Thirty-six years ago today, Britain’s well-respected newspaper, The Guardian, ran a seven page Special Report on the tiny country of San Serriffe. According to the Museum of Hoaxes:
“San Serriffe was an archipelago located in the Indian Ocean, north-east of the Seychelle Islands. It consisted of two primary islands, Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. The capital, Bodoni, was located in the center of the larger island, Upper Caisse. The smaller island, Lower Caisse, had a swampy interior as well as a forested area, the Woj of Type (home of San Serriffe’s national bird, the Kwote). “
I think you know where I’m going. I’m not a fan of April Foolery, but I do love any project with brilliant planning and flawless execution. The best part of this prank was that it was not only embraced by the editors, it made the newspaper a lot of money by getting paid advertisers to play along . I told you it was brilliant!
Of course, I don’t want to dismiss the advertisers part in all of this, which was enormous. Their ads within the Special Report on the tiny country of San Serriffe helped to legitimize the hoax and went a long way to humanize the brands with extra exposure in a setting that was not only humorous, it was well done. Texaco even claimed to be giving away a trip to San Serriffe!
The Guardian’s Special Report on San Serriffe was so popular, it has since been resurrected over the years with a San Serriffe sequel the following year and a Return to San Serriffe 20 years later.
There is nothing quite so personal as print. The article worked because of how it was delivered – within the pages of one of Britain’s most respected newspapers. April 1, 1977 has been characterized as “bedlam” at The Guardian with phones ringing off the hook and travel agents cursing the paper for encouraging travel to a non-existent location.
Special thanks to the Museum of Hoaxes. Read more about this story at their website.
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