Prank or fail? A sideays glance at April Fools Day 2012

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According to the website, aprilfoolsdayontheweb.com, there were more than 350 April Fools’ Day pranks conducted by brands and bloggers across the web yesterday.

We kept track of the automotive ones and of these, only 4 out of 9 embraced the medium of video – with one of those (Google’s driverless NASCAR race car) not even shareable.

So what is it about April Fools that deters brands from getting involved?

It’s like Karaoke, without the music..

I came across a phrase whilst compiling our article, Ad Watch: The most amusing Automotive April Fools’ pranks of 2011/2012, which sums up the problem:

“April Fools is like a huge open mic night in which millions of people go out of their way to demonstrate how unfunny they are..”

Most brands lack a sense of humour and when they attempt humour, it goes against their very nature to be self-deprecating – in fact the humour is usually a less than subtle way of sugar-coating a dry and self-promotional press release.

2012′s winners and losers

Take Automotive vehicle information expert, HPI, (the people you contact to find out if your car is stolen, owes finance or has been clocked). Their April Fools’ prank ‘HPI helps singles survive the dating scene and avoid a relationship write-off‘, whilst interesting in theory, spent 2/3rds of the release talking about the £35,000 guarantee available as part of their HPI Check service (yawn..).

Past masters BMW are renowned for their April 1st pranks which have included; BMW Political Roundel Attachment Tag (PRAT) that let owners show their partisanship during the 2010 general elections, the BMW M3 Royal Edition, built to celebrate Kate and William’s royal nuptials and of course 2008′s Canine Repellent Alloy Protection (CRAP) which was the brainchild of Dr Hans Zoff..

However this year, their April Fools’ prank – BMW introduces the driverless Running Coach – was little more than an advert for BMW’s involvement in the London 2012 Games.

Of the social videos produced, Subaru’s ‘Beat the hosepipe ban with a self-cleaning Subaru‘ earned just 6,000 views and less than a handful of shares.

TomTom’s ‘Darth Vader holds the key to making your children happier‘ reached the giddy heights of 280,543 views (which perhaps reflects the huge popularity of TomTom’s viral videos) and Peugeot’s ‘RCZ Mood Paint Demonstration‘ reached an audience of 51,864 viewers.

What can we learn?

The first rule of April Fools is: You do not promote a real product. The second rule of April Fools is: You do not quote real facts in your press release. But the third rule of April Fools is: Unless you’re really funny, don’t try to be.

Compared to last year when we had Land Rover’s ‘Self-levelling Tax Disc Holder‘, Autoglass’ ‘Self-reparing Glass for iPhones‘ and BMW’s ‘M3 Pickup‘, this year’s pranks were in-the-main press releases for products and services, which on every other day of the year would feature in ordinary adverts displayed online or in magazines and newspapers.

Google’s driverless NASCAR racer, which was clearly a promotion for Google’s ‘real’ self-driving guidance technology was hardly better and creating a video that could only be viewed in North America, and even then primarily on NASCAR.com’s website seems the very antithesis of virality.

Perhaps the best example this year of the perfect April Fools’ campaign came from Richard Branson and Virgin Group. As with the latest Usain Bolt Virgin Media ads, Branson got personally involved engaging his 1.9 million Twitter followers in the hoaxes; Virgin Volcanic which will provided journeys to the centre of the Earth, Virgin Holidays’ new Branson currency which is all set to replace the Pound and my personal favourite, Virgin Active’s ‘Bare and Burn’ regime which launches the UK’s first entirely naked workout session.

virgin volcanic G1 Prank or fail? A sideays glance at April Fools Day 2012

Interacting on Twitter with the likes of Tom Hanks, Will.i.am and Seth Green added further credence to the Virgin hoaxes, showing yet again that for an April Fools’ prank to succeed it must be believable, surprising and never portray a brand taking about itself or taking itself seriously.

Neither of Branson’s pranks relied on video, but that just goes to show that you need to get the story right before dipping into the creative box of tricks.