Epic April Fools' Day Hoaxes

Explore April Fools' Day hoaxes in our blog, from a man in a bottle to Smell-o-Vision. Discover how brands get creative and push boundaries on April 1st.

From Pranks to Panic: 6 of the most (in)famous April Fools' Day hoaxes

For pranksters especially, April Fool’s Day is more like Christmas Day. Until midday on the first of April, it is not only expected that mischief will be afoot; it's secretly hoped for.

In recent years, brands have increasingly been getting in on the act, with hoaxes and trickery coming from even the biggest multinationals. However, duping unsuspecting customers on the morning of April 1st has a long history in the business world. In this blog, we compile some of the most (in)famous…

A Man, A Bottle, and A Riot

The first entry in our list dates back to 1749 when London newspapers advertised an upcoming show that was to feature a man squeezing his entire body into a wine bottle. And then sing while trapped inside. The ad promised: “During his stay in the bottle, any Person may handle it and see plainly that it does not exceed a common Tavern Bottle."

Theories abound as to who initiated the prank. Some believe it was the result of the Duke of Portland betting the Earl of Chesterfield that he could advertise something impossible and still “find fools enough in London to fill a playhouse and pay handsomely for the privilege of being there.”

If this version of events is true, the Duke was correct. The night of the show was a sellout, though he may have regretted it. When no performer came to the stage, and realising they’d been hoodwinked, the audience duly rioted.

The BBC Gets Smelly

On April Fools’ Day 1965, the Beeb tried its luck with a prank involving an interview with a professor who made a bold claim. The professor declared that he'd developed a technology, dubbed ‘Smell-o-Vision,' that allowed odours to be transmitted over the airwaves.

As well as sights and sounds, viewers could now smell aromas created in the BBC television studio. Smell-o-Vision would break down scents into their constituent molecules and release them through TV screens.

To showcase the effectiveness of the Smell-o-Vision device, the professor placed coffee beans and onion slices inside it and asked viewers at home to report whether they could smell anything.

In what proved to be further evidence of the power of suggestion, several viewers called in from across the UK, claiming that they had indeed smelt coffee and onions. Some even reported that the onions had made their eyes sting. 

Welcome to…where?!

Whereas most April Fools’ pranks induce a sense of wonderment or confusion, some can cause blind panic. Such was the case for passengers flying into Los Angeles Airport on the morning of April 1st, 1992.

Around three miles away from the airport is the Hollywood Park race track. Its management engineered a devious windup to catch out bleary-eyed airborne travellers looking forward to landing in LA. In 20-foot-high red letters across an 85-foot-long yellow banner spread out on the ground, the management had spelt out 'Welcome to Chicago’.

Brock Sheridan, a Hollywood Park race track spokesperson, later explained, "We thought it would be kind of funny, and our new management thought it would be a great practical joke."

Indeed, the management found the joke so hilarious, the sign remained for two whole days.

Do an April Fool’s Prank and Face Legal Action

In 2011, Groupon, the American global e-commerce marketplace, brought the criminal justice system into April 1st shenanigans when it launched a website, announcing it had trademarked April Fools' Day. 

Groupon claimed that its acquisition of the ‘previously unprofitable April Fools’ Day™ would provide consumers with better options. However, it issued a warning that it would also take ‘hostile, legal actions against any non-licensed April Fools' Day™ joke.’

Replete with a list of offending corporations who had performed ‘illegal pranks’, the website included features such as a fake patent application and a link for users to report companies violating the trademark. The website still exists to this day.

Don’t Mess With People’s Emails

When we said even the biggest multinationals get involved in April Fools' Day pranks, we weren't joking. In 2016, Google dipped its big, techy toe in the waters of tomfoolery and probably wished it hadn’t bothered.

The internet giant introduced a ‘Mic Drop’ button on its Gmail service, which allowed users to reply to a conversation with a GIF of a Minion from the Despicable Me franchise dropping a mic. But that wasn't all. Upon hitting the 'Mic Drop' button, the email thread was automatically archived, and all potential replies were blocked.

Users, especially business users and those involved in personal discussions, failed to see the funny side as the ‘Mic Drop’ button was placed directly next to the ‘Send’ button.

Following a flurry of complaints from people who'd accidentally sent a ridiculous GIF to their CEO and then blocked them, Google removed the button before offering a grovelling apology.

Thumbs Down for this One

To finish our list, we go back to 2017 and the offices of Lyft, the ridesharing platform and pretender to Uber's throne—and another company that probably wishes it hadn't bothered.

For its prank, Lyft announced ‘Mono’, a wearable that allowed you to hail one of its cars by simply raising an LED-emblazoned thumb. Mono could pair with smartphones, contained a microcontroller that ingested data for ride requests, and featured a motion-triggered LED indicator that informed you of your trip status. The technology even came with a glitzy promo video.

Why was this prank a flop? Lyft actually made this thing. After investing who knows what into developing the Mono wearable and its attendant marketing, it was only a joke. Despite all that expenditure, it was never meant to reach the market. Worst of all, the prank raised few in the way of eyebrows, let alone thumbs.

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