April Fool seems like the perfect time for pranks. But what starts out as a joke can turn into a no-nonsense one.
Big brands and companies often feel pressured to leave their mark on insane vacations. But there have been instances where April Fool’s Day fakes failed – or worse, backfired.
April Fool’s Day can give businesses and brands an “opportunity to connect with their customers through humor – a great way to show off your brand’s personality and fun side. And if done right, it can create a very memorable moment for the brand,” Rebecca Rosborough, Global Marketing Director for the online brand management platform Frontifysaid USA TODAY.
“However, it’s often difficult to do it in a way that resonates with everyone and doesn’t offend anyone,” she said.
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A success story from last year, Rosborough said, was 7-Eleven’s introduction of the Tiny Gulp, a “just 0.7 ounce serving is the perfect little sip.” the company said on social media. “While the bit was clearly just for fun, it served to reinforce one of the brand’s iconic offerings,” said Big Gulp, Rosborough.
Not all April Fool’s Day goes so well. Here are some examples.
Elon Musk: Telsa goes bankrupt
On April 1, 2018, Elon Musk tweeted about Tesla’s bankruptcy. “That prank backfired immediately, knocking the title down 7%,” Rosborough said. “And while he tried to inject some humor into the way he phrased it, his ‘Easter Eggs’ pun missed hugely.”
Volkswagen gets a new name – not
Two years ago, before April Fool’s Day, German car manufacturer Volkswagen posted on its website what was thought to be a draft press release about plans to rename its US division to “Voltswagen”, replacing the “k” with a “t” as a commitment to the electric vehicles.
While some Volkswagen officials in Germany were telling The Wall Street Journal the announcement was an April Fool’s Day joke, other officials maintained the veracity of the plan. After the company’s shares began to rise and VW’s communications teams and reporters wasted a lot of time, the company confessed that it was all really a joke.
The Volkswagen prank is an example of one that went too far, said Rita McGrath, a Columbia Business School professor and corporate strategy expert, who spoke to USA TODAY in 2022 to a story about april fools pranks. “(It was) a mistake,” she said.
The Taco Liberty Bell: April Fool’s Day Prank Ringed True, For A While
Taco Bell cooked up an April Fool’s Day surprise in 1996 by running full-page ads in The Philadelphia Investigator and other newspapers, including The New York Times and USA TODAY, about his purchase of the Liberty Bell—and renaming it to “Taco Liberty Bell”—to “help the national debt”.
Members of Congress called the National Park Service to confirm the deal was not real, The Washington Post reported. The park service also held an impromptu press conference to refuse the deal. After Taco Bell admitted the whole thing was a hoax, the company offered to donate $50,000 towards the preservation of the bell.
The detours paid off. The free publicity generated by the incident was worth $25 million in advertising and sales at Taco Bell increased by $500,000 and $600,000 on April 1 and 2 from the previous week, according to the Chicago Grandstandwho also ran the ad.
Google: April Fool’s Day email ‘updates’
Historically, Google has been an active participant in April Fool’s Day pranks, but hasn’t launched any since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. tech news site 9to5Google noted.
The company might have wished it hadn’t introduced a new Gmail feature called the fall of the microphone in 2016. The feature made it “easier to have the last word on any email,” Google said, adding a GIF of an animated yellow minion (from the “Despicable Me” animated films and “Minion”) dropping a microphone.
But a bug added the Mic Drop to many emails inadvertently and it had to be disabled. “We love April Fool’s jokes at Google, and we’re sorry this joke missed the mark and disappointed you,” the company said at the time.
Richard Branson’s UFO landed…with a thump for police
The billionaire and founder of The Virgin Group, who in 2021 was able to travel in space, has also enjoyed April Fool’s Day pranks for years. His most famous: the flight in 1989 of a “UFO”, in fact a hot air balloon with flashing lights, above London.
The police were mobilized and the army was alerted, Branson said in a 2021 blog post. When he landed – the day before April Fool’s Day because of the weather, The Christian Science Monitor reported – a door opened and someone wearing an alien costume came out. “Police surrounded us and then sent a lone cop with his baton across the lot to greet the alien,” Branson wrote.
Initially, “the police didn’t see the funny side of it and threatened to arrest us for wasting their time,” Branson wrote. “Luckily, they soon joined in the fun and left with smiles on their faces.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.
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