April Fool’s Day is coming. You know what that means — office pranks (ranging from the mildly amusing to the epic in scope), phony news stories, Rickrolling galore, and other moments of assorted oddness scattered throughout the day. Common sense tells me to hide under the bed until the 2nd, but instead I’m scheduled to give a presentation at my BNI chapter. Somebody must be trying to tell me something.
The trouble with April Fool’s Day jokes is that the difference between making people laugh and making them want to kill you is pretty much a coin toss. You have to know who your friends are, whether they can take a joke, how much of a joke they can take, and whether the joke has the potential to cause legitimate harm, physical or emotional. The wrong gag at the wrong moment can burn bridges faster than a swarm of angry, torch-laden medieval villagers.
It’s a tricky business — in real life, and in marketing.
Marketers use misdirection all the time. We’ve all encountered the “informative medical article” that turns out to be an ad for a nutritional supplement or an exercise machine or the Miracle Insole That Will Change Your Life. We’ve all been swerved by TV commercials that look for all the world like a trailer for a compelling new movie until the action hero draws a Big Gulp instead of a laser pistol. We get duped, we follow along, and when the curtain rises on the truth we say, “Ahhh, I see! So that’s where you were going. Very impressive (or funny, as the case may be). I’m sold.”
That’s what you say, right? Or do you react differently?
Let’s say you were doing serious research on that medical topic for a journal article with a tight deadline, or a business colleague who needs data, or your grandma who desperately seeks relief for her rare, terminal toenail disease. You get to the end of the “article” and find you’ve been duped. Still smiling?
Or let’s say you’re sitting in the movie theater, watching that killer trailer and making a mental note that you’ve GOT to tell your friends about this film and pre-purchase tickets for the preview — only to find yourself viewing a commercial instead. If you admire creativity, you might concede the cleverness behind the effort and return your attention to your popcorn. If, on the other hand, you really wanted to see that movie….
Don’t get me wrong. Misdirection works, as long as the intended audience (a) is in the mood to follow the rabbit trail wherever it may lead, and (b) might have a genuine interest in what they finally find. But you must know your audience, just as you must know whose door you’re propping a pail of water on top of. And whether they’re dressed for a funeral that afternoon. Yeah, I sweat the small stuff.
By the way, if you disagreed with the content of this blog — I was just kidding. If you liked it, then I was serious.