WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM HISTORY'S BEST PRANKS?Reading Time
It’s April Fools Day – have you been “got” yet? We’ve had a look back at some of the best pranks in history and found a remarkable coincidence; they all involve great marketing strategies. Let’s dive deeper and see if there’s a thing or two we can learn from these big three, all year round:
BBC’S SPAGHETTI TREE
Possibly the greatest and most well-known prank of all time is the Spaghetti Tree Harvest of 1957. The BBC broadcast a three-minute news piece on their Panorama programme which reported that the mild winter and surprisingly good spring weather in Titcino, on the border of Switzerland and Italy, had resulted in “an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop”. Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby then gave details of a spaghetti farmer’s process, trials and tribulations, whilst footage showed people plucking strands of spaghetti from tree branches.
Why did it work?
Answer: Provides evidence
Half a century before the term “fake news” was coined, the BBC will have been (and still hopefully are!) one of the only legitimate sources of information and news, in the UK if not the world. A reputable source will increase the chances of believability, but if that were the only element at play here, a radio ad would have worked just as well. What the BBC did though is provide visuals – evidence and proof that the people of Ticino were real and they did, in fact, harvest spaghetti from trees.
Whether it’s an interview with a person or a backed-up set of statistics, adding real-life weight to a campaign is a sure-fire way to reassure your existing and potential customers and clients of your product’s effectiveness.
There’s also an additional aspect of Education to consider. At this time in the UK, little was known about spaghetti, therefore the Panorama segment was seen to not only to inform, but to teach as well.
TACO LIBERTY BELL
In 1996, an ad went out in the New York Times from food giant Taco Bell. The ad read:
In an effort to help the National Debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of the country’s most historic treasures. It will now be called the “Taco Liberty Bell” and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.
Why did it work?
Answer: Prompts urgency
Like the BBC, the New York Times is a trusted source, so already there is validity assumed in the ad. However, where Taco Bell cleverly hooked readers was by using scaremongering tactics, mentioning the country’s national debt, and causing an outrage; the ad generated hundreds of complaints as a result.
Although we wouldn’t exactly say these were positive marketing tools to apply, what we can learn from Taco Bell is the sense of urgency their ad creates. By suggesting other corporations will follow in their footsteps, readers will have been encouraged to act fast. In your campaign, it could be a good idea to include a call to action with a deadline, for example an offer that can be redeemed before a certain date.
BURGER KING’S LEFT-HANDED WHOPPER
Two years after the Taco Liberty Bell prank, Burger King took on one of their own. Their ad appeared in USA Today introducing their latest menu item, the left-handed Whopper.
“Finally, after years of neglect, left-handed eaters will no longer need to conform to traditional right-handed eating methods when enjoying America’s favourite burger.”
Under the headline, Burger King published a detailed diagram, making note of the improvements. These labels included a 180 degree rotation for the meat patty and condiments, as well as a realigned lower bun to “compensate for the shift in weight”.
Why did it work?
Answer: Solves a problem
In a word, “finally”. All consumer-based companies want to provide a service but better still, that service will resolve a problem (bonus points of course go to Burger King for resolving a problem that no one knew existed!). Sympathising with suffering customers, using language like “neglected” and “no longer need to conform”, Burger King automatically confirms that they are on the side of the little guy.
If your product or service betters people’s lives, make sure to consider the problems that they might be facing through your marketing campaign. Keep it friendly, and show that you’re listening and you care.
While we don’t recommend pranking your customers and clients, taking away some of the tactics that make these pranks successful may in return bring success to your campaigns – no joke.