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April Fools press pitches – this year, they got me

Ray Blanchette, former CEO of TGI Fridays, performs as a high-wire artist at the circus.

The public relations industry has long had a taste for April Fools gags, and an unusually believable press release had a veteran reporter going today.

There was an unofficial moratorium on phony press pitches for April Fools’ Day 2020 in light of the fresh arrival of COVID-19. In 2021, I’m encouraged to see the return of PR pranks as a sign of things slowly getting back to normal.

And for the first time I can recall, I was “got” this year by an especially well-crafted and eye-catching joke press release. Before revealing it, first let me review a few more obvious, but very amusing, April Fools announcements.

Manhattan Associates – Curbside on the moon
This one is so outlandish I assume it was offered strictly for laughs, and it worked. A tweet on the official Manhattan Associates Twitter account read, “We’re excited to announce that we've extended our contactless, curbside pickup capabilities to Mars! Manhattan Active Space Force is the result of a multi-year collaboration with NASA.”

I know people in the Manhattan Associates press department, and they definitely have a sense of humor. This was reflected in their positive response to my reply, “Matt Damon could have used you guys about 5 or 6 years ago.”

Uno Pizzeria & Grill says goodbye to deep dish pizza
As the proud inventor of Chicago-style deep dish pizza, it was pretty obvious that Uno Pizzeria & Grill would not be getting rid of this tasty, doughy treat. The press release stated that it simply takes too much time, effort and money to make those deep dish pizzas. Come on guys, anyone who knows Chicago knows it is not a city which quits on tradition. Clever idea, though.

VR grocery shopping from Ibotta
Mobile rewards/payments platform Ibotta took the unusual step of placing the April Fools’ Day disclaimer at the beginning of their email announcing a new virtual reality (VR) grocery shopping experience. The headline itself is believable, and while the details quickly give away the gag (e.g., virtual simulations of hunting for a parking space and having a shopping cart with one wobbly wheel), this was a funny one.

T.G.I. Fridays CEO runs away to the circus
Announcements of the transition of a top executive are nothing out of the ordinary. However, quick service restaurant (QSR) chain T.G.I. Fridays gave this genre of press release an April Fools’ Day spin by saying CEO Ray Blanchette is leaving the company to pursue his true passion – performing in the circus as a high-wire artist. A pretty obvious joke, but kudos to the Fridays PR team for tying their seasonal prank to the chain’s new “Under the Big Top” circus-themed promotion that includes outdoor dining, menu items like the Cotton Candy Cosmo, and family-friendly entertainment.

The winner – IHL Group, Biden floats VAT tax
IHL Group is a top-notch source of retail information, and IHL president Greg Buzek is an all-around good guy who keeps the industry charitable with the Retail Orphan Initiative. So when I got an email with a link to a news item from Greg announcing that President Biden was proposing an 8% nationwide value-added tax (VAT) to help fund his infrastructure program, my jaw dropped. Till I got to the last paragraph:

“The introduction of a VAT would be devastating to a retail industry that has already been struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Greg Buzek, president of IHL Group. “And just as a reminder, the anatomy of a good April Fool’s joke is that there is a potential for the headline to be true in the future.”

Well played, Mr. Buzek. Well played.

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