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What the Tech: Now who is the April Fool?

It’s all fun and games – until it’s not all fun and games. Here’s how April Fool’s jokes first backfired on companies, and then on us.

What could be more frivolous and fun than a day dedicated to pranks and tricks? Well if you ask Volkswagen’s head of marketing, there’s nothing funny about the subversion of expectations.

The car manufacturer, notorious for having cheated on emissions tests several years ago, sent out a press release claiming to have permanently changed its name to Voltswagen as “a public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility.”

Unsurprisingly, people who actually care about the encroaching climate apocalypse didn’t find it all that funny that a prolific polluter used it as a punchline, and the brand soon caught plenty of flak for its perceived apathy.

It’s not the first time that a company’s jolly japes gone wrong have landed them in hot water; if Volkswagen’s bigwigs had been on Twitter lately, they might have caught wind of the firestorm engulfing Burger King when it launched an advert campaign around the slogan “Women belong in the kitchen” on International Women’s Day. Yes, the campaign was trying to draw attention to its scheme to encourage women to join its brand, but many users pointed out that the fast food giant would be unlikely to use a racist joke to laud its work in empowering ethnic minorities.

Looking past the flops, there have been plenty of tech-related April Fools jokes over the years that have brightened our day or given us a chuckle.

Duolingo poked fun at its reputation for insistent notifications in 2019 with a fake ad that touted its owl mascot as an intimidating enforcer.

In the same year, Tinder satirised the fact that dates often don’t measure up to expectations (no, not in that way) with a new “height verification” feature.

And my favourite April Fools joke from 2021 has been Lego’s “smart bricks” feature, which ensures that the building blocks swiftly move out of the way just before you accidentally step on them. This jokey tweet definitely prompted a laugh, albeit a bitter and wry one, as my toes flinched with pained recollection.

This year even Recombu got in on the act too, with Tom Deehan relaying a special report on the massive mobiles that have destroyed his skinny jeans:

So it seems that successful April Fools jokes tend to be gently self-satirising, while avoiding sensitive subjects. But instead, the lesson that bigger brands seem to have taken from the backlash is not to try at all for fear of failure. Neither Microsoft nor Google do April Fools jokes any longer, seemingly because they don’t trust themselves not to mess it up. They have finally accepted that, in Homer Simpson’s words, “they couldn’t fool their mother on the foolingest day of their life if they had an electrified fooling machine”.

Does this self-admission mean they’re too foolish to fool us, or too wise to try to fool us? Have we been foolish in mocking their follies, thereby depriving ourselves of more foolishness? Finding the most foolish fool of all in this mess is just a fool’s game.




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