Fake News: Good or Bad PR?

Over the years, I’ve learned to take anything I hear on “April Fool’s Day” with a grain of salt. So I wasn’t surprised to scroll through my Facebook newsfeed on April 1, 2011 and see various posts about incoming babies, layoffs and phony marriage proposals.

One joke that caught me by surprise was the announcement of Starbucks Mobile Pour, a delivery service that allows you to make your morning latte order on the go. You simply download the  Starbucks Mobile Pour app to your phone, place your order and a barista on a scooter tracks you down. The only problem: The announcement was “fake news!”

Fake news is an attempt by companies to generate interest in their product online or through word of mouth.  According to Communiqué PR, a global strategic public relations firm, fake news can be an effective way of generating goodwill toward your business.  If executed poorly, it can be hurtful to your customers, your brand and your relationships with the media.  In a blog by Communiqué, they provide the following tips for successfully distributing fake news:

  1. Timing is critical: April Fool’s Day is a popular holiday for these type of announcements because people expect to encounter hijinks throughout the day.
  2. Offer a form of disclosure: Provide some hint to your customers and the media that you’re joking. Otherwise, some poor reporter may actually believe the news is real.
  3. Don’t be offensive!

Overall, I think this is an interesting concept and can be useful for a company to at least generate traffic to their website. In the case of the Starbucks app, I actually told several people around me about the product before realizing that it was a hoax! Now if only I could find a way to have baristas bring me coffee while I’m walking around the city…. For more examples of fake announcements, read this April 1st blog entry by Communication Overtones.

With that said, I ask you:

Do you think “fake news” is a useful marketing tactic? Why?

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3 Responses to Fake News: Good or Bad PR?

  1. amgraha2 says:

    This is a great post! I remember reading a bunch of ridiculous posts on April Fool’s Day which I found acceptable by my friends. However, I was a little shocked that companies would do the same. “Fake news” seems like a path to disappointed customers. If I were a customer and read a post of a product or service that I believed would be offered, I would be relatively upset to find out it was just a joke. I think “fake news” is tricky and should be used carefully. If your audience is the type to handle a joke well, then I suppose it would be appropriate. However, I wonder if a company could land itself in a lawsuit in regards to promising a service to customers they couldn’t follow through with.

  2. nkumarat says:

    Oh man! The Starbucks app doesn’t really exist? I probably would have believed it if I read that post. I think making “fake news” is acceptable on April Fool’s Day, but otherwise I think people might take offense. I do not think that companies should pull pranks all the time, but once in a while is OK. I think “fake news” can be a great marketing technique because it gets people to talk about your company. On the other hand, if “fake news” is executed poorly it can be destructive to a business’s image.

  3. dbaxley says:

    I’m not sure about the legal side of things, but I could see this as a potential headache for public relations folks that have to answer the media’s questions after a phony announcement like this. It’s also potentially damaging to your relationships with the media if they jump the gun and print the story without confirmation. I think it’s an interesting concept that could lead to extra buzz, but a company should use careful consideration before announcing fake products or services.

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