April Fool's as Product Testing? It's No Joke
April Fool's jokes can easily go from clever marketing ploys to an integrated part of product testing and development. ThinkGeek is an online retailer known for their April Fool's jokes, and eventually bringing the most popular to market. Take a look at this year's jokes and see what the next trend in the geek-set might be.
Carlen Lea Lesser, VP/Director, Digital Integration and Innovation
ThinkGeek is an online and catalogue retailer that was born at the height of the original Internet boom in 1999. The company sells geeky things for geeky people, or as they put it "stuff for smart masses." ThinkGeek has a long history1
of April Fool's jokes, and has long discovered that for them it's also a way of testing interest in potential new products. In particular, in 2009 they promoted a "Star Wars Tauntaun Sleeping Bag" that they saw incredible interest in, and it soon became available as an actual product. In 2010, ThinkGeek received mainstream press coverage for one of their April Fool's jokes because it earned them a Cease and Desist letter from the pork lobby. The fake product in question was called "canned unicorn meat," and they used the trademarked slogan "the other white meat." The product, sans slogan, did appear as an actual product several months later.
The first product they brought to market based on demand from the April Fool's jokes was the "1up Mushroom Kit2," in 2006 - five years after they began the fake product jokes. In recent years, ThinkGeek has formalized the use of April Fool's gag products as a way to judge interest in potential new products. When they first began listing products they could certainly track how many people visited those pages, and origami how many people attempted to purchase the products. Now on April Fool's gag product pages, when you click on "buy this" you not only receive a page that tells you it was a joke, but it also contains a listing of all the current gags, and the ability to vote for the ones you would like to see brought to market3
This year's jokes tapped into some key digital trends, and it is easy to see which might come to market in the next few months. In particular, the Angry Birds green pork rinds snack is one that I would expect to see available for purchase soon, as the game seems go be reaching a fairly high level of awareness and ubiquity well beyond the traditional geekerati. Another favorite seems to be the Apple Store Playmobil set. Due to Apple's strict control over their brand, I doubt this one will come to market, but you never know.
Implications & Action Items
Brands can learn a lot from the ThinkGeek April Fool's gags.
1 ThinkGeek's Archive of April Fool's Joke Products:
- Trend Watching: If you aren't ready to use April Fool's gags for product testing, just keeping an eye on which products ThinkGeek brings to market will help you understand some of the consumer trends and memes that may be influencing your customers.
- Integrate the Brand Mission: April Fool's is the perfect day to show a little personality. ThinkGeek has an irreverent personality, and the fake products were a perfect fit for their core mission.
- Capitalize on the Unexpected: You never know when an April Fool's joke or anything else may bring you unexpected attention. Be sure you are ready and able to respond and make the most of unexpected attention and press.
2 ThinkGeek's 1up Mushroom, April Fool's Joke to actual product:
3 ThinkGeek April Fool's with product voting feature: