But theres usually a lot more behind these stunts than a bunch of PRs having time-out to indulge creative fantasies. If done well these spoof stories can be powerful tools to raise awareness, communicate key messages and engage audiences.
So what makes a winning April Fool stunt? Firstly, its got to appeal to a wide audience – either cute or funny is a good bet; secondly, its got to be halfway believable too obviously a spoof then audiences wont engage (unless its very funny or the animals are especially cute); thirdly and crucially for PR objectives it needs to convey a message.
Take Virgin Australias dedicated airport lounge for pets (Cobb PRs favourite this year – well what do you expect from a company that has an office Labrador?). It ticks all the boxes: super cute fluffy animals, a believable storyline and some really strong key messages about quality of service. The story and its execution engage on all kinds of levels and make you want to fly Virgin just because they came up with the idea.
Last year we exploited the cute factor of little lambs to deliver some key messages about public transport for the South Downs National Park Authority. We set up a special crossing outside a farm and hired April the Lollipop Lady to shepherd sheep and lambs safely across the road. The message being that increasing numbers of cars in the national park were endangering livestock and visitors should endeavour to take public transport when possible.
This year the SDNPA has come up trumps again no credit to us this time – with their denial that hippos are to be introduced into protected areas of chalk grassland. Allegedly there has been speculation that because hippos lived in this area some 100,000 years ago, they may be reintroduced. All the conservation work the rangers have been doing to the dew ponds is not to prepare them for the hippos but to preserve the habitats and rare ecosystems. Serious conservation message delivered by a large equatorial animal in a pond, job done.
While cuddly creatures often feature in April Fool stunts, there are many fabulous examples that dont. Ones that have caught my eye this year are NotontheHighStreet.coms Easter Eggs that are guaranteed to hatch in time for Easter; Sun Lifes beard insurance for paranoid hipsters and Valspars tartan paint I was a tad disappointed that this last was a hoax just imagine being able to paint patterns straight onto the wall ..
Of course April Fools stunts are nonsense surely thats the whole point, but that doesnt stop them being effective communication tools. Just look at the how popular pasta is nowadays who knows, without that BBC report, it could have stayed stuck on a spaghetti tree in a remote part of Italy!