April Fool’s Jokes Backfire, Create PR Nightmares

So, it’s April Fool’s Day. Those who know me know I love playing pranks on people. I once changed the name on my former CEO’s door to a competitor’s name. (He got me back by having a reporter call claiming to have dirt on the company’s president which she planned to run the next day. I fell for it completely and when I told the CEO, he said, “fix it! This is what we pay you for!” I ended up quoting libel law at the reporter until she finally confessed to the prank. But, man oh man, was I sweating!)

I’m sure more than a few of you were goosed by your favorite radio station, web site or blog this morning. I’m not going to play a joke on you today – mainly because I didn’t plan ahead enough to do so. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of some April Fool’s Jokes that backfired. So, if your client is insisting you issue that phony press release, you may want to refer to the below. (List courtesy of www.museumofhoaxes.com and Wikipedia.org).

Bank Teller Fees: In 1999 the Savings Bank of Rockville placed an ad in the Connecticut Journal-Inquirer announcing it would begin charging a $5 fee to visit a live teller. More than 1,000 customers closed their accounts. The bank ran a second ad revealing it was a joke and asking customers to return. Most of them did not.

Death of a mayor: In 1998, WAAF DJs, Opie and Anthony reported that Boston mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a car accident. Menino happened to be on a flight at the time, lending credence to the prank as he could not be reached. The tasteless rumor spread quickly and spawned news alerts. The DJs were fired shortly thereafter and the radio station issued a nationwide apology.

Free concert: Radio station 98.1 KISS in Chattanooga, TN falsely announced in 2003 that Eminem would give free show in a discount store parking lot. Police faced traffic gridlock and enraged listeners who threatened to harm the DJs responsible. Both DJs were later jailed for creating a public nuisance.

Webnodes: In 1999, a press release hit Business Wire announcing a new company called Webnode, which had been granted a government contract to regulate ownership of routes of data called ‘nodes’ on the ‘Next Generation Internet.’ 50 million nodes were available for $100 each. Offers poured in for the fictional nodes. Business Wire didn’t enjoy being used for a prank and sued the perpetrators, the now-defunct ISP First World Communications, for fraud, breach of contract, defamation, and conspiracy.

Free Trip: 1972 was the 100-year anniversary of Thomas Cook’s first round the world travel tour. The London Times ran a full article about Cook’s 1872 tour, which mentioned the travel agency Thomas Cook was offering a similar package deal at 1872 prices to the first 1000 people to apply. Crowds formed outside the Thomas Cook offices, which nearly became a riot. Thomas Cook issued an apology for the hoax and, interestingly, the reporter who wrote the article, John Carter, was fired.

Mt. Milton Erupts: In 1980 the Channel 7 news announced a 635-foot hill in Milton, Massachusetts had erupted, and that lava and ash were raining down on nearby homes. Footage was shown of lava pouring down a hillside. At the end of the segment, the reporter held up a sign that read “April Fool.” But by that time frantic residents were fleeing the area. One man, believing that his house would soon be engulfed by lava, had carried his sick wife outside to escape. Channel 7 was so embarrassed thath they apologized for the confusion, and the executive producer responsible for the prank was fired.

So, Happy April Fool’s Day folks and be careful out there!

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