This year the pitches began in mid-March, when April Fools’ was still a hundred Internet years away. Was I writing about the best brand pranks? The most viral brand pranks? Even the worst brand pranks, frankly???? (They will take anything.)
It is the predictably desperate lead-in to a predictably desperate 24 hours of overcalculated corporate hijinks: April Fools’, once a day of genuine merriment, is now a once-a-year excuse for brands to pull out all the stops and grovel for your posts and retweets.
Roomba, I’m told, will be demoing a vacuum you can Zumba with. (They rhyme.) Malouf has released a mattress you can grow flowers 0n. (But why?) One HR start-up’s big, hilarious prank involves offering health insurance and benefits to dogs. That publicist includes a winky face to clue me in, which seems sort of insulting to both of us.
In 2009, the trade magazine Adweek ran two stories on April Fools’ Day. Last year, it ran 19. During that same tortured 24 hours, we ran a liveblog that counted 54 separate, high-profile April Fools’ hoaxes — a number that, to my immense crankiness, will probably only grow in 2016.
To be fair, corporate April Fools’ jokes can (on rare, fleeting occasions) prove both clever and amusing. And the holiday has long been something of a festival for brands. But the all-out corporate takeover of the holiday is a more recent phenomenon, a product of the relatively new and intertwined beliefs that corporations should (a) “act human” and (b) join “the conversation” by whatever available means.
Consider it an extension of the various other types of appropriation that brands on social media engage in on the daily: the memes, the “insouciant, lower-case voice,” the facade of casual friendliness adorned with in-jokes and teen-speak. These are all clever artifices meant to make you forget that the brand’s only concern is that you spend money. And we all believe them, or need to believe them, or pretend to believe them, or …. something.
“Too often, brands feel like, well, brands, not human entities capable of two-way relationships,” writes the columnist Jordan Kretchmer on the industry site Marketing Land, exhorting corporations to do more to disguise their corporate-ness. Such deception encourages “sincere connections,” he writes. “It also sells them on why they should buy our products.”
In 1997, the New York Times’ Stuart Elliott hypothesized that that era’s lack of April Fools’ tomfoolery reflected a certain conservative outlook on the part of major brands, “an unwillingness to risk offending consumer sensibilities, which seem these days to be more fragile” than glass.
Almost 20 years later, we aren’t less fragile, per se, but we are arguably far less sensitive — alerting only to the companies that drone at a slightly higher pitch than their thirsty brethren. Our sensibilities have been eroded by the constant barrage of corporate messaging, drowned by the insipid committee humor and the sheer number of fast-food chains tweeting “bae.” Oh, everything on the Internet is lies tomorrow? Well whatever, it’s all lies anyway.
“If [our prank] is a complete failure and we’re lost in the noise, leaving us to laugh in our own corner, it was worth it,” said the only PR person who responded to my inquiry re: why oh why they were doing this. “Win or lose, it’s how we play the game.”
Ugh. I really hate April Fools’ Day.
Liked that? Try these: