The risky business of April Fools Day

It’s a bit of a dilemma for trendy, modern digital companies: do you try and be amusing on April 1st and get some good buzz for your company, even at the risk of it misfiring, or do you just continue with business as usual and pretend it’s not a big deal?
Of course, April Fools Day really isn’t a big deal, it’s just an opportunity ostensibly knocking, a chance for a little company to get some good word of mouth for having executed something witty, ironic or satirical.
Some companies do well every year. Google never fails to amuse, most recently with its Gmail Motion parody interface. Smart, well-thought-out, they’re a good model of how to deliver a digital trick that harms no-one and that’s not offensive. In fact, the best tricks are ones where you’re not quite 100% sure it’s a trick because, maybe, well, maybe it is legitimate…
But sometimes the joke isn’t funny at all, it isn’t wry or banal, it’s just stupid. Or worse.
This year the worst example I saw was at a Nickelodeon online property called Neopets. Impressively busy, it’s a virtual online world aimed at younger children, where they can tend and nurture virtual pets. Boring for a 15yo, it’s perfect for the pre-teen set.
Which is why their attempt at April Fools humor was astonishing. Here it is:

neopets pandemic plague april fools

That’s right, a children’s media network decided that the funny April Fools Day trick for their younger Neopets audience was to announce the spread of a pandemic that affected all the virtual pets and seemed to be potential fatal if no cure was found.
I have a few choice words about this on my parenting blog if you want to read more about this misfire: Neopets and the Alarmingly Tasteless April Fools.
Here I just want to encourage businesses to think long and hard before they try to delve into humor, parody or satire. It’s a slippery slope and can backfire on you or blow up way faster than you can possibly imagine…

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