9 of the Best (and Worst!) April Fools’ Pranks from Brands

Hummingbird CreativeBranding & Creative

It’s that time of year again when brand’s get rewarded for their humor: April Fools’ Day! April Fools’ Day falls on a Sunday this year– the same Sunday as Easter– which leaves brands wanting to roll out their pranks the Friday before.

Some of the pranks are going to be amazing and have people talking about them for years to come. Other pranks, not so much.

Here’s 9 of the best and worst brand pranks of all time.


best: wayback burgers- “cricket milkshake” (2015)

In 2015, Wayback Burgers, a burger chain with over 100 locations nationwide, announced they would be selling a cricket milkshake. Wayback’s marketing team released fake promotional materials for a “High-Protein Cricket Milkshake”, but they had no idea how far the idea would take off.

Quickly, it became clear that the response far exceeded their expectations. Bug enthusiasts were asking if the cricket milkshake was real and several cricket suppliers were tweeting about a potential partnership.

The burger chain decided the only option that had was to make it real. Wayback Burgers partnered with Oregon-based Cricket Flours to make their joke into a reality. It was such a success in their tester store, Wayback rolled it out to all locations July 1, 2015.

Buzzfeed even made a taste test video about it. You know you’ve made it if Buzzfeed is reviewing your products.

worst: taco bell- “taco bell buys the liberty bell” (1996)

Taco Bell’s 1996 prank where they pretended to buy the Liberty Bell was really weird– even for the 90s. They bought full-page ads in six big-city newspapers announcing they had purchased the Liberty Bell, were the main sponsors of the historic treasure and had renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell”.

Today, this wouldn’t have been as off-kilter as it was in the 90s. We have the Internet and a two-second Snopes search would bring up the truth. But back when the Internet was mostly used by quirky “geeks” on Internet message boards (we admit, we loved the Internet back in the 90s), it was a little harder to figure out the truth. Hundreds of outraged readers, including staffers for Senators Bill Bradley and James Exon, called the National Park Service demanding to know the truth.

The brand is known for the quirky and sassy tweets online today but this prank in 1996 racked up some serious ill will for an off-brand joke.

best: expedia- “flights to mars” (2009)

It was very obviously a gag, but the company followed through with pretty convincing graphics and messaging. There was even an option to choose your launchpad location for departure– just like you would with an airport or train station.

Expedia’s follow-through was also great. Once wannabe astronauts clicked “Take Off”, they were given hotel options such as “The Colbert Hotel and Casino”. Once they were on the site, Expedia reminded them of more realistic Earth trips they could take.

With companies like Space X trying to reach Mars and send the average citizen on an interplanetary vacation, travel to Mars is very on-trend and perfect for a prank.

Expedia managed to not only be funny, they also managed to highlight their core business without coming across as a “try-hard”. In 2009, the site offered “Flights to Mars for only $99.” To spoof their own travel promos they advertise, the promo also offered “No Interplanetary Booking Fees” and “Save over $3 Trillion!”

worst: hooters- sell beer, get a new car (2001)

In 2001, a manager of a Florida Hooters announced a contest for all the waitresses working that day: sell the most beer and get a new Toyota. After the contest was over, the winner was Jodee Barry.

The manager led her blindfolded into the parking lot where she was given a toy Yoda. Get it? Toyota.Toy Yoda. Jodee, not really enjoying the prank, quit her job and sued Hooters’ parent company for breach of contract. The case settled and her attorney stated that Jodee had enough money now to go pick out whatever Toyota she wanted.

If your brand ends up getting sued, the joke definitely didn’t land.

best: hooters- “roosters” (2015)

Looking to redeem themselves from the flop in 2001, Hooters announced in 2015 that they were introducing a fresh concept called “Roosters”. Roosters called for the Hooters dining experience but with an all-male waitstaff.

Andrew Pudduck, vice president of marketing, said “When the opportunity to expand the beloved Hooters concept came about, we jumped at the chance of answering the call from men and women across America. With such an overwhelming interest, I can’t believe we didn’t capitalize on the demand sooner; but now the people have spoken and we have responded: Roosters Boys are here to stay!”

Women everywhere were bummed when Hooters announced it was just an April Fools’ Day prank.

worst: the franklin institute- “cosmic apocalypse” (1940)

You would think Franklin Institute would have learned something from 1938’s War of the Worlds broadcast that sent everyone into a panic. But, obviously not.

They issued a press release on March 31, 1940 announcing “Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fools’ joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city.”

 
 

They were trying to announce their planetarium show on cosmic apocalypses with this press release, but, when KYW Radio picked up the release, people were sent into a panic. Since Franklin Institute is a scientific institute and the release stressed that it was not a joke, Philadelphia’s emergency lines were flooded with concerned citizens. The Institute wound up firing William Castellini, the spokesperson who came up with the press release.

Every brand should consider how the voice of an April Fools’ prank aligns with their corporate image. As a piece of advice, anything scientific should steer clear of anything reminiscent of War of the Worlds, brands should have learned their lesson in 1938.

best: amazon- “petlexa” (2017)

In 2017, Amazon debuted their “Petlexa”, the Amazon Echo that acts as a speaker for dogs, cats, gerbils and more that might be jealous their owner is spending more time with someone named “Alexa”.

Releasing their spoof on YouTube, it shows pets using their Petlexa for activities while their owners aren’t around.


In this adorable video, Petlexa helps household pets track their steps, order some Sushi and activate an automatic ball thrower. Petlexa is also incredibly on-brand for Amazon. While some of their past pranks have been borderline feasible to absolutely absurd, Petlexa highlights the Amazon Echo’s abilities that humans can enjoy.

worst: lucid mattress “harambed” (2017)

If you really want to grit your teeth and shake your head, watch Lucid Mattress’ 2017 attempt at an April Fool’s Day prank.

If you don’t know what the Harambed is referencing, it’s poking fun at the Harambe memes that floated around the Internet after the death of the gorilla, Harambe. Lucid Mattress even played on the word “dreams” by using “memes”.

The web listing for the Harambed is just as bad.

Just check out the features:

This prank was too soon and in poor taste.

best: google- “google play for pets” (2017)

In 2017, Google Play also got on the AI for pets train.


For their April Fools’ Day prank, they “debuted” the Google Play for Pets, a new category of games, apps and training tools to keep your pet stimulated while you’re gone.

If your brand is looking to do an April Fools’ Day prank, the rules of brand humor apply. To be successful, remember:  

  • Do your research
  • Unify your brand voice
  • Be original and
  • Keep it simple

Humor is a great way to engage with your customers but it has to be done right.


honorable mentions from 2018

Chewy

Duck Tape

PayPal


people love to laugh

And we love to elevate your brand. Humor might be risky but if you’re always playing it safe, you might be taking an even bigger risk– irrelevance. Our creative branding professionals can help you create a plan to showcase the humor in your brand. Schedule a call today to see what Hummingbird Creative Group can do for your brand. Contact us today! Contact us today!