Fools rush in where angels fear

Stuart Fuller

Tomorrow is that one day in the year where we are all allowed to let our imagination run riot and create the most outlandish lies to try and trick each other. The origins of April Fools’ Day have been blurred over time but in today’s information age with the means to create digital trickery in the palm of our hands and social media to share stories across the globe at the speed of light, companies see the opportunity to create some almost free publicity by simply being as outrageous and as far-fetched as possible.

The world has come a long way from the famous Swiss Spaghetti Harvest story from 1957, seen by many as the first mainstream April Fools’ Day joke.  The story back then was reported by BBC’s Panorama programme about the Swiss farmers who picked freshly-grown spaghetti, which later saw the BBC flooded with requests for details as to where they could buy spaghetti plants of their own.

When genuine news is published on April Fools' Day, it is often misinterpreted as a joke, such as back in 2004 when Google, announced the launch of Gmail with 1-gigabyte inboxes when we all thought we were lucky to have one that had a capacity of a thousandth of that.  That being said, Google has also launched a number of pranks in the past including using their new dotBrand to good effect last year with the launch of a reverse search engine under the URL www.com.google.

Last year many of the world’s biggest brands got in on the act including BMW’s Motor Mouth products for England’s rugby players (http://www.bmw.co.uk/en_GB/topics/campaigns/2015/motor-mouth.html), Pizza Hut’s announcement that they were launching a Pizza-flavoured beer range whilst rivals Domino’s announced their drone based delivery service (Domi-No-Driver) which based on the news story last week about Rakuten using drones to deliver snacks to golfers is not too far from both reality and the truth. Two of the web’s hottest properties, Uber and Tinder actually teamed up for their April Fool’s Day prank last year (www.uberfortinder.com) where you could find a private hire driver, agree to date them and split the fare.

It isn’t such a light-hearted affair for everyone though.  Last year Greater Manchester Police Radcliffe used social media for their prank, inviting the public to vote for prisoners to be released with the one with the most votes winning a holiday.  Within hours they were forced to apologise after outrage from the general public.

Of course there is a danger that cybercriminals could also get in on the act on Friday, creating online “jokes” that have a far more sinister objectives.  On a day where brands will go to great lengths to gain the attention of the general public, there is a danger that a cybercriminal could ride on the back of the humorous sentiment and create an opportunity to exploit the good nature of genuine customers.  Our normal self-preservation behaviours often go out of the window for this one day in a year meaning that we could be putting ourselves at risk of visiting websites that may look to harvest our personal and financial details as well as potentially exposing us to malware or worse.

We all enjoy the lengths some brands will go to on April Fools’ Day but we should all still keep one hand on the brake when we explore the stories that fill up our inboxes and timelines on Friday.