MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Marketing for Fools | April 4, 2011

The relationship between the media and the first of April, the one calendar day reserved for pranks, jokes and otherwise inanity, dates back to 1957, when the BBC aired its infamous inside look at a Swiss family growing spaghetti on trees. Highly regarded as the greatest news prank in history, the spaghetti tree hoax aired to an audience of eight million and generated hundreds of phone calls from viewers, many of whom wondered how to cultivate their own pasta crop — to which the stock BBC instruction was to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” Boasting realistic production values for its day and an authoritative British narrator, the original video is indeed understandably believable:
Nowadays, one might expect the widespread availability of information and the increasing web literacy across all ages to render similar efforts impossible — but, as an analysis of last Friday proves, such is not the case. Two major internet brands, in fact, launched professional-looking April Fool’s campaigns as wildly funny as they were instantly viral. The first is Google, which has a rich history of April pranks. Last year, for instance, it teased a PR release claiming that its time-honored name would be switched with that of Topeka, Kansas: “Don’t be fooled,” joked Topeka mayor Bill Bunten, “Even Google recognizes that all roads lead to Kansas, not just yellow brick ones.” In previous years, the company announced a Scratch and Sniff application for Google Books and an energy drink called Google Gulp, said to “maximize your surfing efficiency by making you more intelligent, and less thirsty.” This year, meanwhile, was marked by the arrival of Gmail Motion (see below) — a built-in reader for body language which allows Gmail users to pantomime their desires instead of typing them, like licking a fictional envelope as a send command.
The above video amassed more than four million views in three days, quadrupling the results for Google’s second biggest cyber property, YouTube, which introduced YouTube 1911 and counted down the top five videos from a century ago as its own April Fool’s prank. The clips included a conversation between an apple and an orange, an antiquated Rickroll and, topping the list, a cat playing a flugelhorn:
Obviously, these tricks are of two varieties: the 1911 video is a clear joke, deriving its humor from self-parody; Gmail Motion, on the other hand, hovers at the edge of believability. But regardless of the differences between the two, they share an important similarity: each acts as a positive brand endorsement, and reflects both a sense of humor and creativity in its company. These April Fool’s efforts are pure and free publicity which endow their makers with mostly positive reactions — ninety percent of the ensuing YouTube ratings have been likes as opposed to dislikes — and create sizable audiences which come to associate the brands with entertaining content. So despite their frivolous natures, both Gmail Motion and YouTube 1911 represent smart and safe PR moves for Google in the age of the internet.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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