The Top 10 April Fool’s Pranks Pulled by Advertisers

Great Hoaxes From the Archives of Advertising

Businessman Receiving His Burger King Lunch Order
••• James Leynse / Getty Images

The Top 10 April Fool's Pranks Pulled by Advertisers - Great Hoaxes From the Archives of Advertising

There's a long history of advertisers and big corporations pulling April Fool's jokes. One of the most notorious comes from England; in 1957 the BBC's Panorama TV show reported on a bumper spaghetti harvest. Many people called in asking where to buy spaghetti trees. Classic.

Since then, April Fool's Day pranks and hoaxes have continued to suck in consumers, readers, viewers, and radio listeners.

Anyway, to celebrate the tomfoolery, here are the Advertising channel's top 10 April Fool's Day pranks over the years.

1: 1996 - Taco Bell Buys The Liberty Bell

It's possible, right? Well, if you think about it, there's not even a slim chance it could happen. The idea that a beloved icon of American independence could be sold to a fast food chain is as ludicrous as the Eiffel Tower being sold to Chef Boyardee.

Still, some clever copywriting about Taco Bell doing it to reduce the national debt suckered more than a few people. Renaming it the "Taco Liberty Bell" also ruffled a few feathers. It was complete bunk of course, but to make amends for any ill will, Taco Bell donated $50,000 to help preserve the national treasure.

2: 2007 - Gmail Paper

How many of you fell for this one in 2007? Google is well known for playing pranks, but this is arguably the most inventive and effective. The idea was simple - users of Google's free webmail service Gmail would be allowed to add their emails to a "Paper Archive," which Google would then print onto glossy paper and mail back to them.

In theory, it would not only bankrupt the company in weeks, it would also require a staff the size of a small country. This didn't stop people falling for it hook, line and sinker.

3: 1998 - Burger King Introduces the Left-Handed Whopper

Oh, and what a whopper of a lie that one was. It's actually not a new hoax, several other big name brands have tried it, including a left-handed Mars bar two years earlier (announced in the UK).

However, the most memorable left-handed stunt was the one done by Burger King for the Whopper. A full-page ad taken out in USA Today announced the Left-Handed Whopper (LHW) for the 32 million Americans who predominantly use their left hand. The ad assured people that it used the exact same ingredients as a traditional whopper, but they were all rotated 180 degrees.

Thousands of gullible customers walked into Burger King requesting a LHW. And a press release also stated many people asked for a right-handed version!

4: 1996 - BMW Launches the Insect Deflector Screen

Oh, those annoying bugs. You travel at 70mph and they have the nerve to splatter on your beautiful windshield. Well, BMW decided to use this to their advantage in 1996, with a hoax that announced the Insect Deflector Screen or IDS. It was developed by a Munich scientist named Dr. Jurgen Afalfurit (A-Fal-Fur-It = I Fell For It).

According to the announcement, the invisible coating caused bugs to bounce off the windshield, keeping your view splatter-free. There was even a survey that customers could fill out, which asked the following question:

"I find flies get stuck to my windscreen -- Hardly ever; Sometimes; Far too Often."

5: 2002 - Virgin Atlantic Advertises on Genetically Modified Butterflies

If you can grow an ear on a mouse, why not take the premise one step further?

Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic did just that in 2002. Citing a study published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, it was revealed that Dr. Antonia Montiero could genetically modify a butterfly to become an advertising vessel. The new breed would enable companies to put logos on the butterfly wings with laser beams. From the release:

"Virgin is confident that butterfly advertising will become a successful and popular new medium for airlines… Virgin executives say they hope to launch the butterfly program by the spring, allowing time for final testing and lasering of the Virgin logo on the butterflies. Virgin hopes to be able to control the flight areas of the butterflies, keeping them within major park and recreational areas, but is still working out specific details."

6: 2003 - MINI Equips New Models with Vertical Parking Locator

With parking space being an issue in many countries, the folks at MINI in Australia came up with an inventive, and completely bogus, solution.

It was called the Vertical Parking Locator (VPL) and allowed MINIs to park vertically on the sides of buildings.

The press release included the following information:

"The world-first VPL allows MINI Coopers to be parked vertically against walls, thus saving substantial parking space. ASC+T-backed VPL gives MINIs sufficient traction to attain and maintain an erect parking position and to cling securely to the side of the designated building. All-but seamless in operation, VPL makes its presence felt via a subtle frisson of vibration as the traction system is activated."

To further enhance the gag, MINI fixed one of its cars to the side of a building in George Street, Sydney. It was quite effective, even though it's completely impossible.

7: 2000 - PETA's Tournament of Sleeping Fish

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) never shy away from publicity. Indeed, most of their biggest stunts were not April Fool's gags, but headline-hitting events. However, in 2000 PETA decided to use the April 1st holiday to their advantage.

They openly announced that they would sabotage the bass fishing tournament in East Texas's Lake Palestine by drugging the fish with tranquilizers. To achieve this, they would release the tranquilizers into the lake before the tournament, ensuring that "this year, the fish will be napping, not nibbling."

To PETAs surprise, officials of the tournament actually bought the story. They stationed rangers around the lake to stop PETA from releasing the drugs into the water, and several local newspapers reports on the threat.

PETA admitted to the joke, but they achieved great publicity for their cause, and disrupted the event.

8: 2009 - YouTube Flips

Simple, but effective, the video giant YouTube decided to have some fun with people by flipping all the videos on the homepage upside down. It was also possible to flip any video of your choosing, simply by adding &flip=1 to the end of the URL.

But what was the reason for the turnaround? YouTube had a good one:

"Our internal tests have shown that modern computer monitors give a higher quality picture when flipped upside down-kind of like how it's best to rotate your mattress every six months."

And how did you view the new format? There were three methods available:

  • Turn your monitor upside-down
  • Tilt your head to the side
  • Move to Australia.

9: 1996 - AOL Announces Life Found on Jupiter

Back when AOL was a major player in the Internet, it greeted subscribers with some rather startling news when they logged on. "Government source reveals signs of life on Jupiter," was the outrageous claim. Statements from a planetary biologist and AOL's very own president, Ted Leonsis, added credence to the story. It generated over 1300 message son AOL, until the company announced that the story was a hoax, and a tribute to the classic Orson Welles radio broadcast of 1938.

10: 1996 - Virgin Cola Launches Color-Change Cans

Another entry for Virgin, and for 1996. It was a year for japes it seems. This time, Virgin Cola announced cutting-edge can technology. The regular red can would magically turn blue when the cola reached its sell-by-date. This was due to the liquid reacting to a chemical in the can itself.

Not only that, but Virgin warned consumers NOT to buy cola from the blue cans. Was it merely coincidence that Pepsi had just relaunched its own cola in cans that were bright blue? We will never know.