April Fool’s Day Prank & Marketing Lessons Learned

April 6, 2011

by jon


The Setup

At Altos Research, we like to have fun.  We have fun in the office, we have fun with our customers, and we have fun with our marketing.  Because of that, we embrace things like Nerf toys, goofy t-shirts, and April Fool’s Day pranks.  Today, we’ll take a look at our recent shenanigans on April Fool’s Day with the launch of a fake iPhone app that has magical powers.  The original post can be found here.

The Marketing Strategy

We timed the fake launch with RETechSouth, a popular real estate conference.  Coincidentally, one of the conference dates was April Fool’s Day.  That was good news for us.

The week prior to the launch, we posted some teasers on Facebook and Twitter about our “new thing” launching later in the week.   We are very engaged with our customers and the real estate community, so this was a no-brainer.  The blog post was written and scheduled to go live on the morning of April 1st.

The night before the launch, we were attending a conference after-party.  The attendees in the room were among the “Who’s Who” of the RE.net, and more importantly, personal friends of ours.  We told them about our prank and asked them for their help with retweets and other various promotion in the morning.  People pay attention to those folks and our relationships with them made it easy to ask.  Plus, all but one of them has a great sense of humor.

The morning of April 1st, Twitter and Facebook were updated with a link to the blog post and we had press releases to distribute at the conference booth.  The result?  The second busiest day on our blog in the past year.  The post with the most can be found here.

We had success with our online promotion because we have great offline relationships.  Read that sentence again.  It’s an important one.  Relationships take time and effort; there are no tricks, and there are no shortcuts.

Marketing Lessons Learned:

  1. The market is hungry for new products.  An unexpected benefit of our ruse was the discovery that people were excited about the possibility of something new from us (even before they had any clue about what it might be).  This week, we decided to move forward with products and features which were nothing more than casual conversations last week.  The prank turned into some great market research and has helped shape our strategy for the rest of 2011.
  2. Be nice to the media.  One news outlet published the story as if the iPhone app was real.  They eventually took it down, but we didn’t mean for anyone to take us seriously.  This particular outlet is good to us and we like them.  In the future, we will be careful with claims about x-ray vision, creepy stalkers, and quotes from fake banks.
  3. Details matter.  The press release had a date of March 31st and it was released on April 1st.  If the date was April 1st in both places, it may have helped our friends and customers realize what we were doing before sending us frantic messages because they couldn’t find the download link and couldn’t find the app in the App Store.
  4. It’s nice to have a reputation for creating great products.  If people didn’t like our products, we wouldn’t get much attention when we launched new ones.  Creating cool stuff now sets the expectation that we’ll continue to create cool stuff in the future.  We take it as a compliment that so many people were interested in what we were doing long before we released any details.
  5. Overhype?  Maybe.  It’s possible we hyped the fake app a bit too much, although we can argue both sides of this one.  I think the level of hype was appropriate because we hadn’t done anything like this before last week.  On the other hand, we don’t want to become “the boy who cried wolf” by abusing our goodwill.

The most important lesson for me from this whole thing was an appreciation of our relationships.  The value of a great relationship trumps the value of great technology every time.  You can have the flashiest website in the world and all the latest technology tools, but business doesn’t happen without people.  Go love some people.  That’s what business is all about.

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