April Fool's pranks killed by an overdose of hi-tech marketing

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The April Fool is dead.

Or at least the gentle jester of the common folk has metastised into a corporate colossus controlled by global marketing executives, bestriding the Internet to force familiar brands ever deeper into the collective consciousness.

So while Google extended a tradition dating back, well, a decade or so, in poking fun at its own ubiquity - introducing a database of smells and shutting down its YouTube service it was fitting that old-fashioned, paper-based media poked fun on Monday at the power of machines over our minds.

In Britain, where newspapers have long relished the ancient art of goading the gullible on April 1, 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 and 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. And "anti-bigotry technology" would screen out offending op-ed columns should any reader happen to pick up a copy of the right-wing Daily Mail.

Fantasy meets reality, however, with a payoff line noting the imminent appearance in stores of Google Glass, which lets wearers view information in front of their eyes and take video.

Google itself, which has championed the art of April Fools Day marketing, offered visitors to its google.com search engine a beta-version of a new technology, Google Nose - "the new scent-sation in search", a kind of olfactory world wide web.

In a corporation-wide push for the global funny-bone, the company also offered gags on its Gmail email service - poking fun at innovation with a video explaining new, Gmail Blue would be blue; Google Maps offered a treasure hunting mode and old parchment style navigation; and Google's YouTube unit "revealed" that the video-sharing site had all along been a giant contest and would now shut down to judge the winner.

New products and services were fair game for other brands keen to show their lighter side Japanese telecoms company KDDI offered a mobile phone that was actually a bed - to save ever having to get up; a blog at Twitter, or rather "twttr", said users who wanted vowels in their microblogs would have to pay.

Procter and Gamble's mouthwash brand Scope offered a new "Bacon" flavour - "For breath that sizzles".

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.

Satire
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.

"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 rival Daily Express said Queen Elizabeth was renting out rooms at Buckingham Palace - but, perhaps fearing for its switchboard, hastened to tell readers that this was a joke.

The Sun mocked up a shot of Mick Jagger in a tent and said the millionaire Rolling Stones were getting into practice for playing at the Glastonbury rock festival by spending Easter out of doors - at the Rolf Apilo campsite, of course.

In a more sharply satirical vein, the Independent took aim at plans to control the British press by reporting that a pro-regulation lobby group, backed by celebrity victims of media intrusion, was being consulted by foreign governments including Burma and Sudan on how to deal with troublesome journalists.

The Times reflected back to a gentler age with a story of newly discovered diaries by a 19th-century army officer that quoted "experts" comparing them to two famous historical hoaxes - Piltdown Man's fake "pre-human" bones and the Hitler Diaries.

Such heavy-handedness seemed an admission of defeat for a genre whose heyday in more innocent times saw the BBC bombarded with calls for seed catalogues after it broadcast a news item on "spaghetti trees" in 1957; 20 years later, would-be tourists called the Guardian for information on how to get to the idyllic - but sadly entirely typographical - island of San Seriffe.

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 rather than a moment for pranks in the playground, 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!

© Thomson Reuters 2013

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