Yesterday It’s Nice That was overrun with rodents as it became It’s Mice That for 24 hours to mark April Fools’ Day. The idea of doing a 1 April prank has been floated for the past few years but it never happened for various reasons; April 1 fell on an inconvenient day, or we couldn’t agree on an idea or approach that we all agreed had some legs (excuse the pun). It was really when our amazing developers With Associates expressed interest earlier this year that yesterday’s scheme started to take shape, and it became a joint project to showcase our creative thinking and their technical brilliance. Here’s how it happened…
The Planning Stage
Coming up with the pun on which this entire caper would be hung was relatively straightforward – It’s Rice That, It’s Vice That and It’s Twice That were all floated at some stage but it was mice that captured our imagination. Right from the off though we realised that what initially seemed like quite a simple gag, actually threw up a lot of questions that needed answering, both in editorial and technical terms.
Was it just a case of dropping in a funny new homepage that soon gave way to the real site? Should we actually research and write a load of mice-based content? If so how many, and how art and design related should these hoax posts be? How long should the prank be up for, given the traditional 12 noon cut off point but considering the large American audience we have? And crucially was this going to piss people off?
In the end we decided that the best pranks involved commitment and attention to detail. In one of the most surreal editorial meetings I have ever chaired we threw around anything which combined mice and creativity. Assistant Editor Maisie Skidmore was tasked with supplementing these ideas with a load of research, a job she attacked with alacrity. In the end we whittled it down to a shortlist of 12 – enough to fill the homage for a day – and scurried off to put these posts together. We wanted a mix of very obvious articles like the Klein and Hubert harvest mice photography alongside more random and tangental stuff; Stanley Mouse’s graphic design say or Joey Roth’s Felt Computer Mouse.
The next set of questions were practical and cultural, pored over in With Associates’ meeting room. Initially we thought readers would only be able to access the new mousey content on 1 April but we realised that might be annoying and decided existing links to previous content should still work. Eventually we also agreed that we wanted our American readers to be able to get in on the joke, so it was decided to leave It’s Mice That up all day, with this explanation only appearing the day after.
Having bought the itsmicethat.com domain, Mathew, Erin, Jenifer and the rest of the team at With built a staging site so we could plan the takeover with military precision. One of the crucial things was to ensure the TTL (Time to Live) on both URLs was minimised to make the final switchover as seamless as possible.
In the days leading up to the big day I was an odd mix of giddy excitement and nausea (the two took turns flipping my stomach). The content was all in place and uploaded but there was still lots to do and decisions to make. What was going to happen to the adverts for example? Well why not rope them in too, promoting a fictitious Micer Tuesdays event themed around “Tails Of the Unexpected.” Just the day before I remembered our Best Of The Web section at the bottom of the homepage; could we really find 12 vaguely mice-themed links? We could, from Minnie Mouse inspired fashion to mice choosing fine art. And what about the strap line, and the logo just above the footer? Both were changed just before going live in Tuesday morning – this kind of holistic devotion to something so silly seemed important.
That same morning activity in the With studio was equally intense. Here is their timeline of the all-important five minutes to launch…
We had to ensure the It’s Nice That > It’s Mice That switch was covered by what are called 302 temporary redirects. Without these, and unable to find It’s Nice That, engines like Google would have assumed it had gone and we could have ruined the entire It’s Nice That page rank in a day! Now that’s what I call an April Fool…
We deployed all pending changes to production (making the staging site changes live).
We made copy changes in the footer with every single reference to Nice in either the contact address or the network section changed to Mice.
The final stage was to clear all caches.
And so at 8:30am, after a flurry of emails between myself and Erin at With, itsnicethat.com redirected to itsmicethat.com and the changes dropped into place. All that was left for us to do was sit back and wait…
Response and Reaction
…and we continued to wait. For a good 40 minutes or so nothing happened; the new site was live but either nobody was in work yet, nobody had noticed or (worst of all) nobody cared. Then Twitter started to cotton on. The first Tweet we got was this:
OH I GET IT. @itsnicethat is now called It's Mice That. It's April Jokes day or something.
— Luke O'Brien (@LukesOBriens) April 1, 2014
And despite being braced for a fair bit of flak (on the whole April Fools’ Day gags seemed to be getting a mauling online yesterday), the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
— LucB (@HanburySt) April 1, 2014
— chaz hutton ⚔ (@chazhutton) April 2, 2014
— Craig Scott (@craig__scott) April 1, 2014
There were some magnificently dreadful puns for sure, but my favourite Tweets were those from people admitting they had taken some time to cotton on, or seeing people’s excitement at the lengths we’d gone to.
Nice april fool @itsnicethat , made me figured I really needed to go for lunch as it took me more than 2mins to realise!
— Albane Jerphanion (@albanejerph) April 1, 2014
Genuinely went on @itsnicethat and thought there was a strange amount of posts about mice, didn't even notice the name or url for a while!
— Olly Bromham (@olly_bro) April 1, 2014
— Deep Sea Diving Club (@we_are_dsdc) April 1, 2014
— Braulio Amado (@BraulioAmado) April 1, 2014
As they day wore on we had a few new ideas; for example we released a fake cheese-inspired Printed Pages cover which seemed to give the gag a new lease of life late afternoon. And the comments kept on coming; we were RT’d by the likes of CoolHunting, Eye Magazine, Core77, D&AD, Swiss Miss and Urban Outfitters Europe and visits to the homepage were among the highest they’d ever been.
For With the whole process then went into reverse; redirecting the server, reverting all MICE-based changes in Git and Deploy and replacing any footer changes. On Wednesday morning, Mathew promised: “It’s Nice That is back, like nothing ever happened, other than some damn good posts.”
You can still delve into our murine content on the special It’s Mice That category page. Huge thanks again to With Associates and everyone who joined in. Roll on 1 April 2015…
About the Author
Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.