LONDON (Reuters) - The April Fool is dead. Or at least the gentle jester of the common folk has been converted into a corporate colossus controlled by global marketing executives.
Companies around the world, from Google to BMW and Sony, have adopted the tradition of goading the gullible on April 1 to show their lighter sides and steal some free publicity.
Google Inc extended a practice dating back a decade or so in poking fun at its own ubiquity: it introduced a database of smells, pretended that it was shutting down its YouTube service, offered a treasure-hunting mode and old parchment style navigation on Google Maps, and unveiled Gmail Blue, a new version of its email service that is ... blue.
In Japan, telecoms company KDDI offered a mobile phone that was actually a bed - to save ever having to get up. And Sony Corp went to the dogs, rather literally, introducing a TV that only displays pictures in dog-friendly colors and has a remote with paw-enabled buttons.
A blog at Twitter, or rather “twttr”, said users who wanted to use vowels would have to pay $5 a month. “Trd th nw Twttr yt? Mr tm fr mr twts!” was one of the blog’s more easily deciphered examples.
Procter and Gamble Co’s mouthwash brand Scope offered a new “Bacon” flavor with taglines like “For breath that sizzles” and the appetizing “Indulge your meat tooth.”
German carmaker BMW offered British readers excited at the impending arrival of a royal baby the P.R.A.M. (Postnatal Royal Auto Mobile) complete with picture of a sportily styled buggy and corgis at Windsor Castle - inquiries to Joe.King@bmw.co.uk.
In the more traditional realm of news-based fun, Yahoo’s French website led its front page with the announcement that, to save money, President Francois Hollande would move his offices from the Elysee Palace to one of Paris’s grittier suburbs.
Iceland Review Online reported that the country’s central bank had solved the problem of how to value the local currency, the krona, which was badly damaged during the financial crisis — replace it with Africa’s CFA franc.
In Britain, the Guardian offered its leftish, liberal readers “augmented reality” spectacles to let them “see the world through the Guardian’s eyes at all times.”
By staring at a restaurant, cinema or retail product the paper’s critics’ reviews would come into vision without all the hassle of reaching for the phone, wrote the Guardian’s anagrammatic correspondent Lois P. Farlo.
“Nesta Vowles” had a story in Britain’s Daily Mail about owls being trained, Hogwarts-style, to deliver internal mail in an office. It carried photographs of what it called the “Roy-owl Mail.” The Sun mocked up a shot of Mick Jagger in a tent and said the millionaire Rolling Stones were practicing for the Glastonbury rock festival by spending Easter outdoors.
But few papers may top the Times Daily of Florence, Alabama, which fronted Monday’s edition with a picture of a local bridge coming under simultaneous attack by the Loch Ness Monster, a UFO and Godzilla.
“Panic unnecessary: No deadly tomatoes reported near scene,” the paper reported.
It took French post office, La Poste, to highlight the struggle for survival faced by traditional media in a new technological age; it issued a press release announcing that airborne drones were delivering newspapers to people’s homes.
Blurring the lines between mirth and marketing, Britain’s Daily Mirror carried a story on the launch of glass-bottomed airliners - offering special sightseeing trips over Loch Ness. It would, it said, be operated by Richard Branson’s Virgin airline - which duly carried its own online advert for the new planes, along with publicity for its real new domestic service.
With April Fools Day ever more an ad man’s dream, Coca-Cola put an ironic, postmodern twist on the whole bluff-or-double-bluff atmosphere by advertising a relaunched vanilla version of the fizzy drink in Britain:
The slogan? “It’s back! - (no really, it is).”
If the stress of sifting fact from fiction seemed too much, particularly for fellow journalists writing reports from the frontline of foolery, once could have left it to Britain’s Metro newspaper to do the legwork and make things easier.
Its 2013 “round-up of the best jokes” from other media included a BBC story on NASA’s Mars rover tweeting that bullying by Internet trolls was forcing it off Twitter, the Telegraph on rabbits bred with human ears and a supermarket press release offering to deliver food via a 3D printer.
Trouble is, those were all made up by Metro. April Fools!
Additional reporting by Eric Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Giles Elgood and Eric Walsh