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Paul Almond | 09:53 UK time, Wednesday, 2 April 2008

It's not often that you get to work with animals - especially penguins, and particularly penguins that can fly. But that's what we've been doing for the last two weeks as part of an April Fools' Day campaign for BBC iPlayer. Well, not really... But we have become quite attached to them, however virtual they may be.

To support a 90 second promotional trail on BBC iPlayer, we invented a fictitious new series, Miracles Of Evolution, in which film-maker and writer Terry Jones follows in the footsteps of Charles Darwin and his Voyage of the Beagle in 1831 – "a voyage which was ultimately to revolutionise the natural sciences with the publication of On The Origin Of The Species".

The series would show how certain species have evolved disproportionately quickly over millions of years. The first episode "presents spectacular footage, which has never been caught on camera before, of a unique colony of Adelie Penguins as they fly thousands of miles across the frozen wasteland of Antarctica to the Amazon Rainforest".

Terry Jones was happy to endorse our story, in which he enthused:

When we first discovered them, we could hardly believe our eyes. We'd been watching them and filming them for days, without a hint of what was to come. But then the weather took a turn for the worse. It was quite amazing. As they say, the best stories are the true ones...

We partnered with the Mirror and the Telegraph to play along and run a story on their news pages about this momentous discovery, and it was the most viewed story on their respective websites (where readers could also watch the trail itself).

We did the same with the BBC’s Breakfast. Purely coincidentally, Sir David Attenborough was a guest on the programme; he played along, suggesting that this remarkable colony "had survived from an earlier phase perhaps because they are flying to find food". Here's the clip from YouTube:

The story has been picked up widely, alongside other stories such as Nicolas Sarkozy’s height and Alistair Darling playing the lottery, from CNN to Reuters saying that it "topped a rich offering of spoofs". Also check out Russia’s Channel 1.

We made the trail available on the iPlayer homepage, which also featured, from midday, a short film showing how it had been made. Breakfast returned to the subject this morning, with Tim Davie, the BBC's Director of Marketing & Communications in the studio.

The campaign belongs to a long tradition of April Fools at the BBC including the best known of these, thought to be TV's first: the Panorama programme, presented by Richard Dimbleby no less, which featured a family in Ticino in Switzerland as they carried out their annual spaghetti harvest.

In 1975, David Attenborough announced the discovery on BBC Radio 3 of a new species of night-time singing tree mice known as Musendrophilus. In 1999, the Today programme announced that God Save The Queen was to be replaced by a Euro Anthem sung in German.

Alongside television and radio, we launched a complementary, integrated viral campaign online, to reach the widest audience possible. By seeding the promotional trail in distribution networks, forums and video websites, our hope was that audiences would discover it wherever they are, share it, and embed it on their websites and blogs.

Early indications are that there were approximately 350,000 views of the trail on the iPlayer website yesterday, and nearly 200,000 on YouTube, and it's rising all the time. Some of the comment prompted the thought that April 1st offers limitless potential for promotional opportunities, so watch out for a profusion next year.

Paul Almond is Head of Communications for Future Media & Digital, BBC Marketing, Communications & Audiences.


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