There’s very little consensus about the origin of the April Fools’ Day concept as we know it today. Arguably the most plausible storyline dates back to 16th century France at the time of the changeover from the old Julian calender to the Gregorian calender. Along with the switch came the movement of the beginning of the year from April 1 to January 1. There is a belief among historians that those who continued to use the outdated calender format with it’s differing start to the year were derisively called ‘April Fools’. The ‘April Fools’ were the target of sometime cruel pranks and this is at least one theory of where this type of ‘celebration’ began.
The French refined it over the years and the cruel pranks gave way to childhood hijinks. In French, the day is called “Poisson d’Avril” which translates literally to ‘April Fish’. The traditional form of celebration is downright quaint–French children run around trying to tape a paper fish to their friends’ backs. When the gullible ‘victim’ discovers the fish on his back the perpetrator yells “Poisson d’Avril!” Variations on this theme spread throughout Europe including Scotland where ‘April Fools’ last two full days. The second day has a thematic tradition whereby pranksters play jokes targeting his ‘mark’s’ backside. This is likely where the long running tradition of taping ‘kick me hard’ signs to the backs of unsuspecting dupes began.
Not much is known about the development of April Fools’ Day in the United States. One thing is obvious—as it became ‘Americanized’ the celebration of April 1 was dumbed down, sanitized and commercialized. Today, virtually every media outlet, corporation, brand and countless other organizations view some type of clever ‘hoax’ as mandatory. In the process, April Fools’ Day and the accompanying ‘bits’ have become very contrived.
IS THE JOKE ACTUALLY ON THE ‘PERPETRATOR’?
I typically start the process of setting proposition odds on unique and unusual events by pulling up some research and statistical data. I found that this type of information about April Fools’ Day is practically non-existent. What can be found in abundance are articles in marketing journals providing guidance concerning corporate April Fools’ Day gag ‘best practices’ and op-eds on the best way to leverage these pranks across social media. There’s all sorts of coverage in the mainstream media about which brands have the best (and worst) April Fools’ Day creations. The advertising industry media gives this extensive and very serious coverage.
It’s becoming reminiscent of the media’s fixation with Super Bowl commercials with one big exception—there’s little if any data to be found validating whether consumers actually like corporate April Fools’ Day pranks. Likewise, there’s nothing to determine what, if any, benefit it accrues to brands that create good April Fools’ Day pranks though there is occasionally collateral damage to the reputation of brands that offer tone deaf or offensive gags.
SO WHAT CONSTITUTES A GOOD OR BAD APRIL FOOLS’ DAY PRANK?
That’s a good question. Unlike Super Bowl commercials which are evaluated using sophisticated polling methods and by a variety of criteria there’s no real quantitative or qualitative framework by which April Fools’ Day gags are measured. It’s little more than the opinion of various media types. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this but combined with the scant to nonexistent data validating any brand identity upside to coming up with a good prank it is somewhat strange. Equally as bizarre is the commitment to the April Fools’ Day gag all across corporate America despite having no basis by which to validate that customers like it at all. Brand management and reputation is generally a huge concern but on April Fools’ Day that’s subjugated to a desire of corporate worker bees to demonstrate just how clever they are.
Here’s what I did learn about the ‘average American’ as it relates to April Fool’s Day and the pranks that accompany it. In 2015, a statistical survey determined that only 35% of Americans planned to ‘prank’ someone on April Fools’ Day. Another survey asked if the families of respondents had a ‘tradition of pranking one another’ on April Fools’ Day. Only 18% somewhat or strongly indicated that lame gags ran in the family. 82% responded ‘somewhat or strongly’ to the negative. The primary takeaway from this limited data set is that Americans have become pitifully humorless as indicated by 76% answering that they no longer think that ‘Kick Me’ signs are funny. There’s definitely nothing to suggest that consumers are clamoring and/or reacting favorably to corporate April Fools’ Day gags.
I did pull together some April Fools’ Day prop betting odds about which companies would ‘pull a prank’ on their websites and how they would be received by the advertising industry media:
APRIL FOOLS’ DAY PROP BETTING ODDS
CORPORATE APRIL FOOLS’ DAY PRANK PROPS
Will Redbox do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will T-Mobile do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will National Geographic do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will Quilted Northern Toilet Paper do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will H&M Clothing do an April Fools’ Joke 2017 joke on their website?
Will Mattel do an April Fools’ Joke 2017 joke on their website?
Will McDonald’s do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will Alamo Rental Cars do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will Esurance Car Insurance do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will Google (YouTube not included) do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will any of Google’s April Fools’ Day joke or jokes involve a fake new product? (no Google joke = No)
Number of separate Google owned divisions or brands to do April Fools’ Day jokes?
Over 8.5: -150
Under 8.5: +130
Will Microsoft do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will Apple do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will Lyft do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
Will Uber do an April Fools’ Day 2017 joke on their website?
BEST APRIL FOOLS’ DAY PRANKS:
The props below are based on the Advertising Age recap of ‘Best Brand Hoaxes’ for April Fools’ Day 2017:
Number of ‘Best Brand Hoaxes’ for 2017 involving cats?
Over 5.5: -130
Under 5.5: +110
Number of ‘Best Brand Hoaxes’ for 2017 involving dogs?
Over 5.5: -150
Under 5.5: +130
Which animal will have the most ‘Best Brand Hoaxes’ for 2017?
Cats +1.5: +130
Dogs: -1.5: -150
Number of fast food chains on the ‘Best Brand Hoaxes’ list for 2017?
Over 2.5: -170
Under 2.5: +150
Number of cellphone providers and manufacturers on the ‘Best Brand Hoaxes’ list for 2017?
Over 2.5: -150
Under 2.5: +130
Which industry will have the most ‘Best Brand Hoaxes’ list for 2017?
Cellphone providers and manufacturers: +110
Fast food chains: -130