When T.S. Eliot declared that “April is the cruellest month,” he was not speaking of the pain of bad April Fools’ Day humour. But some people find the tradition just that odious.
Still, that does not stop marketers from joining in the somewhat dubious fun each year.
In the waning days of March, some corporate pranks appeared to come early this year. Procter & Gamble has rigged up an entire site and social media campaign promoting its new bacon-flavoured Scope mouthwash (slogan: “for breath that sizzles.”) The company claims it is a real product, coming soon. The timing is suspicious.
Ditto for American Eagle Outfitters new “Skinny Skinny ” jeans product, which is actually denim-coloured body paint, a clearly fake campaign. The company’s vice-president of brand marketing told the Today Show that they “just wanted to have fun.” Customers who try to buy the product on the site are told that they are sold out and asked for their e-mail address; the company has hinted that more news on the promotion is to come, likely with some type of discount offer to those who gave their information.
More campaigns will doubtlessly surface on Monday before another April Fools’ is through. Here is a look back at some of the more interesting ways marketers have pranked the public.
In late March, 1998, the Irish brewer put out a press release stating that, thanks to its sponsorship of millennium celebrations in the U.K., Greenwich Mean Time would be renamed Guinness Mean Time.
Unfortunately, the Financial Times newspaper did not heed the embargo date on the release – specifying publication of the news for April 1, of course – and went ahead with the story.
The beer brand has undertaken gentler hoaxes in the past as well – such as its ad a few years back, showing an obviously fake pint with the vanilla-coloured foam filling most of the glass and the blackened beer serving as a nicely settled head.
The car company is so devoted to the April Fools’ Day fun that it has an explainer on its website outlining the perfect prank, which its ad agency carries out every year in the U.K.
“The April Fools’ Day concepts are designed to teeter on the verge of credibility, therefore taking in scores of slightly less vigilant readers. The concepts tend to focus on a new and revolutionary piece of technology from BMW, yet push the idea just beyond the plausible,” the website says.
Examples include its 2006 ad, “BMW uninvents the wheel,” and its 2008 “Canine Repellent Alloy Protection,” which claimed to prevent dogs from peeing on your luxury car by administering “an electrical charge known as Rim Impulse Power (R.I.P.)”
The Doritos-shelled tacos only seemed like a cruel joke on an overweight population. No, those were real. The most famous Taco Bell hoax was back in 1996 when the fast-food chain took out newspaper ads on April 1 claiming that it had purchased the Liberty Bell, and renamed the beloved American monument the Taco Liberty Bell.
Citizens who did not keep a close eye on the calendar reportedly flooded the National Park Service with phone calls to inquire about the shocking – and fake – news.
What better way for a tech company to demonstrate its forward-thinking nature than to bring back the pager? On April 1 last year, Microsoft gave that ’90s icon an updated look, announcing the Windows Pager would be launched in “2014 … give or take a few months.”
Most commenters got the joke – though some pointed out that the product actually might not be a bad idea for hospital use, and as a restricted mobile device for kids too young for a phone.
Microsoft wasn’t the only company going back to the future for fools’ pranks last year. Google – a perennial pranker – announced it would be releasing Google Maps for the Nintendo system. The old Nintendo system.
The announcement of the 8-bit maps trumpeted the “beautiful low-res graphics,” and showed a bulky old plastic cartridge similar to those used for Duck Hunt play of yore.
The Latin root of the word “sinister” also connotes the left side and left-handedness has been spuriously linked to evil. As if southpaws didn’t have it hard enough, marketers have decided to mock them with fake backward promotions spoofing such products as left-handed scissors.
In 1998, Burger King celebrated April Fools’ with a full-page ad in USA Today for its new left-handed Whopper, with all condiments rotated 180 degrees. “After years of neglect, left-handed eaters will no longer need to conform to traditional right-handed eating methods,” the ad said.
Burger King was not the first – just two years earlier the Guardian in the U.K. reported that Mars had advertised the launch of a left-handed chocolate bar.
The same year that Mars faked left, another April Fools’ stunt won attention in the U.K. Pepsi, in a bid to differentiate itself from the iconic red Coca-Cola can, spent a large sum promoting the change in its can design from red and blue to a single electric blue colour. It released a pricey ad with Cindy Crawford and Andre Agassi. It also struck marketing partnerships that saw Air France paint a plane blue and paid British newspaper The Daily Mirror to turn its red masthead blue.
But Richard Branson decided to take some of the air out of the big relaunch. His now-defunct soda brand, Virgin Cola, was also labelled red; on April Fools’ Day, as Pepsi was about to begin its campaign, Virgin ran an ad claiming that their cans had been designed with colour-changing technology that would communicate when the drink was past its prime. It said that “if the can turns blue, the cola’s gone flat.”
The beloved nature documentaries of the BBC are something to behold – especially when they discover a colony of flying penguins.
The video was not real, of course – some real penguin footage was juiced up with computer animation. But it was a clever ad for the public broadcaster’s “iPlayer” streaming video service, which ensured that if viewers missed such a spectacular program they could catch up later.
“The Secret Behind Nike Air?” Actual air expelled by Nike-sponsored athletes. A particular highlight of this spoof video is the description of the special technology to remove the effusive grunts from Maria Sharapova’s contributions.