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Last year the media notably removed its annual light-hearted content on April Fool’s Day, with many brands taking a year off from the usual groan-worthy jokes or trivial ‘fake news’ – instead of unlikely product launches such as Marmite Clear and Yorkshire Tea Spreadable, we only saw rolling news coverage dedicated to the pandemic and rightly so. We were about 10 days into the first national lockdown, so it certainly wasn’t appropriate for PR teams to be issuing prank stories at that time.

Skip forward to 2021 and we’re in a very different place to last year – while we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, many of us are fed up with depressing headlines and not in the mood for fake news, but there will be some in need of some (eye-rolling) humour.

First out of the blocks, and a little earlier than tradition dictates, was VW, who ‘accidently leaked’ a press release to the media confirming it would be changing its name to Voltswagen, to mark its shift to electric vehicles. Unusually, VW then denied it was an April Fool’s joke to various media outlets and as a result, the story was taken seriously; it subsequently generated a great deal of press coverage across the world and led to a brief lift in stock prices. I like seeing clever April Fool’s Day pranks from brands, but misleading the media and public isn’t the right way to go about it – however, VW has generated masses of attention towards its ID.4 vehicles, which is the whole point, so time will tell to see if they’re having the last laugh.

The key point here is about being responsible for any PR pranks you’re planning to pull, particularly at a time when not everyone would appreciate a joke and, in this case, is struggling with the pandemic. Reading the room is critical when planning any communications activities – being mindful of your audience and not being tone deaf is incredibly important. The same goes for any awareness days, as most usually have an important message at their heart – something Burger King failed to realise in its social media post for International Women’s Day a few weeks ago.

There’s certainly room for a little more humour this year, but any story needs to be done carefully, sensitively and is obviously a joke.

Pippa Hanson headshot

Pippa Hanson is a senior account manager at Camargue