10 April Fools’ Day pranks that tried to boost branding; some worked and some just didn’t

As Dynamic Business readies its takeover offer for stricken media group… hmm, on second thoughts, let’s not upset ASIC & ASX, shall we?

Businesses have been jumping on April Fools’ Day pranks and jokes for decades, aiming to push brand and product awareness with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge bit of humour to get us all talking. The thing is, comedy can be difficult to get right for even the long-practicing quipsters among us, let alone for the marketing departments at some of the world’s biggest brands. Sometimes it works a treat; other times, well… it costs companies more than just a cringe reaction.

While some companies may not think it’s a good idea to take part in April Fools’ activities this year (such as Google), the fact is that many still are and will be for years to come.

Let’s take a look at 10 April Fools’ Day pranks and jokes companies have tackled over the years; some from today, some as far back as the early 1900s. As for which ones work well and which ones don’t… you decide…

Volts” – wagen

German motor vehicle manufacturer Volkswagen has found itself in some hot water with their April Fools’ Day prank this year. The company decided it was a good idea to announce a name change earlier this week: “Voltswagen”, to mark their transition to electric vehicles.

The “people’s car” brand sent out press releases announcing the news and then followed it up with confirmations, resulting in wide coverage and news reports by a number of outlets. The result? A stock price rise of around 5 per cent – meaning the faux announcement now has the potential to attract action from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Volkswagen has since admitted to it being a prank, saying in a statement: “The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fools’ Day, highlighting the launch of the all-electric ID.4 SUV and signalling our commitment to bringing electric mobility to all.”

The USA has been robbed!

Let’s go back to Germany in 1905. On April Fools’ Day, German newspaper The Berliner Tageblatt published a story reporting that robber barons had managed to steal over $268 million in American silver and gold by tunnelling beneath the U.S. Federal Treasury in Washington, DC. The report was picked up by European newspapers and spread quickly, before it was discovered it was actually a prank by Berliner Tageblatt’s New York correspondent Louis Viereck.

Richard Branson, the alien

English billionaire and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson chose to embark on an otherworldly prank for 1989’s April Fools’ Day. Branson and Cameron Holdings owner Don Cameron got in a hot-air balloon, made to look like a UFO, and decided to fly over London.

“We could see every single vehicle grinding to a halt and hundreds of people looking up at the UFO flying over them,” Branson wrote in a 2017 blog post.

“It was great fun watching their reactions. What we didn’t know was three police forces had been mobilised, the army had been alerted and radio and TV stations had all gone on the air about a UFO flying low over London!”

Getting in early on his brand idea, Branson had written “Virgin Galactic Airways” on the side of the UFO – and that was years before Virgin became the spaceline we know of today.

A sweet Whopper

In 2018, fast-food giant Burger King announced it was releasing a Chocolate Whopper, “a special version of the brand’s most iconic burger.”

It may have been a prank, but take away those onions and you can count this writer among the many that would have tried it out if it was real. As one person posted on YouTube: “Meanest April fools joke ever.”

When Netflix bought Seth Rogen

Remember that time streaming powerhouse Netflix acquired the rights to actor, producer and writer Seth Rogen?

Making fun of its buy-everything-in-sight business strategy, while not-so-subtly showing what they can do with talent, Netflix unveiled an amusing video with Rogen in 2018.

The bit had Rogen realising that he had inadvertently entered into a lifetime deal to transfer full ownership of his personal autonomy to Netflix – “hereby referred to as Seth’s Owners.”

“If it worked for Adam Sandler it will work for me, right?” Rogen says in the video, poking fun at the multiple-movie deals Sandler has made with the streamer.

The Smartshoephone

Introducing the world’s first foot smartphone! Telecommunications company T-Mobile unveiled marketing for their faux line of Smartshoephones, Sidekicks, in 2018.

Featuring shoe laces you can use as ear phones, a “step screen”, sole speakers, a toe camera – for “really flexible people”, and a “No BS” personal assistant voiced by CEO John Legere.

Waiter, there’s a shark in my soup

Sea Life Aquarium | Facebook

Melbourne’s Sea Life Aquarium is offering quite the dining experience – for those who can, you know, hold their breath.

The Melbourne attraction is today promoting a “Private Dining” service that will allow customers to, quite literally, immerse themselves in the aquarium experience.

“Thousands of people have dined surrounded by sea creatures at the Aquarium over the years and now they’ll have the opportunity to dine while fully submerged in the 2.2 million litre Oceanarium for the ultimate multi-sensory experience,” Sea Life Aquarium posted on Facebook.

“Competing with sharks, rays and hundreds of fish for food, Underwater Private Dining gives guests the opportunity to even closer to the magnificent marine creatures residing at the Aquarium.”

Google’s Screen Cleaner

What if there was an easier way to keep your phone clean? No, not from malware and questionable apps, but from things like sauce and dirty water?

Introducing a new feature in the Files app, “Screen Cleaner”.

Google‘s 2019 April Fools ad promoted a feature that, using the Smudge Detecter API and Haptic Movement Generator, provided users with a more convenient way to find and clean the front of physical screens. Because wiping can be hard. Oh, and it leaves a fresh pineapple scent too!

Flapping planes

Another one from the Richard Branson world. This time, Virgin planes with interesting wings.

This 2017 bit introduced the Dreambird 1417, a passenger plane with “flapenergy” capabilities, that harness the power of a bird in flight to create a faster, cleaner, more self-sustaining airline. The… the wings flap. That’s the joke.

Audi’s buzz-worthy car

Audi

Keep your electric cars, we want vehicles that run on a sweet, all-natural power source. Thankfully, Audi has a vehicle that runs on honey.

In their online magazine, Audi’s 2019 April Fools campaign presented the b-tron, a vehicle that uses the energy-dense fuel source that is that sweet, viscous food substance.

“The b-tron concept was very challenging,” said Imker Honig, of Ingolstadt’s legendary Komplett Geschminkt (which translates to “completely made up”) skunkworks, at the time. “Early prototypes tended to attract scores of bees, typically around the hexagonal fuel cap. One tester was swarmed by a hive that had settled in the glove compartment. I don’t think he’ll be doing that again, ha!

“That said, everyone loves the on-board toaster.”


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