How Brands Can Be Smart About April Fools’ Day: Social Media Do’s and Don’ts

  • Elisha Woodward
  • March 2024
  • 5 Min Read

Although April Fools’ Day goes way back as the unofficial holiday where all jokers, hoaxers, and pranksters unite, it remains relevant today and is an open sandbox where even the biggest brands can play. 

Smart pranks from brands on social media create affinity and engagement with their core audience. But there’s much to learn from brands who have swung and missed on April Fools’ Day—and clear ways to make sure your content lands well.


Trend or Tried & True?

Big brands are increasingly participating in the holiday, primarily on social media, with an entertaining mix of results. Since brands began participating in pranks as early as 2008 on social, many have wondered if this trend will soon die out, yet brands keep delivering the fun. Companies that do choose to participate have found that April Fools’ Day presents a unique opportunity to create brand love—and impressions, engagement, and reach all benefit when followers are cleverly surprised. 


Know Thyself

Because brands are still jumping feet first into April Fools’ Day participation, it’s important to keep in mind general guidelines around what to do and what not to do for desirable results. As a brand, you must be clear on both your purpose for participating and what your audience wants.

The most successful brand pranks have had the simple goal of creating brand affinity and fun. According to YouGov, April Fools’ pranks typically resonate best with Americans under 30 years old. Is the goal of creating fun aligned with your brand? Does this target demographic represent your primary audience? If so, armed with a great idea, you’re on the right track for engaging with your audience in a fresh way.


Best Practices

Having fun as a brand can be more challenging than it seems. Success looks like toeing a fine line between clever levity and smart sensitivity. To help you clarify the right tone and strategy for participating as a brand during April Fools’ Day, what follows are some overarching best practices to keep in mind…


Be Innovative

April Fools’ can be a great opportunity to tap into people’s real desires for new products. Want to test out audience interest in a new menu item or secondary product? Drop a “product launch” and keep an eye out for comments like, “Omg I want this so bad!” This is an easy, effective way to gauge the interests of your customers.

Google leaned into innovation with its Google Nose Beta “launch” in 2013. We’ve all dreamed of the ability to smell the deliciousness behind a photo of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and Google teased the reality with its popular prank. 


Surprise & Delight

Allow your followers the thrill of being momentarily incredulous before they’re let in on the joke and realize the purpose behind the content. For years, Emily Schuman, owner and founder of the lifestyle brand Cupcakes and Cashmere, has gone all in on April Fools’, delighting her loyal audience in the process.

Whether showcasing an over-the-top Coachella flower crown or using kitschy cat toys as pseudo-trendy hair accessories, she gives her followers a shocked moment of confusion before awing them with her commitment to creating fun. 


Stay Consistent

Just because it’s April Fools’, that doesn’t eliminate the need for sensitivity. If part of your brand mission is to care for others, don’t use a prank as an excuse to be crass. Stay on brand, always.

Mattress Firm did an excellent job of staying on brand with its 2022 partnership prank with Chili’s. Since mattresses are Mattress Firm’s specialty, and margaritas are one of Chili’s most popular offerings, the two brands announced their “margarita-filled mattress”. Waterbeds got a rebrand, and both Mattress Firm and Chili’s benefited from fun social interactions and increased engagement on social media. 


Don’t Be Annoying

While your audience is likely open to being pleasantly surprised, they won’t appreciate being inconvenienced in any way. Google unfortunately experienced backlash with its 2016 “Mic Drop” prank for this very reason. Unassuming Gmail users accidentally sent minion gifs in important business emails, and Google was forced to disable the prank early due to complaints. They broke the cardinal rule of April Fools’: always be clever, but never be annoying. 


Avoid “Gotcha” Moments

No one likes being made to feel like an idiot. While part of the fun of April Fools’ is being surprised, a “wow” moment and a “gotcha” moment are two very different things.

Volkswagen inadvertently created an unfortunate “gotcha” moment with its “Volkswagen” prank in 2021. Because electric vehicles were (and still are) all the rage, the prank seemed like a real brand initiative instead of an obvious joke. As opposed to testing an innovative idea, it confused people, including the press.

The learning? Craft pranks that allow your audience to join in on the joke as quickly as possible, and avoid making your followers feel bad about themselves (or your brand).


Don’t Fearmonger

Pranks can go haywire when you play on real fears. Tesla learned this the hard way when Elon Musk tweeted as an April Fools’ prank that “Tesla Goes Bankrupt.” Tesla’s stock price fell as a result, which wasn’t exactly “funny” after all. 


Be Smart with Your Brand

The opportunities and risks of participating as a brand on April Fools’ Day are no joke. If you choose to opt in with a clever prank, make sure you’re doing your brand justice. Be smart with your joke. Be innovative, delight your audience, and most importantly, stay on brand.


Written By

Elisha Woodward

The Infinite Agency is an integrated advertising agency designed to drive brand growth through data driven insights, inspiring creativity, and connected experiences.