As a holiday, April Fool's Day can hardly be considered an official day of celebration. But that doesn't stop many companies from using the annual date of practical jokes to make a little public relation noise for themselves. Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of World of Warcraft, is famous for its April Fool's day joke announcements. Do they work?
I am not a big fan of April Fool's Day or the practical joke in general. While most practical jokes are harmless and good-natured, there is always the potential for things to cross that fine line where feelings are hurt and bodily harm occurs. Besides that, I seldom see a practical joke that I find funny. Wry sarcasm — funny; slipping on a banana peel — not all that funny (unless it is the Three Stooges — then it is funny).
But my predisposition aside, some companies like to mark April 1, with fake product announcements and other public relation "news." One company famous, at least in the circles I run in, for these faux reports is Blizzard Entertainment, maker of World of Warcraft. Each year Blizzard makes several "announcements" that are designed to tickle the funny-bone of those of us playing their games.
This year for example, they announced the development of a spinoff console game based on Molten Core, an instance dungeon, which will initially be available for the Atari 2600 platform. In addition, there is the revelation that there will be a new hero-level Bard class that will defeat opponents in battle using a spell-casting technique that looks strikingly-similar to Guitar Hero.
They also announced a new unit for their other big franchise Starcraft — the Tauren Marine. The Tauren race is an original race in the World of Warcraft — a crossover that would essentially be a "Jump the Shark" move if true.
If you checkout the links you can see that Blizzard spent a significant amount of time creating these Web pages and perfecting the "special press release" to make them have the air of authenticity even though they are obviously not real (obvious to players — outsiders may not get the joke).
Would your company spend this much time and exert this month effort on an April Fool's marketing ploy like this? Blizzard gets away with it because they are building a game brand, and playfulness, fun and smartly knowing what your market likes to see in a game development company are part of the equation.
But would such a tactic work for your company? What April Fool could your company play that would increase brand awareness but not ruin your reputation? Would it be worth the risk?
A special shout out to Wally Bahny for sending me a heads up on April Fool's Day — I was unprepared.