10 viral April Fools' campaigns that got people talking

From the latest Voltswagen controversy to Emirates' chauffeur-less drones, here are some of the major hits and misses

The parody website www.MarkforHM.com won a Webby award. Courtesy markforhm.com
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It was the perfect April Fools' Day marketing prank that could have been.

On Monday, car maker Volkswagen accidentally published a draft version of a press release announcing that its US operations will be changing its name to "Voltswagen". The move, read the release, was to signify the company's commitment to electrifying its fleet.

The post, which was immediately taken down, was dated April 29, and said the name change was expected to take effect in May.

The next day, however, the German brand issued a clarification, saying that the "announcement" was intended to be an elaborate April Fools' joke, and also to promote its latest electric car.

"The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fools' Day, highlighting the launch of the all-electric ID.4 SUV," Mike Tolbert, Volkswagen's US spokesman told CNBC.

Volkswagen’s American Twitter account on Tuesday then changed its name to Voltswagen.

"We know, 66 is an unusual age to change your name, but we've always been young at heart. Introducing Voltswagen. Similar to Volkswagen, but with a renewed focus on electric driving. Starting with our all-new, all-electric SUV the ID.4 – available today," it posted.

The joke didn't land very well online however, prompting prominent tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee to tweet: "This was awful."

However, Volkswagen is hardly the first brand to attempt an April Fools' marketing stunt, or suffer a misfire. Here's a look at other viral campaigns in the past that have gotten people talking.

1) BMW's moon power

Another automaker, BMW, is known for its April Fools' Day adverts. In 2019, it announced "Lunar Paint", a car paint that can charge electric vehicles by moonlight.

"Lunar Paint uses revolutionary photovoltaic technology to passively recharge your battery in the hours of darkness," the company said.

The post was widely praised on Twitter.

The brand later thanked its followers while also promoting its electric cars.

"We hope you enjoyed this year’s BMW April Fool’s. Whilst Lunar Paint may not be of this world quite yet, BMW i does have an innovative range of existing charging technologies for you to discover – including solar and digital," it posted.

2) Google introduces Screen Cleaner

Google, also known for its funny pranks, cancelled April Fools' Day in 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019 however, it released a number of zingers, including the Google Screen Cleaner, a new feature on Android smartphones that could clean physical dirt from your phone. Using what it called "haptic micromovement generator", the Screen Cleaner when activated magically cleans dirt and stains. Then the phone vibrates, creating a non-stick shield "with a fresh pineapple scent."

While there were laughs with that one, Google doesn't always get it right.

In 2016, it apologised after complaints about an April Fools' mic drop feature it added on Gmail. The option allowed users to add a GIF showing a minion tossing away a microphone to emails.

"It looks like we pranked ourselves this year," the company said on its official blog later, saying the feature had given them "more headaches than laughs."

3) Duolingo's Push

Language learning app Duolingo's prank went viral in 2019. The app, known for its persistent reminders, claimed to launch a new service called Duolingo Push, which would activate the app's owl mascot Duo to appear in-person, to nudge users to continue their lessons. The video introducing the joke feature has been viewed more than 5 million times.

4) Tinder introduces height verification

Dating app Tinder's prank was also a huge success in 2019. The app announced it was launching a height verification tool to bring "truthfulness back into the world of online dating".

The feature would require users to input their "true, accurate height" along with a photo of themselves standing next to any commercial building. The app's algorithm would then verify if they're really as tall as they say they are.

The accompanying video has been viewed more than 3.5 million times.

"Wow this tweet blew up, check us out in the App Store," Tinder tweeted later.

5) Make your own carbonated drink, with your breath

SodaStream, the Israeli brand of carbonation products, is known for its celebrity ambassadors. In 2019, its April Fools' prank featured American astronaut Scott Kelly, best known for spending the most time in space.

Kelly "launched" SodaStreamMe, an on-the-go bottle that enables you to carbonate your own drink simply by blowing into it.

The ad claimed the product was best for people who suffered from excess levels of carbon dioxide, causing them to burp. The video has been viewed more than 2.9 million times.

6) The Burger King toothpaste

Fast food chain Burger King is no stranger to online controversies, with the brand upsetting Egyptians just this week by making light of the Suez Canal crisis. But when it comes to April Fools' pranks, it usually gets it right.

In 2017, it announced the Whopper Toothpaste that "embodies the iconic flavour of the Whopper and combines it with active ingredients for optimal teeth and gum hygiene."

7) Mark Zuckerberg x H&M

In 2016, a parody website called MarkforHM.com went live on April Fools' Day, purportedly unveiling a special collaboration between fashion brand H&M and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. H&M, known for its collaboration with high-end labels and designers, has launched a limited capsule collection of "reissued iconic pieces from H&M basics", the website claimed.

The Mark Zuckerberg x H&M collection featured a set of seven basic grey t-shirts and a pair of basic jeans. The website even has pictures of Zuckerberg at various events wearing similar t-shirts and jeans.

The parody website markforhm.com even won a Webby award. Courtesy markforhm.com
The parody website markforhm.com even won a Webby award. Courtesy markforhm.com

The prank was widely praised, with Vogue magazine saying the collection was "actually not a bad idea."

Created by two marketing executives, the website even won an honorary Webby Award in 2017.

8) Emirates launches chauffeur-less drones

UAE brands have proven they have great sense of humour as well.

In 2019, Dubai airline Emirates tweeted about their new chauffeur-less drones that could transport passengers to Dubai International Airport from anywhere in the city. "Each drone features two fully-enclosed First Class private suites," Emirates tweeted on April Fools' Day. The new drone airport transfer service would be offered to all Emirates Skywards Platinum members, it said.

9) Etihad's Air-Cart

Etihad Airways in 2019 also introduced its Air-Cart, a flying trolley that will no longer disrupt walking around the aisle during meal service.

"Ever been stuck in the aisle during meal service? Introducing the Etihad Air-Cart. #NeverBeStuckAgain," the airline tweeted, along with a video which has been viewed more than 56,000 times.

10) Namshi's Falcon express delivery

Online shopping platform Namshi announced in 2019 it was launching a Falcon Express delivery, a new service powered by falcons. "Travelling at a speed of 390km per hour, the birds are guaranteed to get your parcels to you within three hours of ordering," the website said.

Namshi's Falcon Express delivery was launched on April Fools Day. Courtesy Namshi
Namshi's Falcon Express delivery was launched on April Fools Day. Courtesy Namshi

"The fine feathered fleet are now fully fledged members of our delivery team and will take to the air to deliver smaller packages weighing less than 500g." The prank was widely praised on social media.