How Not To Do An April Fool’s Joke

April fool’s passed this year, and in case any of you noticed, there were no april fools pranks on RateTea or any of my tea blogs.  I did prank one of my birder friends, claiming to have seen both a LeConte’s sparrow and a Henslow’s Sparrow in a Philadelphia city park (she believed me!).

LeConte's sparrows in habitat
LeConte’s sparrow, a very unusual, but possible species here in Philadelphia. A good example of about how esoteric something needs to be to make a good April Fool’s joke.  Photos from the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

But there was no big RateTea prank this year, nor last year, like the 2012 Teavana Buyout of RateTea April Fools Prank.

The Best And The Worst April Fool’s Joke

My 2012 fake post about RateTea being bought out by Teavana was simultaneously the best and worst April Fool’s joke I’ve ever pulled off.  It was the best, in that I “got” more people than I’ve ever gotten before, with the prank.  But it wasn’t necessarily the best, because it may have caused RateTea some harm.

To understand why it could have done some harm, I first need to explain why it was such a “good” joke, why I tricked so many people.  The main reason was due to a basic fact that happens on the internet with nearly every blog post or news article: many people read the headline, but most people didn’t read the post.

I don’t know exactly how many people read the headline, but my best guess is that it was in the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, because the post itself got about 250 views, and click-through-rates on articles as low as 1% are quite common…so it is very likely that as many as 25,000 or more people saw the headline.  Most of these people formed a mental association, taking note: “Oh, RateTea was bought out by Teavana.”

Years later, I’m still talking to people who saw that headline, didn’t read the post, and still believe that RateTea was bought out by Teavana.  These people include old friends and acquaintances, people I haven’t kept in touch with, but who loosely keep in touch in the sense of occasionally scanning my Facebook posts.  These people also include people in the tea industry.  At the Philadelphia Coffee and Tea Festival this year, and at World Tea East last year, I encountered numerous tea people who also had been tricked by that April Fool’s joke.

How could this hurt me?  Because many people don’t like Teavana.

One thing that I found interesting was that many people reacted positively when they learned that my post had been a joke.  People also expressed a greater desire to work together with me, after learning that I still owned and managed RateTea.

A large Teavana sign over the New York Stock Exchange
Teavana is a big corporation, which many people don’t have the most favorable impression of.  Photo by David Shankbone, licensed under CC BY 3.0.

I’ve heard numerous people complain about Teavana, on many different grounds.  Most people who have set foot in a brick-and-mortar Teavana store have experienced their pushy sales tactics first hand.  Yes, I’ve been to that exact store, in Willow Grove, PA, referenced in that post; it’s quite near where I live.  But then there is also the buying out and closing down of SpecialTeas (one of my friends, a former loyal SpecialTeas customer, is still shopping around to replace some of the products he used to buy from SpecialTeas), and there’s the general issue of being overpriced, something that nearly all tea connoisseurs seem to agree on.

And then there’s just the question of Teavana’s size.  I get the sense that, all other things equal, people prefer to work with smaller companies.  A lot of businesspeople I know have expressed that working with big corporations can involve a lot of headaches, roadblocks, and hoops to jump through, and the payoffs aren’t always worth it.  And people like to work with people with whom they have a personal connection.

Some Positive Takeaways Too

The impact of this prank was certainly not strictly negative–there may also be some ways that I have benefited by people falsely believing about the Teavana-RateTea buyout.  I think there is a degree to which people may reason: “If this site is big enough to be bought out by Teavana, it must have a certain degree of influence and importance.” and this impression could certainly benefit RateTea.

And of course, there’s also the inspiration and boost in my confidence, just knowing that so many people could believe that the site was bought out by Teavana–which confirms to me that most people now have an impression of RateTea being big and influential enough to be bought out by a company like Teavana.  That makes me feel good, at least, and provides some additional encouragement to keep working on the site.

Lessons Learned?

In the past few years, I’ve come to learn a lot about how the internet works, and also, how to pull off a really great April fool’s joke.  Next time I get people on this large a scale, I want to be more careful.

I want to pick a headline, an idea, which will cause only good to come, and do no harm, not to me or to anyone, if people are tricked into believing it.

What do you think?

  • Are you one of the people who I tricked with the April fool’s prank about RateTea being bought out by Teavana?
  • Have you ever pulled off an April fool’s prank that you think inadvertently caused some harm by people believing your joke?
  • How do you feel about Teavana as a company, vs. RateTea?  Regardless of whether or not you knew about the original prank, do you think that you’d be any more or less eager to work together with RateTea, knowing that I still own and manage the site, and not Teavana or some other bigger corporation?

Wegmans, Frontier Co-Op, Bryn Mawr, Upper Darby, and Teavana

Recently I made two in-store purchases of tea.  One of them was in Wegmans, which I wrote about some time ago on my old tea blog in the post Tea at Wegmans.  Wegmans, a supermarket chain centered in New York but extending south into a few other states, has an oustanding loose-leaf tea selection.  By outstanding, I mean that the teas are extremely fresh and have consistently high quality.

Also, unusual for an American company, I think they have a very strong showing among Japanese green teas (much stronger, in my opinion, than their offerings of Chinese green teas, which are quite weak).  Look for reviews rolling in over the next few weeks on RateTea’s page on Wegmans.

Frontier Co-op and a Rant About Bryn Mawr

The other place that I purchased teas is from Frontier Co-op, which had a display in Arrowroots Natural Foods, a small natural foods store in Bryn Mawr, PA.  While I thought the store itself was quite overpriced and not the sort of place I would shop regularly, the people working there were nice, and they had a great selection of bulk herbs and a few pure teas as well.  I’ve had positive experiences with Frontier in the past, so again, look for my reviews rolling in on the page for Frontier Co-op on RateTea.

Incidentally, it’s time for me to rant.  I was in Bryn Mawr this Sunday with two friends, and we were looking for a place to eat, and nearly everywhere we looked was closed.  I found this really frustrating, and it put me in a foul mood because I was quite hungry.  Bryn Mawr is a relatively wealthy, relatively densely populated suburb of Philadelphia, with Bryn Mawr college right there and other colleges nearby–I’d expect there to be at least a couple cheap places to eat open.  To think that I even considered living out in this area (in Ardmore) rather than living in the city?  I think i would have been frustrated living in a space where the restaurants aren’t open Sunday for lunch.  Perhaps we missed something by not walking far enough up and down Lancaster Avenue, but I was annoyed to see one restaurant after another with big “Closed” signs in the window.

We took the Norristown High Speed Line back to Upper Darby, and went out to eat at a wonderful Ecuadorian restaurant pictured here:

Storefront of El Sazon de Dona Eva
An Ecuadorian restaurant in Upper Darby

The restaurant was fabulous.  We had shrimp cevice and a catfish soup, and it was exquisite…and very cheap.  The restaurant is not particularly accessible to non-Latinos–there’s no menu, and the people working here don’t speak much English.  But it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.

I love Upper Darby.  As I like to say, it’s somewhere in between suburb and straight hood, with a lot of interesting ethnic eats, a bowling alley that boasts $1.60 games Sunday morning, with great hip-hop and dance music playing.  In Upper Darby, my experience has been that things are open when I want them to be, things are cheap, and there is lots of culture and diversity.  And it is home to the 69th street terminal, a major transit hub, making it very accessible without a car.  It’s my kind of place.

But back to the tea.  One of the things I love about Frontier Coop, which I wrote about in my post Frontier Co-op: A Leader in Sustainability, is the self-serve station, allowing you to buy herbs in bulk without jacked up prices.  This is just like Wegmans, which uses a similar self-serve station, making the price the same regardless of what quantity of tea or herbs you buy.  As someone who loves to sample teas (and give samples to other people to review), I love this.

Back to Teavana

I have been thinking about Teavana a lot lately, although I haven’t set foot in one of their stores in a long time.  I want to put pressure on Teavana to halt their sales practices, which I find, frankly, disgusting.  I want to make clear that I have nothing against them as a company, nor do I have anything against the people who work there.  I just think their pushiness, which I’ve experienced firsthand, is abhorrent.  It’s not as bad in some stores, but it’s clearly more than just an isolated problem, and the company clearly hasn’t made a commitment to fully move beyond these sorts of practices.

As long as Teavana keeps up their aggressive sales practices, I want to encourage people to try out other options.  I hope companies like Wegmans and Frontier Co-op can give Teavana a run for their money.  Right now, in my area, they’re the only companies I’ve seen offering multiple locations of high-quality loose-leaf tea in retail stores.  I would encourage people who are fans of Teavana to give Wegmans or Frontier Co-op a try.  Frontier is available across the country in natural food stores, but unfortunately, Wegmans has only a regional distribution.