Who would have thought that April Fools’ Day would be no laughing matter in 2020? But here we are. And few are amused. Google is fool-less for the first time since 2003. Burger King—a longtime master of April Fools’ pranks with its Chocolate Whoppers and all—is pouring all its promotion efforts into spreading the word about its free delivery instead. And T-Mobile is choosing gratitude and giving with fundraising efforts over its usual pranks, even using a new hashtag for the occasion: #GiveThanksNotPranks
The Hill reports that in Thailand, India, and even Germany, spreading misinformation about COVID-19, even in the spirit of April Fools’ Day, can result in severe punishment and even jail time.
Even if a poorly executed prank this year doesn’t put you behind bars, there are other consequences. A special edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer found that more than 60% of Americans admit how brands respond to the pandemic will have a “huge impact” on their likelihood of buying their products. Globally, one in three respondents said they had already stopped using a brand that has not been acting appropriately.
Last year April Fools’ Day pranks hit their stride. DJ Khaled was announced as TikTok’s new Chief Motivational Officer, T-Mobile introduced a branded line of phone booths for private conversations, and ice cream maker Halo Top came out with edible beauty face masks. Even NFL quarterback Tom Brady got in on the act and announced his retirement.
This year nearly all major brands have gone dark when it comes to pranks. Nearly. Brands already rooted in tongue-in-cheek promotions are still taking a chance. In the wee hours of the morning, Poo-Pouri launched a new candle fragrance called This Smells Like My Poop.
“After months of research, focus groups and testing (lots and lots of testing), we’re excited to announce our newest product dropping soon—our This Smells Like My Poop Candle!” the company declared on its Instagram page. “This candle is a unique blend of your own scent with hints of… well, whatever you ate the night before. After all, what’s more natural than the smell of your own poop?”
The brand is emboldened by an April Fools’ Day stunt that went viral three years ago. As PR Week reports, customers were disappointed to find out that Poo-Pourri’s s Street Tacos bathroom deodorizer spray was fake news on April Fools’ Day 2017. So, last year they made the spray a real product with notes of onion, garlic, and black pepper…and it promptly sold out.
If you’re wondering how a brand like Poo-Pourri can get away with an April Fool’s Day prank this year and Google can’t, you’re missing a fundamental difference between the two. We’ve come to rely on Google to provide truthful information as if it were a legitimate news organization. While platforms like Google, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook once shrugged off a perceived responsibility for rooting out misinformation in this way, they take it seriously now.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai recently sent a memo reminding Google employees of its important role as a provider of timely and accurate information in uncertain times. “You’ve heard me talk about helpfulness in the context of moments big and small. This is one of those big moments,” he wrote.
One thing Poo-Pouri shied away from is posting their 2020 April Fools’ Day prank front-and-center on their website as they and so many other brands have done in the past. Sharing the joke only through social media shows that even brands thumbing their noses at a joke hiatus have standards they won’t cross this year. After all, brands have fought long and hard to overcome consumer trust issues with their websites. Pranks spread socially can come with a dialog, a #justajoke disclaimer, and are less committal.
And in case you’re wondering: Coronavirus-related pranks are off the table completely—even if they don’t result in jail time—as K-pop star Jaejoong just found out. He devastated 2 million fans hours ago by claiming in an Instagram post he was diagnosed with the virus. It was a joke. The outrage will reverberate for some time.
Image by needpix.