It’s April Fools’ Day, which means the internet is lying to you.
Every year, companies come up with some great (and sometimes not-so-great) pranks to pull on consumers. Sometimes it’s a fun way to show people that a brand has a sense of humor, like when Zombie Burger owner George Formaro announced a KISS-themed restaurant. Sometimes it can do real damage to a business, like when a Connecticut bank “joked” that it would start charging a $5 fee to use a human teller.
It’s a good idea to be skeptical of everything you read on April Fools’ Day. Back in 1957, a BBC news program reported on Spaghetti trees in Switzerland. The band Coldplay has made themselves the center of April Fools’ pranks several times, announcing a zero-gravity concert in 2009 and a fragrance, “Angst,” in 2010.
A good April Fools’ Day joke for your brand should be funny, but easily dismissible if you give it more than a moment’s thought. It should amuse, and not horrify or give false hope, which was the case last year when a police department in the UK tweeted they would give an early release to the prisoner who received the most votes in an online poll.
The goal should be to give people a laugh, never to make them feel duped.
Who does April Fools’ Day well?
Google and YouTube are pretty much the gold standard.
Google kicked things off in 2000 with MentalPlex, which asked searchers to project a mental image of what they wanted to find. After a moment, a result would pop up like “Error 001: Weak or no signal detected. Upgrade transmitter and retry” or “Error 8p: Unclear on whether your search is about money or monkeys.”
Google has also used April Fools’ Day to announce real products that seemed unbelievable at the time. In 2004, the company announced Gmail on April 1. Compared to what Hotmail and Yahoo were offering at the time, a gigabyte of free email storage sounded like science fiction.
Google-owned YouTube also gets in on the act. Last year, it added a “Darude -Sandstorm” button to every video, letting you add the 1999 techno hit to any video. No matter what you searched for that day, YouTube would ask if you meant to search for “Sandstorm.”
In 2008, the company made it so all featured videos on YouTube UK and Australia actually linked to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” RickRolling their users.
In 2012, YouTube announced “The YouTube Collection,” offering the entirety of the video site on DVDs, delivered by 175 trucks. It also offered the option to comment or give a thumbs up on a video by mailing it in.
In 2015, Netflix expanded on the popular holiday fireplace videos with “Sizzling Bacon” and “Rotisserie Chicken,” giving viewers the mouth-watering experience of watching food being cooked, without being able to consume it.
When Things Go Wrong
During the height of the dot-com boom, the website, Webnode, announced on April 1, 1999, that it had secured $4 billion in funding from the government to create the “Next Generation Internet” and would be selling “nodes” to investors for $100 each. It was all a joke, but the company got 1,400 emails from would-be investors and ended up being investigated by the FBI, as well as being sued by Business Wire for submitting a joke press release.
In 2001, a Florida Hooters restaurant told employees that the server who sold the most beers would win a Toyota. Or at least, that’s what it sounded like, but the contest, which launched as an April Fools’ joke, was actually for a “toy Yoda.” The little green Jedi. The winning waitress sued the restaurant, settling for an amount that her lawyer said would let her “pick out whatever type of Toyota she wants."
In early 1998, “South Park” was one of the buzziest shows on TV. The cartoon ended its first season with character Eric Cartman trying to determine who his real father was. The answer was supposed to be revealed when the show returned… on April 1. Instead, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone aired a half-hour cartoon about flatulent Canadians Terrance and Phillip, prompting nearly 2,000 angry emails from viewers. Comedy Central aired the real episode on April 22, and while fans may have been upset, it didn’t seem to hurt the “South Park” brand. The next year the show had a hit film, and “South Park” is still on the air nearly 20 years later.
The Best of 2016
For once, Google had an April Fools’ fail. The company added a “Mic Drop” button to Gmail, which added a gif of a Minion dropping a microphone and briefly prevented the conversation from continuing. Unfortunately, several users accidentally used the feature for more serious emails. Google quickly discontinued the feature.
Google Maps did a little better, changing its name to “Groovy Maps” and letting you visit “Funky Town” via the Google Maps app. An animated figure pops up to dance to disco music. It won’t actually get you anywhere, other than to the dance floor.
YouTube announced that every video can be viewed in 360... With Snoop Dogg. Every button has a little button modeled after the dee oh double G’s head. Click it and you’ll find out that Snoopavision is in Beta and won’t be enabled until 2203. But it will be worth the wait.
Netflix was taken over by “Fuller House” co-star John Stamos, with the fictional series “John Stamos A Human, Being” advertised prominently for an April 31 start date. Every section has been renamed with titles like “Popular Like John Stamos Was in High School” and “My Stamos Approved List.”
McDonalds announced the Mmmbox, a delivery service promising artisan quality from a fast food restaurant, complete with plaid napkins, a mustache comb and an irony card. Instead of burning food, McDs is burning hipsters.
Your Brand is No Joke
You put a lot into your company, so don’t mess it up with funny business. Blue Compass can help with your digital marketing, web design and development needs. No fooling. Stop us if you’ve heard this one: Contact us today.