April Fools’ Day is once more upon us, causing my annual reflection on human gullibility.
I still continue to get the usual large number of e-mail hoaxes passed along by otherwise intelligent friends who seem to be willing to believe almost anything, without taking the minute or two that it takes to check them out on an Internet rumor site.
I was interviewed yesterday by Fast Company about companies using April Fools’ Day pranks to generate word of mouth. I’m quoted in the article, but I thought it would be worth expanding my thoughts slightly here.
I see nothing wrong with a company like Google demonstrating their extraordinary inventiveness and company ethos with pranks. The principle here is that as long as the prank illustrates and enhances the brand, it’s fine. So, for instance, if you are trying to get across how inventive, funny and informal you are, it's perfectly appropriate. If you were, for instance, Snopes.com, the Internet rumor site, or museumofhoaxes.com and you were trying to demonstrate how gullible people are, again you would be on the right track.
in other words, you want to use word of mouth to enhance, demonstrate and amplify what is good about you, your product, company or service.
But here is another kind of word of mouth that is very popular these days that I want to discourage: doing things that encourage word of mouth just to get people to talk about your company or product, without it being linked to product benefits, or – better – superiority. For instance, when Microsoft introduced Vista, they had a contest for a seat on the first rocket to the moon. While this might have gotten them a lot of buzz, it did nothing to illustrate why Vista was superior, or to give anybody any reason to use it. At the same time they were doing this, Apple is introducing spectacular new features into their operating system that got people to talk about their operating system, not about extrinsic and irrelevant nonsense.