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Using History in April Fool’s Pranks

April 3, 2019 • Sam Grabel

April Fool’s Day has come and gone this year with minimal catastrophe. As we’ve seen in past years, April Fool’s can enhance or diminish a company’s reputation. On one hand, it can show that a company is creative, hip and playful—important in a world where consumers want to connect with the brands. At worst, a prank can backfire and create a media firestorm.

In the past, we’ve written about the power of nostalgia and how it can be used to harness feelings of goodwill toward a particular era. Polaroid has brought back the instant camera, and vinyl records are at their highest sales volumes in years. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for companies to dig through archives to revisit past trends that might become hip again.

Let’s take a look at a few companies that capitalized on the “what’s old is new again” trend to fool, entertain or both.

The Shutterstock Library

Shutterstock, one of the world’s largest repositories for media on the web, has millions of digital files ready for use. This year, the company announced its intention to open the world’s largest library.

 

The ad pokes fun at contemporary tropes such as big-bearded hipsters and “millennials holding sparklers.” “Sometimes, innovation means moving backwards,” the ad states as it introduces its faux rebranding. With “shelves, upon shelves, upon shelves,” to look forward to, what digital native wouldn’t want to do some research the old-fashioned way?

Honda Pastport

Honda pranked us with the introduction of the “Pastport,” a vehicle with the body of a 2019 Passport but with a ’90s interior and features: coin holders, digital clocks, a beeper mount, cassette player and navigation system—actually a Rand McNally map.

 

The new model is hawked by a Rollerblading, windbreaker-clad Honda enthusiast with a brick cell phone and wraparound blade sunglasses; intercut with “Saved by the Bell”-style neon geometric graphics. Honda took it one step further by publishing the ad on YouTube with square video dimensions. Widescreen in the ’90s was reserved for movies and IMAX.

T-Mobile’s Phone Booth E

Phone booths have ceased to exist—even in London, the once-ubiquitous and iconic red phone booths have been phased out. So how are we supposed to get some peace and privacy when making an important call?

T-Mobile has the answer with “Phone Booth E.” Features include a cover, a standing platform and a transparent visual access portal (we’ll call that a door). Bonus: The booth is “person-sized.” It’s hard to imagine where they could have left room for improvement.

 

T-Mobile’s prank pokes fun at a couple of “innovations” by competitors, including Jabbrrbox, a soundproof box in airports that business travelers can rent to make calls while waiting to board. Another target is AT&T, whose customers recently found an icon on their phones that reads “5GE”-misleading because it’s not really a 5G network but an enhanced LTE network, which its competitors already had. T-Mobile jokes, “You know it’s real because we tacked an ‘E’ on the end of the name. Wow!”

Chicago Bears’ Three-Digit Jerseys

The Chicago Bears are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. In “commemoration” of a century of football, the Bears teased a “historic jersey for a historic year.”

 

A video explains that the team needed special permission from the NFL to include the extra digit on their jerseys. Team members took to social media to lobby for the change. To the untrained eye, it’s convincing. What we love is the unconventional strategy for announcing a big anniversary and pushing business strategy on April 1. Not many companies use their April Fool’s prank to drive actual results.

Overall, these organizations avoided public backlash by staying in the middle of the road for their “pranks” and capitalizing on an already-existing movement of repurposing old methods and products for modern applications.

They followed the do’s and don’ts of April Fool’s Day. Do: Make it fun, show off products, and keep it in line with previous branding. In essence, make it believable. Don’t: Be controversial, cause offense or make it too believable. We found these entertaining, and we hope you did, too.

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