktail Party Effect. Volume might help at first, just like sight does, but if what we hear doesn’t interest us, we’ll move on quickly.

Finding your right voice takes a lot of time, but focusing on stories — and more specifically on the “why” — is an important step toward figuring that out.

When it comes to April Fools, you must ask yourself whether your corporate voice has room for playful or dark humor. And you must have a very clear sense of the risk tolerance of your organization and industry.

Lighten Up, But Keep It Real

My advice for anyone considering jumping on this bandwagon next year? If you want to get seen, find the right imagery. If you want to be remembered, find your voice. And if you want to be remembered for the right things, lighten up and keep it real.

Lighten up by allowing some use of humor. It grabs us. And it helps us remember you. Try it out today. See how it feels. If it fits, use it again next year. If it was effective, think about ways in which you can deploy humor throughout the year. But be careful!

Keep it real. Everybody knows not to trust news releases on April 1st. But when April 2nd rolls around and you’re still in a laughing mood, make sure that you’re laughing with your community, not at them. Humor comes at the expense of someone, and that someone should be yourself. Laughter makes us human, and companies that can laugh — especially at themselves — feel real.

Smell you later!

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Todd Van Hoosear

About Todd Van Hoosear

Todd’s love of technology started as a child, when his dad would bring home chips and switches from his work in the electronics industry that would feed his imagination for years. Combining a stint as an IT guy with his education in PR and communication, Todd has helped clients in the engineering, mobile, cloud, networking, consumer technology and consulting spaces bring new ideas – and new takes on old ideas – to the market.

Learn more about Todd

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