April Fools’ pranks are an annual April 1 tradition for brands trying to get attention and make us laugh. Last year, the dating app Tinder teased us with a new feature: Height Verification. And Starbucks joked they were opening stores for dogs.

The words, "April Fools' Day" with a red "x" on them, symbolizing that brands should skip their April Fools' pranks in 2020.

But this year, we need to social distance from April Fools’ pranks. April 1, or April Fools’ Day, 2020, is occurring in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not the time for brands’ April Fools jokes.

Yes, people work on these pranks for weeks, if not months, leading up to April Fools’ Day. It’s an opportunity for employees to be creative. Brands hope their jokes produce positive media coverage. And, when done well, these stunts can make us laugh and bring levity to our lives.

2020, though, needs to be a year without April Fools’ pranks. Here are three reasons why.

Don’t Add to the attention traffic

Officials around the globe are trying to get facts and details to people about COVID-19. What guidelines should we follow to cut the virus’s spread? When do we seek medical attention? If we’ve lost our job, how do we get help to pay our bills?

It’s tough enough to deliver information to folks in our everyday lives. We’re busy and focusing on many things. But it’s even harder right now to ensure people receive info that’s vital to keeping people safe and alive. 

Last week, officials canceled the 2020 Olympics. Do you know the last time the Olympics didn’t take place was during World War II? And yet, the postponement of the 2020 games hardly registered amongst headlines about deaths and quarantines.

The last thing we need in this pandemic is more stuff competing for our attention. Brands should keep information vehicles, such as social media and news outlets, free of traffic. Don’t publish your 2020 April Fools’ pranks. 

April fools’ pranks Are inappropriate

Another reason brands need to pocket their April Fools’ jokes is that it’s insensitive. The novel coronavirus is responsible for at least 35,000 deaths, so far. Every nation on Earth has at least one diagnosed case.

We’re not laughing about COVID-19. And we’re not ready to chuckle at a brand’s prank. Sure, it’s good to laugh, even in a crisis. But a witty meme from a person we don’t know is different from a joke delivered by a company. 

A brand making a 2020 April Fools’ prank is more likely to make us cringe than guffaw. That’s because these annual teases are, after all, attempts to raise an organization’s profile and name recognition. Does such an approach seem appropriate during a global health crisis?

April Fools’ Pranks Will Generate the Wrong Headlines

Which brings up the next point about brands not pursuing 2020 April Fools’ jokes. Doing so is more likely to generate the wrong headlines for your company.

Every year, some April Fools’ pranks land well. These jokes are witty and make us laugh. They’re circulated on social media and highlighted by media outlets, as we all share in the fun.

In 2020, though, any sharing and covering of an April Fools’ joke are likely to be a bad thing. We won’t be retweeting a crafty tease. We’ll instead retweet a brand audacious and insensitive enough to try a publicity stunt during a pandemic.

This recommendation isn’t saying you should stop all your marketing and content marketing. If anything, now’s the time to speak more to your customers than ever before. But you want to do so in a way that’s not callous and exploitative of the situation.

Brands should let people know what’s happening to their business and how it impacts their customers. If they’re doing something to help us survive COVID-19, there may be an acceptable way to share that info as well. Here’s a running list of companies responding to the outbreak.

It’s not, though, the time for an April Fools’ prank. Focus your resources on helping your customers get through this crisis. Trying to grab attention by making a joke is likely to produce headlines about your brand that you don’t want to see.

Do us all a favor

Eighteen days after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Saturday Night Live premiered its 27th season. The event brought laughter back to millions of people, starting a healing process for many.

9/11 was a single-day event. The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing outbreak, the likes of which never experienced by anyone on Earth today. 

There will be a time for brands to make us laugh again. But that time’s not now, not for 2020 April Fools’ Day. At this moment, we need attention focused on helping people survive. 

Brands making April Fools’ Day jokes is an annual tradition. And that’s the thing to remember about yearly traditions. The opportunity to enjoy them will come around next year. 

If your brand worked on a 2020 April Fools’ Day prank, pocket it until 2021. You’ll do yourselves, and us, a favor.


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