This WON April Fools’ Day – not Voltswagen

My post last week took a brief swipe at the “Voltswagen” stunt, which you’ve since heard enough about (plus the mistakes were so obvious there is no benefit in further analyzing them).

But what you likely haven’t heard about yet is my new favorite corporate April Fools’ prank. It comes courtesy of Joe Opager, a veteran of my Inner Circle and director of comms for Major League Fishing. And there are some great takeaways that you can apply to your own fun tactics, even without waiting until next April.

First of all, how fun is it to realize the PR world has nooks and crannies you never thought about? Before I got Joe’s email, I’m not sure I could have correctly answered a “true or false” question about the existence of competitive leagues for bass fishing.

Here’s what went down. Joe’s company, the fishing league, issued a news release announcing that they had banned a certain brand of bait from their events, because it gave some participants “an unfair advantage.”

There was a shred of a reason to believe this, because a few years ago fishing leagues did ban a specific type of lure. But when you click on the link in the news release, you go to a page that reveals the prank.

And better yet, it shares a short video of a Zoom session where you can watch your favorite competitive fisher (they call them “anglers”) get fooled. As previously noted, I’m into fishing as much as I’m into scrolling the Anthropologie catalog, but I still ended up watching this whole video and laughing out loud.

The results were record-breaking engagement on social media, plus dominant buzz on message boards and other “centers of gravity” for the bass-fishing market. The payoff for Major League Fishing isn’t merely the chatter around the prank; the “banned” bait is one of their biggest sponsors. So this is a great way to support that brand and strengthen their partnership. And from the bait company’s perspective, it’s genius to get positioned in their market’s mind as “so good it’s banned.”

Here are some things I love about this campaign that you can adapt for your organization (that don’t all have to wait until April 1st):

  • Followed proper April Fools’ etiquette as defined by my dad: can only happen on April 1, and immediately concede that it’s a prank upon even minimal inquiry.
  • Needed zero participation from third-party media to be successful – they pulled it off entirely through owned and shared channels. Media pickup would be a bonus.
  • Helped customers feel “in” on the joke, rather than feeling like fools, by showing them how the celebrity anglers fell for it.
  • Creative use of Zoom video – there are likely other approaches to this that we could be doing now even without pranking. Could be cool to record a team finding out they achieved a new milestone or are getting a new resource. Or reacting to one of their teammates getting an award or promotion.
  • Great teamwork between the league and its sponsor – when you look at the timing of the social posts and dig into the details, you see the careful coordination.

Props to Joe and his team at Major League Fishing and the marketers at Berkley Fishing for pulling this off.

This article was originally published on April 7, 2021

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