Case Study: Why April Fools’ Day Marketing Pranks are No Joke

Every April 1st, companies are given a free pass to get a little cheeky and join the rest of the nation for some April Fools’ Day fun. Brands like Google, Toshiba, and Funny or Die are regular participants in the tomfoolery and, no doubt, have a great time pulling off these jokes. But do April Fools’ Day marketing stunts actually pay off? Should brands lighten up and show more of their silly sides?

Ever hear of Dollar Shave Club?

Michael Dubin’s Dollar Shave Club video singlehandedly put his business on the map. How? The humor turns viewers into customers.

While Dollar Shave Club’s ad certainly is not a prank, it still demonstrates the power of comedy. Simply put: consumers like brands that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Forget sex, laughter is what really sells.

And what better stage for laughter than the one day of the year set aside for jokes and gags? Plus, April Fools’ Day gives a boost to the pranks that fall flat and offers forgiveness to the stunts that go a little too far; the holiday is the perfect time to take a risk with some humorous marketing.

Still not convinced? Consider these four case studies showcasing brands that saw excellent returns from their April Fools’ Day marketing campaigns.

E-mail Subscribers

“What do you mean you don’t subscribe to my email newsletter?!”

Divot.com, a golf equipment ecommerce merchant, operates on a unique business model, selling only one product each day at a deep discount. Once 3 a.m. EST rolls around, the offer is over, and the website features a new daily deal.

In 2011, Divot.com “decided to run an April Fools’ joke on a lark.” Instead of featuring a real product on April 1st, the retailer placed its “Origami Golf Ball” up for sale as a gag. The results blew Divot.com away:

2011

2011

That kind of spike in traffic is definitely huge, but for a business like Divot.com, email subscription is the most important metric for success. Divot.com’s SEO Analyst , Bobby Barbeau, explains why:

The ability to deliver daily deals via email is crucial to eventual conversion. Subscribers conveniently see the featured product of the day in their inboxes and purchase when they see something that they need.

So the real testament of Divot.com’s victory was its 80% increase in subscription rate!

“Whoa!”

Divot.com was on to something.

Realizing the power hidden inside this silly holiday, the golf equipment retailer continued its April Fools’ Day antics with the “Insta-Course” in 2012 and the “Exacto-Putt” in 2013.

And the campaigns continue to deliver:

2012

2012

2013

2013

Altogether, the efforts average a 140% uplift in website traffic along with the 80% boost in email subscribers. Not too shabby, eh?

As for the visitors who actually buy the gag product, Divot.com rewards them with a selection of golf apparel, accessories, and equipment along with the original April Fools’ Day item: a great way to turn this joke into a customer acquisition strategy.

Market Research

What Women Want

Some questions can only be answered with mind reading!

Market research can be tricky. Google doesn’t have all the answers and customers may not always know what they want until it’s put in front of them. How’s a company supposed to gather important market information? Pull off an April Fools’ Day stunt, of course!

All the way back in 2001, ThinkGeek, an online store that sells “geeky” novelties and apparel, began fooling its visitors on April 1st with fake, off-the-wall products like this.

The retailer kept up its shenanigans year after year and still participates in April Fools’ to this day. Here’s a history of the brand’s whacky pranks.

Much to ThinkGeek’s surprise, some of the crazy gag products actually appeal to its visitors. In fact, when demand is great enough ThinkGeek puts the most popular items into production and makes them available for sale. Visitors can vote on the products they want here.

Who would have guessed that this Star Wars Tauntaun Sleeping Bag would have been such a big hit?

ThinkGeek is ingeniously using April Fools’ Day as a form of product testing. Here’s what Ty Liotta, ThinkGeek’s Senior Merchandiser, has to stay on the topic:

Geeks hate to be advertised to like they’re idiots. They tend to be someone who is probably more intelligent than the average person. They’ll see right through a bunch of marketing mumbo jumbo.

The pranks allow ThinkGeek to circumvent the “marketing mumbo jumbo” and turn the market research process into a fun experiment that participants truly enjoy. Best of all, ThinkGeek gathers accurate product testing data that works.

Sales

Girl Scouts Cookies

“I’ll take everything you’ve got! GIVE ME COOKIES!”

Every organization needs sales to prosper, even the Girl Scouts. Lucky for them, Girl Scouts Cookies practically sell themselves. But for all the non-Girl Scouts out there, sales don’t always come so easy (like with the Boy Scouts Popcorn – yikes!). So, what’s the best remedy for a sales slump? Change it up. Start thinking outside of the bun, like Taco Bell.

On April 1, 1996 Taco Bell placed the following full-page ad in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and USA Today:

Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell

Over 650 print and 400 broadcast outlets picked up the story and spread the hoax to more than 70 million Americans, the equivalent of $25 million in free advertising.

Taco Bell’s antics pushed the limits of marketing and inevitably stirred up quite a bit of concern. Thousands of Americans flooded Taco Bell’s headquarters and Philadelphia’s National Park Service with phone calls to see if the story was true.

Despite the controversy surrounding the campaign, Taco Bell ultimately came out on top. Compared to the previous week, the fast food company saw sales increase by more than $500,000. And as if the sales boost isn’t enough, Taco Bell forever has its own place in the April Fools’ Day Hall of Fame.

Brand Management

Misunderstood Clown

“For some reason no one seems to take my seriously.”

One of the most important parts of marketing is accurately communicating a brand’s identity to its target market. Just like the clown, most industries have accumulated stereotypes along the way that may oppose the images that businesses are trying to project.

Auto repair shops must work especially hard on earning customers’ trust. Fast food restaurants try their best to convince patrons that their menus can be healthy. Banks have to shake their reputation for being greedy predators. And Blue Corona, a Digital Marketing and Lead Generation Agency, has to show that it isn’t just some boring tech company.

On April 1, 2013 Blue Corona launched a tongue-in-cheek website that offers a “solution” for its customers who are now getting too many leads because of the inbound marketing company’s great work. Here’s a video to set the scene:

The website for LeadStopper puts Blue Corona’s sense of humor on display, especially when visitors try to fill out the form (go ahead and try it, it’s pretty funny!). The comical website generated plenty of buzz, bringing a nice increase in traffic for Blue Corona:

image001

Perhaps the biggest reward was a client referring new business to Blue Corona simply because he “liked the style of the LeadStopper video.” This validated Blue Corona’s original intention of showing its playful nature and debunked the stereotype that tech companies are dull. In the end, it was the brand’s personality that wooed the new customer.

April Fools’ Gold

April Fools' Gold

Go for the gold!

Whatever goals you may have for your brand this year, consider how April Fools’ Day can help you achieve them. Whether you want to find new email subscribers, conduct market research, increase sales, or communicate your brand’s identity, pulling a prank may actually be just the thing you need.

What other April Fools’ Day marketing stunts do you know of? Share them in the comments section! And be sure to sign up for our newsletter at the top of the page to receive more articles like this.

Image Sources: Bearded man by Joe Futrelle, Stunned by Casey Fleser, Girl Scout Cookies by bandita, Clown by Randen Pederson, Biggest BSer by Mark Vegas



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