There’s a time for pranks, and this isn’t it.

Many brands and media outlets pull April Fools’ Day stunts. Google is usually at the head of the pack. Not this year. Their head of marketing sent this email to the company’s managers:

“Under normal circumstances April Fool’s is a Google tradition and a time to celebrate what makes us an unconventional company,” wrote Lorraine Twohill. “We’re going to take the year off from that tradition out of respect for all those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one.”

Smart move.

In the U.S., T-Mobile also announced that it would forego its April 1st gags and instead use this week to raise money for a relief fund.

The company is pushing a #GiveThanksNotPranks hashtag, and will donate $1 every time anyone tweets their gratitude stories using it and tags @TMobile. They’ll also match donations from customers, up to a total of $500,000. The money will go to Boys & Girls Clubs that provide services to the children of first responders and health care workers, and meals to families in need.

All companies have to tread lightly in how and what they communicate during COVID-19.

It’s admirable for grocers and food companies, say, to talk about their precautions and efforts to keep serving their customers. But there’s something unseemly about companies straining to link their marketing to this crisis.

For instance, I saw a mattress company pitch its wares by talking about how a good night’s sleep is especially important during this time of high stress. True, but maybe hit pause on the coronavirus tie-in for your queen size when many people are worried about just paying the bills.

Fast Company ran a piece about we’re now receiving a flood of emails from every organization we’ve ever bought anything from, ever. They divided the types of emails into three tiers (this would apply to any sort of corporate communications).

  1. The service message – critical news about closures, a change in operations, an updated policy, a relevant discount or break, etc. This is the most useful information.
  2. The brand friend – an acknowledgement of the situation and a we’re-all-in-this-together-so-take-care-of-each-other feel.
  3. The ordinary and now out of touch sales message – it feels like business as usual, although this is anything but. Highly annoying now.

By all means, brands can still reach out. Especially when they’re talking about what they’re doing to safeguard, contribute to the public good or do right by their employees.

Offer clarity, reassurances, help or maybe a bit of joy. The time will come again for the hard sell. But when marketing and communicating on April 1st or any day during this crisis, don’t be a fool.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

April 1, 2020

Share This