In the age of viral marketing, savvy businesses are looking to April Fools' Day as a way to get free publicity and marketing.
Making fools of their customers is not something companies normally want to advertise. Misleading consumers makes for some bad PR, and it's nothing to tweet about – unless, that is, the calendar says it's very early April. On April Fools' Day, everyone's business becomes funny business, and this year is bound to be no different. Savvy marketers will not only be playing jokes, they'll be aiming high, hoping for that wildly successful prank that goes viral. And why not? History is known to repeat. Here are some stunts from April's past that definitely made the grade.
Burger King unveils the Chocolate Whopper
In late March of 2018, two decades after the unexpected success of the Left-Handed Whopper, Burger King's marketers struck again. This time, the menu mischief featured a Chocolate Whopper, with syrup standing in for ketchup and white chocolate rings playing the part of the onions. Introduced in a 30-second video, the flame-grilled chocolate patty was topped by candied blood oranges and milk chocolate lettuce leaves. For the seriously sweet-toothed, it was a burger made in heaven. Then again, maybe not.
Taco Bell buys the Liberty Bell
Speaking of farcical fast food, remember that time Taco Bell bought the Liberty Bell? Or so it seemed back in 1996, when the company ran a full-page advertisement in six major newspapers. The name of the beloved national symbol would be changed, the ad claimed, but not to worry: The Taco Liberty Bell would remain on display for the public to enjoy. The purported purpose of the transfer of ownership was to reduce the national debt. That lofty goal didn't impress the angry folks who called the National Park Service to complain, including aides from the offices of two United States senators.
Despite the incensed public, and the harassed Park Service employees who had to calm them, the prank was incredibly successful, generating publicity worth many times the cost of the ad space. The White House got in on the joke too, with then-press secretary Mike McCurry's announcement that the purchase was part of an ongoing privatization effort. The Lincoln Memorial, he said, was being refurbished by Ford Motor Company and would be renamed the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial.
eHarmony finds love for dogs
It's hard to say how man's best friend got along before eHarmony finally solved the doggie dating problem. On April 1, 2018, after nearly 20 years of assisting the creation of long-lasting relationships for humans, Grant Langston, CEO of the popular dating site, unveiled the Furever Love feature. The Canine Compatibility Companion Service was designed to get pups into long-term relationships. The prank featured posts from prospective doggie dates Johnny Cash, a diminutive canine in search of an LTR ("no hookups, please"), and Kona, a hopeless romantic looking for a monogamous tug-of-war partner. eHarmony's canine algorithms were based on some solid science, the announcement claimed, including a scholarly report on "Love and Canine Relationships in America," and data from a proprietary bark and tail wag measurement scale.
Amazon delivers authors
Speaking of a match made in heaven, how about meeting your favorite author in your own living room? That's what Amazon Publishing advertised in a tweet on April 1, 2018. The promo video featured best-selling crime writer Patricia Cornwell going above and beyond to fulfill a fan's order. The trip from Cornwell's yacht to the customer's front door is the stuff of adventure movies – and highly polished April Fools' Day stunts.
BBC reports on spaghetti tree
This prank, ranked by CNN as the greatest news media hoax of all time, proves it doesn't take high tech, or much tech at all, to pull off an April Fools' joke for the ages. That's what the BBC did in 1957, when its current-affairs program Panorama broadcast a story from Switzerland. Viewed by an estimated 8 million, the three minutes of footage appeared to show a family harvesting pasta from their backyard spaghetti tree. The harvest was a huge success, reported the authoritative narrator, due to favorable weather and the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." "Spaghetti" was not a household word in the U.K. in the '50s. Perhaps that explains why so many Britons fell for the stunt and reached out to the BBC for advice on how to grow their own.
Sam's Club introduces bulkcoin
Some April Fools' jokes rely on the timeliness of their pranks to catch the public unawares. Besides, who wouldn't believe Sam's Club capable of putting "large in charge"? That was the warehouse club's claim on April 1, 2018 when it introduced bulkcoin, its own cryptocurrency.
"The world of currency is rapidly advancing, and Sam's Club just shoved its way to the front of the line," the corporate site announced. “The bitcoins and litecoins and teenytiny coins weren't cutting it for our value-seeking members." The site backed up this tongue-in-cheek claim with a video of the bulkcoin payment process and a special offer of a 2,400-pack of bulkcoin for $19.98 – an offer with the potential to "stabilize the hella crazy market."
Elon Musk falls off the wagon
To paraphrase an old advertising line, when Elon Musk tweets, people listen – lots of people, some of whom were not amused by a series of communiques from the Tesla CEO last April 1.
Beginning with a tease of "important news in a few hours" and ending with a photo of a passed-out Musk, his head resting on a Model 3, the tweets announced Tesla's pending bankruptcy. "There are many chapters of bankruptcy," Musk tweeted, "and, as critics so rightly pointed out, Tesla has them *all*, including Chapter 14 and a half (the worst one)."
April Fools' Day fell on a Sunday in 2018, and while many considered Musk's tweets an obvious (and spot-on) prank, Tesla's shares dropped 5 percent when the markets opened Monday morning, bouncing back up 4 percent on Tuesday. A year later, Tesla is still going, and the world cautiously awaits Musk's next April Fools' move.
Additional reporting by David Mielach.