Truth | Insights


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Sylvie Pender, Senior Account Director at McCann Bristol, discusses what makes a great April Fools story.

I’m just going to say it. April Fool’s is my least favourite day of the year.

It’s not because I don’t love to have fun, I most certainly do. Like most people, I’ve certainly pranked and been pranked on occasion. From unwittingly strolling around with a silly sticker that someone’s put on my back, to being asked to return phone calls from the likes of Anna Prentice through to Sue Perb and Lee Keybum, my, there have certainly been some very childish japes over the years.

The reason for my dislike of the day is simply because I have an irrational, odd fear of momentarily believing something that blatantly couldn’t be true – and then doubting myself, just in case it was... And that’s despite being well aware of the constant swirl of fake news that surrounds us.

Even before the pandemic, many companies and news outlets had already chosen to disassociate themselves with ‘fake news’ and in turn started to shy away from April Fool’s Day. Yet playful brands continue to have a laugh at the expense of the general public because they know that at this time, some people still want to find light relief amongst all the doom and gloom.

So let’s look at a couple of stories hitting today’s headlines. The Daily Telegraph has reported that Barnard Castle is getting a statue of Dominic Cummings after his illegal lockdown visit boosted numbers to the destination last summer. Meanwhile Grimsby Live has reported that a pet chicken called Noodles helped a couple to scoop £150k after successfully picking out the correct EuroMillion lottery numbers. I mean, the Noodles one could be true…right?

So what does makes a good April Fool’s story for a brand? Simplicity is the key. Let’s take Duolingo as an example.

Duolingo today launched a new loo roll which features real sentences from its language course app. The new product was being launched in response to research that revealed on average Brits spend 14 minutes a day on the loo. The intention is to help people multi-task when they have a quiet few minutes if they don’t normally have time to practice.

Why does this story work? Well, let’s look at the three key ingredients that make up a story – characters, crisis and change. First, characters – British people. Second, crisis – British people are short of time – they waste 14 minutes a day sitting on the bog. Change – this time could be better spent; they could be using that ‘down time’ to learn something new – such as a language!

And even better… rather than accessing the Duolingo app whilst on the loo, Duolingo is presenting a more hygienic way of learning a language – memorise, repeat and flush! Light hearted stories such as these are a great way of getting a point across to consumers, and who doesn’t love a bit of toilet humour?

For me, if a brand must turn the tables on its fans around April Fool’s, it needs to be prepared to ensure that messaging well and truly lands, or you’ll be at risk of damaging backlash.