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It happens every year, and if you’re a gullible one, you’ll probably fall prey to these pranks during April Fools’ Day. From your siblings, cousins, or even your uncles, aunts, and parents; to your friends and colleagues; and even the world’s biggest brands, pulling off pranks during the global “holiday” has become a thing to watch out for as soon as the month of March comes to an end.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most entertaining, the wittiest, and the oddly convincing April Fools’ pranks from popular brands around the world. And to keep it real, we’ll also shed some light on how these pranks are more than just a one-day PR move. After all, in the online world, content marketing is the way to stay relevant.
But first, let’s get to the roots of all this hullabaloo.
What is April Fools’ Day?
Celebrated on the first of April every passing year, April Fools’ Day has been around for centuries, celebrated by a variety of cultures around the world, which then shrouds its actual origins or how it had exactly begun. At its core, however, is the same practice across cultures: it follows the tradition of playing jokes, orchestrating pranks, fabricating stories, hoaxes, and other types of tomfoolery on another — with the prankster announcing “April fool!” right after their unaware victim has been made to look silly.
The history of April Fools’ Day (or “April Fool’s Day,” depending on what dictionary you use) is said to go as far back as 1582, way before social media, or you and I, even existed.
History.com writes that the event had been prompted at the Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563, when France had moved on from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian. This means that the dawn of the new year had shifted from April 1 to January 1, thus turning those who were slow to pick up on the change (and still celebrated the new year festivities during March to April) into the “original” April fools. Some of the pranks back then involved the sticking of a paper fish onto the backs of people; a reference to “poisson d’avril” or April fish, which likened these gullible people to caught fish.
There are other traces of April Fools’ Day in history, such as Hilaria in ancient Rome, the vernal equinox, 18th century Britain and Scotland’s Tailie Day, and in modern-day media like newspapers, radio, television, and via the internet. These days, however, a lot of people – whether users or brands – are now practicing April Fools’ through social media platforms like marketing their business via Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, and TikTok, among others, either by posting hoaxes themselves or sharing their real-life April Fools’ shenanigans online.
April Fools’ Day in the Digital Age
While netizens and memelords have their own takes on April Fools’ Day, which can range from innocent (and sometimes ignorant) jokes about their personal lives, such as insensitive pregnancy pranks, to false celebrity deaths, large companies and popular brands are no stranger to April Fools’. The holiday is an opportunity for these brands to engage their audiences through a targeted online marketing campaign, using the appeal of fun, humor, and the timeliness of seasonal content.
As a business with online presence, April Fools’ Day enables these brands to be kooky, even if it’s just for one day a year. This is why people, often digital natives, have grown accustomed to the pranks on April 1st, but when unaware of the calendar, many are still caught by surprise before realizing the date.
That being said, as a rule of thumb, never believe anything you see or hear on April 1st, or at least be mindful of the holiday and take things you read on your social media newsfeed with a grain of salt.
April Fools’ Day Pranks from 5 Popular Brands
So, without further ado, here are some of the countless jokes on the internet by popular brands to honor the holiday and generate some clicks.
1. Duolingo’s Duolingo Push
Duolingo, a language learning tool accessible through the web and available as a mobile app, has grown in popularity in recent years. Apart from it being a helpful and easy-to-use aid in expanding one’s lingua franca, Duolingo is also known to users for its consistent and aggressive notifications reminding users to get back on their lessons so that they won’t break their streak.
Screenshot from Twitter
On April 1, 2019, the brand tweeted a promotional video introducing Duolingo Push, a “new” service that involves Duo the Owl – the company’s official mascot – personally appearing to remind you about your unaccomplished lessons. There is in fact a dedicated web page for the said service, making it look like it’s the real deal.
Screenshot from push.duolingo.com
What makes this such a funny prank for many users is that it only contributes to the meme about Duo the Owl’s constant reminders. So, while some people have grown numb to Duo nudging them to continue their language lessons from time to time, others have felt the absurd fear of the emerald owl showing up in the most random of moments.
2. Angkas’ Redesigned Logo
Angkas, which is Tagalog for hopping on the back of a motorcycle or bike as a passenger, is a ride-hailing app in the Philippines that has become notorious for trendjacking and their witty nods to pop culture, current news and events, and funny memes on social media. Their service is nothing to sneeze at either, as they continue to compete with the country’s larger companies that provide similar services.
Screenshot from the Angkas Facebook Page
In a nation known as the “Social Media Capital of the World,” Angkas continues to take their audiences for a ride with their unapologetic tone and hilarious voice on various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, even when it isn’t April Fools’, you can expect to see something on their page to tickle your funny bone. And on April 1, 2022, the brand decided to share their “new” logo via social:
Screenshot from the Angkas Facebook Page
Does their “new” logo look familiar? Not only does the brand carry a badge of noteworthy reliability for commuters stuck in Manila’s horrendous traffic, Angkas is popular as an option to Grab, a competing ride-hailing service provider in the country. This simple April Fools’ Day joke works because of their target audience, who are more than likely to be familiar with Grab.
3. Burger King’s Affection for April Fools’ Pranks
Burger King, a fast-food chain that has always had a youngish voice online, remains consistent with their branding as they continue to serve up April Fools’ pranks every so often. From 2016’s Single Fries to 2017’s Whopper Toothpaste, 2018’s Chocolate Whopper, and 2019’s the Whopper Blunt, the ridiculousness cannot be overstated.
Screenshot from Burger King France’s Youtube video
Screenshot from Burger King’s Twitter account
Screenshot from Burger King UK’s Youtube video
Screenshot from adsoftheworld.com
Not to be outdone by other fast-food chains around the world, Marketingdive.com writes about how the burger joint had taken steps to keep their April Fools’ pranks “in” with the kids by crowdsourcing prank ideas from students.
With a single French fry, a toothpaste that supposedly tastes like their signature Whopper and gives you burger breath, a burger drenched in chocolate syrup, and an off-the-menu seaweed Whopper for stoners, BK deserves to be the King of Fast-food Pranksters.
4. McDonald’s McPickle Burger
Another world-famous fast-food chain, McDonald’s has also taken chances with April Fools’ Day by releasing “new” food items on their menu that are often obviously a prank. From 2018’s #MyBigMac, which allows a customer to add a sesame seed selfie on top of their Big Mac bun, to 2022’s Sweet ‘N Sour Sundae, there is no shortage of ridiculousness in these April Fools’ pranks.
Screenshot from the McDonald’s Facebook video
Screenshot from the McDonald’s Australia Instagram page
However, while these April Fools’ pranks were meant to make a fool out of unwitting customers and fans of the brand, these fake kitchen creations don’t always work out as intended. The yellow arches’ McPickle Burger – a two-layer burger sandwiched between three toasted sesame seed buns, melted cheese, ketchup sauce, and spilling with sliced pickles – earned mixed feedback from people online.
Screenshot from the McDonald’s Australia Instagram page
Instead of having customers wince at the thought of a burger-less burger, the 2019 April Fools’ buffoonery was actually a hit with Australians. The New York Post writes about how the McPickle prank sort of backfired on the brand; with pickle lovers all over the world wishing that the McPickle wasn’t just a joke.
That being said, making a McPickle is not impossible. In 2019, shortly after the release of the McPickle ad, a Tasmanian dad made a business decision to go and order the McPickle from their local Maccas (that’s Aussie speak for McDonald’s, by the way) as a dad joke, and even if it wasn’t an official part of their menu, the kitchen staff served up a real-life McPickle to the triumphant disgust of the customer’s family. April fools, ladies and gentlemen.
5. Google’s History of April Fools’ Day Pranks
Google, which has been pretty cool to deploy various iterations of their home page depending on the holiday or occasion, isn’t one to let April Fools’ Day pass either — except for a worldwide pandemic that had the company cancel its pranks in 2020. Despite not having anything up their sleeves in the last couple of April Fools’, the search engine and tech company has been part of the whole pranking holiday since the 2000s.
Screenshot from Google’s archives
Screenshot from Search Engine Roundtable
From the first prank ever launched on April 1, 2000 known as MentalPlex, which made users stare at a GIF as they conjured their search in their heads, to the variety of features in more recent years like 2018’s “Recrawl Now” function on the Google Search Console, which when clicked, rickrolled the user, there are more than a handful of April Fools’ shenanigans from the world’s most popular search engine. But nothing beats the absurdity of the hoax that is Google Gulp, especially since it was done in 2005, back when the internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today.
Screenshot from Google’s archives
The Google Gulp hoax had been crafted as a beverage that supposedly made you smarter and “less thirsty,” enabling you, as the user, to maximize the search engine at the best of one’s capacity. With four distinct flavors: Glutamate Grape for improving your memory, Sugar-free Radical rich in antioxidants, Beta Carroty to fight cancer, and Sero-Tonic Water to address depression, Google Gulp is said to use a DNA scanner to read one’s genetic data, fine-tune their hormones, and stimulate the brain to make the user more intelligent.
The April Fools’ prank is essentially a handful of web pages dedicated to building the literature surrounding the drink, and with the conversational, blog-like way that the content had been written, it truly is a hoax made for fools.
April Fools’ Day Pranks as a Marketing Strategy
Apart from engaging their audiences and generating a buzz online, jumping on the bandwagon of April Fools’ serves as a way for brands and businesses to build their persona. Burger King, for instance, has always had that reputation of a jokester on the internet, primarily witnessed in their Twitter game. Angkas shares the same branding as well, given their humorous Facebook and Twitter posts.
So, it goes without saying how there should be a conscious effort in considering a content marketing campaign that involves an April Fools’ prank. Ann Gynn of the Content Marketing Institute writes about how risky it can be for brands to integrate humor, such as April Fools’ Day content, in their marketing efforts. In other words, it isn’t for everyone.
In 2021, the general manager of an entertainment company from Angeles City, Pampanga pranked his staff by scaring the bajeezus out of them with the help of the local police and posted a video of it on social media. The April Fools’ video, which was centered on the narrative of a fake arrest went viral, and consequently, the police were relieved of their duties and the appropriate charges were made to be filed. Of course, this isn’t to say that police officers cannot be friendly and accommodating to the layman, but as enforcers of the law, they cannot be engaged in duplicitous acts.
Basic as it may seem, not all businesses or brands can be funny like that, because some industries require a certain level of seriousness. Gaining the trust of their audience and building on that trust doesn’t happen overnight, and trust can be so fragile that it can break in a second, especially with poor decision-making when it comes to using humor.
Brands that integrate April Fools’ Day pranks in their content calendar have to consider the following:
- Is humor a part of the brand persona and has it ever been used before with sustained frequency?
- Is the brand prepared and adequately equipped for the potential criticism from their audience?
- How can the brand utilize this one-day event to create or build a harmonious relationship with audiences long-term?
- How can the brand create fresh, distinct, and value-adding April Fools’ Day content that is still related to their products and services?
- How will the brand’s competitors respond to their April Fools’ Day content?
- Does the brand have enough resources to develop a well-planned and carefully-thought-out April Fools’ Day campaign?
April Fools’ Day happens one time each year, so brands should maximize the opportunity with a creative (but not disruptive) content marketing campaign to celebrate the holiday. And like during the other holidays in the calendar year that drive online marketing initiatives, seasonal content can work effectively when executed the right way. This enables a brand to attract buyers, drive traffic to their website, and build lasting relationships with their target audience through seasonal content, such as April Fools’ pranks.
On Seasonal Content
If you’re familiar with what digital marketers refer to as evergreen content, then seasonal content is its counterpart. When content is evergreen, then it is fresh and never time-sensitive, which means that seasonal content is the opposite — it remains fresh for a good while and its timeliness is significant. It is content that is based on holidays, well-known occasions, and widespread or large-scale events. Apart from the four seasons like summer and winter time, other examples of seasonal content usually cover: Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and April Fools’, just to cite a few.
Crafting content for a seasonal marketing campaign like April Fools’ Day requires advanced planning, which is why a content calendar is often a prerequisite for brands and businesses looking to take advantage of seasonality. For businesses that provide products and services such as surfboards and swimsuits, for example, it is natural for their sales to increase just in time for summer, and a seasonal marketing campaign can help boost these figures.
For April Fools’ Day, given how it’s a holiday that is more specific to a brand’s voice rather than products or services, it can be integrated into the season. In the Philippines, the month of April coincides with summer, which allows brands like Angkas to use an April Fools’ prank that is both relative to both their offering and the weather. Take, for example, how the brand can promote the use of their motorcycle-hailing app during the summertime with an April Fools’ Day hoax that all their riders now provide air-conditioned helmets to keep passengers cool during their commutes.
Seasonal content marketing can be tricky to execute, and for it to be a success, a brand should be aware of the following:
- The brand’s seasonal content should be industry-related, which means that there are holidays that might be a stretch for some businesses to utilize due to relevancy.
- The brand’s seasonal content marketing strategy can have different goals, and directly driving sales or conversions isn’t always the best goal post to have for some businesses.
- For brands that are running search engine optimization (SEO) or social media campaigns, building links should be done in advance, so that there is enough time for their seasonal guest blogs, videos, or social media posts to be published in time for the season.
Takeaway from April Fools’ Day Content Marketing
Conclusively, audiences in general get on social media to be entertained, often unconsciously as a way to satisfy the need for immediate stimulus. Seasonal content marketing, such as an April Fools’ Day prank, is a strategy that brands and businesses can implement in their digital marketing efforts – especially when the prank fits the brand’s persona and their target audiences. And depending on the business’ goals, the results can be rewarding, but as mentioned earlier, brands that join in on the April Fools’ Day fun also run the risk of missing the mark and eliciting backlash.
The five brands in this list and their April Fools’ pranks are just some of the many creative marketing collateral out there, given the long history of the holiday tradition. Some of these pranks weren’t as effective as the others, but these ads still generated enough attention from their audiences to warrant a spot in this article.
As a consumer and internet user, what are your favorite April Fools’ Day stunts? Let us know in the comments below!
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Used to write for pizza. Now writes for pizza in the Philippines.