Best and worst April Fools’ Day brand campaigns, 2021
Last year, most brands steered away from their usual April Fools’ Day gags and pranks as the pandemic disrupted everyday lives. This year, it’s mostly back to basics. Most experts warned against using false narratives and suggested that brands ditch fake products, while leaning into consumer trends brought forth by the pandemic. Some brands heeded the advice better than others.
Here are this year’s best and worst April Fools’ Day brand campaigns:
Unlike some other car brands, BMW got this April Fool’s Day right without reverting to misleading statements. German automaker BMW has put out a real month-long campaign that has an April Fool’s Day twist. A new spot from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, promoting the BMW M4, plays on the self-driving autonomous car craze. We see actor Milo Ventimiglia (NBC’s “This is Us”) enjoying a ride behind the wheel of a “self-driving machine,” which tears around a racetrack. But the joke is on the viewer at the end when Ventimiglia actually turns out to be the one who is driving and the emphasis is on promoting the car’s fully manual transmission. “Not bad for an actor,” he says. Not everyone wants a self-driving car, after all. The spot, appearing across digital channels including cbssports.com and Yahoo Sports, was filmed at BMW’s Performance Center West location in Palm Springs, California.
Last year, when most brands remained silent on April Fools’ Day due to the coronavirus pandemic, wireless carrier T-Mobile started its #GiveThanksNotPranks campaign and donated $1 to the Boys & Girls Club for every tweet using that hashtag. This year, T-Mobile is continuing the effort, this time donating $5 for every post people share with the hashtag—to a maximum of $500,000—through nonprofit education crowdfunding platform DonorsChoose, to support teachers and students who have had to resort to remote learning over the past year. The brand is also inspiring other brands to donate to the cause too and already has Motorola, OnePlus, SanMar, Wattpad, Mattress Firm and others on board. While many brands are returning to April Fools’ Day pranks as normal this year, it’s refreshing to see a brand not shying away from the pandemic and using the holiday to do some good at this time.
Okay, this one makes us hungry. Kraft Heinz cheese brand Velveeta is introducing a skincare line that actually sounds like it could be the real deal. “V by Velveeta” takes the “liquid gold” of the cheese and sells it in the form of a daily moisturizer for $35, night cream for $50, and renewal serum for $40. “Velveeta wants you to indulge yourself, not just in creamy, cheesy goodness, but also in skincare,” says the brand, which is inviting its social followers to join the waitlist for the items at vbyveleeta.com. There’s something about the creaminess of Velveeta that makes this line of prank products actually seem feasible, and who says cheese cannot be good for skincare?
Jif x Ipsy
During the pandemic, skincare routines have become consumer obsessions. It’s no surprise we see another April Fools’ Day skincare tie-in, this time from butter brand Jif which partnered with beauty subscription service Ipsy on brand-new, but totally fake, nut-based products packed with nutrients like vitamin D and E. The lineup includes the “Extra Crunchy Exfoliating Scrub” and the “Hydrating Creamy Peanut Butter Sheet Mask.”
Sour Patch Kids
Candy brand Sour Patch Kids aims to brighten kids’ days after a difficult year with a TikTok challenge. “After a year so sour that even April Fools' Day was cancelled, the Sour Patch Kids brand is bringing mischievous fun back to its favorite holiday by rewarding fans with cash and sweet candy prizes for their pranks,” says the brand. Sour Patch Kids’ TikTok account is encouraging users to share prank videos for a chance to win money and free candy. The “Sour Patch Prank Fund” will randomly give 25 participants $1,000 each. The brand is also working with TikTok influencers to spread the word.
Volkswagen’s April Fool’s joke this week enraged (and embarrassed) several news outlets, and made enemies of many journalists. Over the course of a few days, the German automaker stuck to its story that its American division would rebrand as “Voltswagen” in a nod to the brand’s electric vehicle goals. But many believe that the prank, an effort from ad agency Johannes Leonardo, went too far. Outlets including CNBC, AP and Reuters reported on the rebranding as a real news story, while many journalists continued to be misled by VW, even after asking the company directly whether or not the story was an April Fools’ Day prank. Outlets then had to usher corrections, and journalists were vocal on Twitter about the company having once again deceived customers (referring to its emissions scandal of 2017). VW has shown no remorse over the trick. Then again, the company has gotten the buzz it was looking for and definitely fooled people, so some might say this one belongs under “Best.”
In honor of a large part of the country working from home during the pandemic this April Fool’s Day, toilet-freshening spray Poo-Pourri is “selling” a new product—a “Doo Desk” where one can take a poop without ever needing to stop working. It has other attachments like a bidet, space heater, mini microwave and a ring light. On the brand’s website the item is on sale for $400, but then a notice pops up that says “April Fools’” and gives visitors a 20% discount on other items. “Now you can take your work with you wherever you go…in your home that is. Introducing the Doo Desk! Never take a break again. Like, ever,” reads the website. While the humor can be appreciated, the average American worker has seen an increased workload and this hits home a little too hard.
TaskRabbit, which pairs local contractors with people who need to complete tasks around their home, has an April Fool’s Day prank that that resonates as much with Easter as it does with the day known for tomfoolery. Its fake new service, "TaskRABBITS,” allows customers to request real bunnies, complete with a pen, food and toys, to keep them company while their contractor has to get to work. There’s a very real fundraising aspect to the false service. For every task booked on April 1, the brand will donate $1 (up to $4,000) to nonprofit rabbit rescue organizations in the U.S. and U.K. No offense to all the rabbits out there, but we just feel there’s fundraising that TaskRabbit’s own workers could probably benefit from during this pandemic. Also, playing with a cute rabbit while someone else does all the work seems too cruel.
Green Giant x Peeps
Cauliflower-flavored Peeps anyone? Green Giant and Peeps have partnered up this April Fools’ Day to bring Cauliflower-flavored Peeps to the world. The timing of this faux product comes right after a real Peeps mashup with Pepsi that got plenty of buzz—the Pepsi x Peeps marshmallow cola—so this falls a bit flat and comes off as more gross than entertaining, even with the ongoing Cauliflower food trend. A brand spokesperson says this was meant for last April Fools’ Day but was pushed to this year due to the pandemic. Which is possibly why it feels stale.
Here’s another mock product that might draw some smiles, but just as likely disgust. Across its social channels, restaurant chain Outback is sharing its new line of steak-themed “Lipsteak” with colors like “The Rarest of Them All,” “Prefer Not to Share My Medium Rare” and “Kiss and Medium Well.” We don’t know about you, but we would rather have the steak inside our bellies than smeared on our lips, whether the meat is well-done, medium or still bleeding. Outback worked with Deutsch New York on the idea, and comes after the brand’s “Steak Wear Swag” in January, which included “Sizzlin’ Steak Sweats” and “The Bloom Suit” (after the restaurant’s popular blooming onions).