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Joker In The Pack: Risk v Reward in Fake Product Campaigns

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In a world riddled with sponsored posts and in-stream ads on social media, it’s no surprise that brands sometimes have to look for fresh, new approaches to their marketing strategy. It’s all well and good running adverts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram Stories and even Snapchat, but sometimes the biggest benefits result from doing something 'out of the box’ to surprise your customers, and even yourselves - gaining some all-important media coverage in the process.

So, what’s the answer to fulfilling the above criteria? To showing a playful, experimental side while reinforcing existing brand relationships and, hopefully, generating a few new ones? It can often be more disingenuous than you’d think: a fake product. A hoax campaign. Conjured out of thin air and a dash of marketing savoire faire, commonly released around certain times of year such as April Fools’ Day or Christmas.

Whilst your regular marketing exercises continue uninterrupted, there are undoubtedly ways to temporarily spice up the way you present your brand persona.

Firstly, it’s important to stick with your joke and see it through in full. The temptation to reveal your cunning ruse at an early stage may be strong, especially if the concept is particularly daring or a more significant departure from your usual tone. However, the mantra ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ rings true in a scenario where you want to maximise the number of impressions gained and not divert the narrative before a substantial section of the final audience have had time to soak up the idea and engage in the discussion. Stay with it and reap the rewards.

Joker card animation

Secondly, be wary of jumping on bandwagon trends or ideas. While it’s always good for a brand to be current and align with newer developments you know people will buy into, there is the risk of contributing to a saturation effect for those on the receiving end. Too much of a good thing can create fatigue which will in turn drastically lessen the impact of your well-thought-through idea. This is even more crucial when considering that the number of fake product campaigns you can realistically execute are few and far between as a result of the fact they stretch the normal parameters of the brand-audience relationship. It’s always preferable to think laterally and present a more creative edge than your competitors, whilst remaining relevant to your brand.

Animated joker card

Third: to be believable - and to match your existing standards - the concept needs to be as polished and professional as anything else you would release onto the market. If this means mocking up real prototypes or investing genuine designs, then give it the attention it deserves. If it doesn’t come across as a genuine product, why would people interpret it as one? Otherwise, the whole validity of the exercise may be jeopardised, or simply not be credible enough - which sort of defeats the object of sticking your neck out and experimenting.

Some successful examples

Earlier in the year, Durex won Best Content Marketing Campaign at the 2018 Performance Marketing Awards. They created a memorable campaign to build their brand awareness which was a huge success across social media with plenty of endorsement from individual user accounts alongside various high profile media outlets such as The Drum and The Poke. Their objective was simple: increase traffic to their website and build brand awareness across relevant audiences.

They created three “Best of British” flavoured condoms: Sunday Roast, Fish & Chips and Chicken Tikka Masala. A a range of assets were created to promote these campaign, inlcuding images, ‘informative’ blog posts on usage along with a press release that was sent to over 100 viral sites. 

Durex fake product Best of British flavour

Just in time for Easter this year, Heinz announced their brand new product… chocolate mayonnaise. Fully embracing the above point about really investing in your idea, they went to town on their campaign by producing a short video for social media which shows their culinary experts creating the fake product.

Their ‘[Seriously] Good’ mayonnaise is a very popular product in the Heinz range so tweaking this product and issuing a novel take on a much loved product was definitely going to create a stir on social media, with many people sharing the video, including valuable pages such as LadBible which generated 40,000 comments and 25,000 shares and 21,000 reactions on Facebook alone.

Heinz chocolate mayonnaise fake product

Hundreds of Argos customers will remember the iconic scent of the Argos catalogue from when they were younger. Since you can do it all digitally now, Argos created a USB-powered scent diffuser for people who enjoy shopping digitally but miss the nostalgia of their famous catalogue. ‘Eau de Catalogue’ was tested on a group of 30 shoppers and results showed that shopping satisfaction increased when the aroma was released into the air.

Argos Eau de Catalogue fake product

Lego created a toungue-in-cheek campaign that was likely to leave parents across the globe praying it was real. Introducing the revolutionary brick sorting vacuum: the 'VacuSort'. After publishing on their Facebook page, they gained over 80,000 reactions and 51,000 shares - a healthy degree of exposure in any marketer's books and a supreme piece of customer relationship building. The post was flooded with more than 10,000 comments from desperate parents claiming they genuinely needed the product in their life. Maybe one day, hey, Lego?

Lego VacuSort brick sorting vacuum

If a fully fledged fake product is slightly beyond your means, you can still momentarily fool your customers and create some social media ripples by making an announcement about a change in service, policy or company aims around a topic likely to generate a humorous reaction or create mild controversy. When a brand advocate has an opinion on something, they’re much more inclined to comment and share leading to increased engagement for you.

It’s always preferable to think laterally and present a more creative edge than your competitors - while remaining relevant to your brand.

One example of this would be gin distiller Warner Edwards’ prank in April 2018. Making an announcement on Instagram about their popular rhubarb gin, they told customers “the South American Rhubarb Mite has migrated to the UK and decimated the rhubarb crop country wide” meaning there would be none of the product available for the year. The lengthy caption managed to mention how their gin is made with 34% freshly pressed rhubarb juice as well as plugging their five other gins.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Warner Edwards Distillery Ltd (@warneredwards) on

This prank definitely caught out those people who tend to forget about April Fools’ Day with people writing comments such as “Out of all of the April fools I’ve seen on insta today this one made me the most distressed! I nearly rushed to my local M&S to bulk buy!”. In this case, a good tale is one with a happy ending…

Fake products and campaigns are an excellent way to humanise your brand and make you stand out on social media against competitors and to potential customers. Whilst your genuine, more regular marketing exercises - audience engagement, promotion, brand awareness - continue uninterrupted, acting as the bedrock of your activities, there are undoubtedly ways to temporarily spice up the way you present your brand persona. We only ask that you proceed with caution. And perhaps even have a little fun in the process.

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