April Fools’ Day articles are a time-honored media tradition. Pull the wool over your readers’ eyes effectively and safely.
April Fools’ Day is not a new invention: the first recorded instance of pranksterism is over 300 years old. In 1698, Dawks’s News-Letter reported that “several persons were sent to the Tower [of London] Ditch to see the Lions washed.” The Tower of London’s moat was (and is) lion-free, but suggesting that people visit the Tower for the “washing of the lions” remained a popular prank for several hundred years.
What does this have to do with my blog?
April Fools’ pranks abound in the media; since newspapers, radio, and television reach large numbers of people simultaneously, they’re perfect vehicles for large-scale jokes. Blogs are no different, and April 1st gives you an opportunity to inject a bit of levity (and maybe publish a highly shareable post that brings you some new readers — everyone loves a laugh).
Never tried an April Fools’ joke before? Be inspired by the Brits. True to their history as the originators of the public hoax, they take the lead in publishing pranks, too.
- 1957: BBC’s Panorama celebrates Swiss farmers’ record spaghetti crop — chalking it up to a mild winter and the eradication of spaghetti weevils — with film of fake farmers harvesting spaghetti from trees. (In response to the many people who asked how to grow spaghetti trees, the BBC helpfully advises, “[P]lace a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”)
1972: The UK Veterinary Record publishes a study detailing the many diseases of Brunus edwardii, AKA the teddy bear. Said the article, “Pet ownership surveys have shown that 63.8 percent of households are inhabited by one or more of these animals, and there is a statistically significant relationship between their population and the number of children in a household. The public health implications are obvious.”
- 1980: The British Army’s Soldier magazine publishes an article explaining that the fur on the hats worn by Buckingham Palace’s Royal Guards actually continues growing and requires trims, complete with a fake photo and scientific-sounding faux-splanation. Editors at the London Daily Express are among those who believe the article, republishing it for their own readers.
- 1991: The London Times reports that the M25 highway will become one-way: to relieve congestion, traffic will go clockwise on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and counter-clockwise Tuesdays and Thursdays. The BBC — who you’d think would know better, given their own love of April Fools’ Day — falls for it, airing interviews with angry locals.
Finding the line between silly and scary
Need more inspiration? Check out the top 100 April Fools’ pranks of all time at the Museum of Hoaxes.
- Pick a premise that fits with your blog. If your blog is mainly personal musings, try some fake news about your life. If you blog about a particular subject, go with something on that topic. You want readers to assume that they’re just reading another interesting post from their favorite blogger.
- Make sure the post sounds like you — your voice, your subject matter, your perspective. It’s not a prank if readers immediately become suspicious. Draw them deeper into the joke by writing the way you normally would.
- Go over-the-top with things like details, names, and explanations. If your post involves fake experts, give them silly names. Make up fake studies. Quote a long-dead person. Choosing a realistic premise makes your post believable; adding outlandish details brings the laughs (and hopefully, the clues that help readers figure out that you’re joking).
- Tell readers it’s a prank before they close your post. Don’t leave people wondering, or force them to contact you for confirmation. Leave a clear indication that your post is a hoax — end the post by saying “April Fools’!” or including a link for more information that goes to a “Happy April Fools’ Day!” page. The more serious the subject matter, the more important this is; you don’t want to leave your leaders, particularly personal friends and family, worried about what they’ve read.
- Think about the sensitivities of your audience. Understanding what pushes your audiences’ buttons is key. If you’re a vegan blogger, animal-based foods are likely an issue; if you’re a sports blogger, maybe it’s a particular team or rule. You can use this to your advantage, but can also pound on those buttons too hard. Be aware of your readers’ pressure points, and ask yourself whether you’re pushing too hard; you’re prodding playfully, not engaging in competitive Whack-a-Mole. The goal is to surprise readers, not anger them.
- Be timely, but not too timely. A tie-in to a current event can make your post feel more realistic, but some things will be too raw to be humorous prank fodder — no disappearing planes or museum bombings in your April Fools’ jokes, please. If you’re not sure, run your idea by a friend. If their first reaction is “Too soon!” then it’s too soon.
- Don’t use real people who aren’t you. Implicating another person in your hoax is not the best idea, even if you get permission from the person; it’s harder for people to discern a joke if they think multiple people they trust are involved. Keep any people who figure into your post to yourself, public figures, and invented characters.
There’s a fine line between a moment of worry that ends with a laugh and genuine concern, and no one wants to feel that they’ve legitimately been made a fool of. Don’t rush your prank post — take the time to flesh out an idea and examine it to be sure you’re not creating an inadvertent panic, and you’ll be on the road to a good guffaw.