In an era of fake news, brands should probably give themselves the day off this April Fools' Day

Since 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' have taken on a more damaging connotation globally, this casts April Fools' jokes in a different light.

With an abundance of fake news out there, perhaps brands should skip April Fools' Day this year, advises Giles Fraser
With an abundance of fake news out there, perhaps brands should skip April Fools' Day this year, advises Giles Fraser

The number of April Fools’ Day stories has kept growing over the past few years. It’s not just brands and newspapers – local government and even the US armed forces got in on the act last year.

The rise of online and social media has, of course, been a major driver here. There are so many more opportunities to run such stories.

Also see: Fake news regulation is job for Facebook and tech firms rather than state, says PRCA

People (including me) love amusing stories and videos, and publishers love them because they entice people to their sites and keep them there. They make money.

This year, April Fools’ Day lands during a very busy time in the world of global politics: Theresa May has triggered Article 50 in the week leading up to 1 April.

The Dutch will have gone to the polls two weeks before and the French will kick off their presidential election process three weeks later. And that doesn’t even factor in what Donald Trump decides to do.

There will be plenty of stories, some based on fact, some less so.

News organisations are having to wrestle with how they handle stories that may or may not be based on fact – witness the Leave campaign’s claim that the UK sends £350m a week to Brussels, which was quickly disowned once it had won.

And those dilemmas got tougher as the year ran on. A look back at the 2016 April Fools’ coverage, and the references to ‘fake news’, seem to hark back to a more innocent time.

With allegations of Russian interference in the US presidential election, the term developed a very different connotation during 2016 and today seems much more sinister.

Moreover, many brands have unwittingly found themselves drawn into these stories when their ads have been placed next to dubious stories through algorithm-driven ad networks.

Given this backdrop, one wonders whether quite so many organisations will run April Fools’ stories this year. When the mainstream news agenda is so constantly surprising and while public figures remain seemingly determined to out-caricature themselves, maybe those stories will just get lost.

So, if fewer stories run, will that necessarily be a bad thing? Maybe creativity needs to be channelled even more into doing something good, rather than being creative for its own sake.

We know that more and more brands are moving an ever-greater proportion of their marketing budget into more cause-related marketing and PR.

Witness Audi’s fabulous gender-equality ad, which aired during the Super Bowl in February. Research shows that would-be customers and employees all favour brands that are seen to put something back, and I think consumers will expect brands to take even more forthright positions on important societal topics. The US corporate reaction to Trump’s refugee ban is a case in point.

So it feels like 2017 is the year for brands to take on even more responsibility and visibly champion the causes that concern their employees and customers.

And that might just mean giving the April Fools’ stories the day off this April Fools’ Day.

Giles Fraser is co-founder of Brands2life

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