Few holidays carry the sort of risk/reward potential that is inherent in April Fools’ Day. On the one had, it’s supposed to be a celebration of the merry prankster, a holiday that celebrates the joys of mischief and humor. On the other hand, the celebration of said holiday in a corporate setting can often time lead to serious backlash. The further you take a joke, the better it gets…until you take it just a little too far.
So, in celebration of April Fools’ Day, here are some of the best, and worst (though, sometimes it’s both) April Fools’ Day pranks pulled off by publicly traded companies.
Any discussion of corporate April Fools’ pranks essentially begins and ends with Google. The Menlo Park, CA-based company has made a habit of coming up with inventive, funny pranks to celebrate the holiday. Among these include the fake launch of Google Chrome multitask, which would allow a user to surf the web using two mice at one, switching all of Google Maps to look like an 8-bit Nintendo (NTDOY) map, a free internet service called TiSP (Toilet Internet Service Provider) that involved flushing one end of a fiber optics cable down the toilet, and, of course, changing the company name to Topeka after that town offered to change its name to Google in order to win a high-speed citywide network.
Google, though, hasn’t always been the one serving up the pranks, it’s also been on the business end of a few pranks. Most recently, Forbes printed an article as an April Fools’ joke with the headline “Romney Drops Out of Race, Endorses Santorum.” It fooled Google News, which had the fake headline at the top of its first page.
Time Warner (TWX)
One of the more legendary April Fools’ Pranks ever came from the magazine Sports Illustrated, which is now owned by Time Warner. In 1985, Sports Illustrated printed an article about a rookie pitcher signed by the Mets who was capable of throwing a fastball at some 168 mph, an improvement of over 60 mph on any other pitcher in baseball. Mets fans were overjoyed at their luck until they discovered that it was all a prank.
Yum! Brands (YUM)
In 1996 Yum’s Taco Bell announced that it had purchased the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Needless to say, this meant that Taco Bell got some mail, and thousands of angry citizens called the Philadelphia National Historical Park only to be reassured that it was all a prank.
Virgin Group Ltd.
Billionaire Richard Branson also seems to have a penchant for practical jokes. In 1989, he rigged a hot-air balloon to resemble an alien spacecraft so that he could land the flying saucer in Longon’s Hyde Park. Unfortunately for Branson, winds blew him off course and he landed outside of London. Local residents subsequently reported an alien landing nearby and, when Branson emerged, he sent local police running in the opposite direction.
Branson was back at it again last year. He announced that Virgin had purchased Pluto and was intending to reinstate it as a planet.
“Virgin has expanded into many territories over the years, but we have never had our own planet before,” said Branson. “This could pave the way for a new age in space tourism.”