The early 2000s were a golden age for April Fools’ Day pranks among media and tech giants. Companies outdid themselves with elaborate hoaxes, making an art out of fooling around. Here for your personal joke jar are the best April Fools’ pranks, along with a look at what the age of disinformation has done to this time-honoured tradition.
The first big media hoax: The spaghetti tree
In 1957, the BBC aired a fake report about a crop of spaghetti noodles said to be harvested from trees in Switzerland. The straight-faced journalistic style and narration lent real credibility to the report, although the sight of noodles hanging in flowering trees did give viewers a hint that something was up. For those who wrote to the BBC asking how to grow a spaghetti tree, the official reply was: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” So bold! The dry humour of the piece made it a hit with British audiences, who are known to have a soft spot for tomfoolery. Of course, it was a very different time.
The real geeks among us will remember the heyday of April Fools’, when major tech companies sought to answer the ageless question: “Who’s the more foolish: The fool, or the fool who follows him?”
Google led the pack for years with elaborate April foolery like Google Translate for Animals, announced in 2011. The phony app was supposed to translate animal sounds into words, allowing us to communicate with our friends in the animal kingdom. Other favourites include the special 8-bit Google Maps that made your route look like a Nintendo game. In 2014, Google created a map of Pokémons that you could catch out in the wild. Wilder still, the insanely popular—and completely real—Pokémon GO app launched just two years later. Clearly, the creatives at Google were no fools.
On April 1, 2009, YouTube got in on the funsies by launching an interface that was upside down. To view videos, viewers were told to flip their screens, bend over, or move to Australia. Well played!
Former online retailer Think Geek also tried to fool customers by posting fake products on its site, running fake campaigns for items that included a tactical necktie, a program for learning Klingon, a beard machine, and even a Bluetooth pet rock. So good! For shoppers, however, the gags invariably turned out to be a fool’s paradise.
A fool’s game
The rise of fake news in recent years has somewhat robbed April Fools’ Day of its charm. In an era of disinformation, elaborate hoaxes are starting to seem a bit . . . foolish. Science journalists have expressed concerns about the tradition, given how pervasive fake news has become. With so many fools sharing dubious news on social media, adding to the pile seems like a fool’s errand!
To avoid fooling, er, fuelling the fire of mistrust or suffering backlash from a readership that’s all fooled out, most major media outlets have called it quits on all the foolin’. Some take the opportunity to remind readers about the importance of critical thinking.
What do you think: is April Fools’ Day still fun? Or are those tech company pranks starting to seem a bit overrated? If so, maybe you’ll have fun finding all the foolish puns in this article. Log into your Community account to share your finds in the comments. Happy April Fools’!