This morning, Google announced a beta version of Google Nose, based on the acknowledgement that the company had for years neglected the sense of smell as a critical device for search. Although quickly revealed as an April Fools’ Joke, the concept still spread wildly through the Internet.
April Fools’ Day, as every marketer know, creates a huge marketing opportunity, especially for established brands that have already built enough expectations they can break. It gives them permission to literally go crazy with their marketing and make fun of their own brand, while demonstrating their stoic confidence as an industry and thought leader, and generating a significant amount of brand impressions. With April Day’s pranksters, brands can present themselves as ‘human’ and use technology, as in the Google example, as “machines of laughter and forgetting,” as Evgeny Morozov suggested in a recent New York Times column. It gives them a stage to take a risk without being at risk, present themselves as vulnerable without being vulnerable, and appear fallible without actually being fallible.Humor allows them to demonstrate proximity to their audience, as the message they’re sending is: we know you well; we recognize you; we like you; and even more so than in common advertising: we speak your language (because on April Fools’ Day, there is less need to overlay your language with ours, which is usually branded, scripted, and somewhat boring).
But something else is interesting about April Fools’ jokes: they are a perfect example of generosity in business. Less obviously so than philanthropy and CSR, perhaps, they give more than they take. They don’t give back (to the community), they just give. They transcend the transactional economy and create a ‘meaning excess’ where delight outsizes functional need. They “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” to use the famous line by writer Anne Herbert. Sure, you might say, they are designed by clever marketers to drive brand impressions and loyalty, as described above, but even if that’s the case, the overriding intrinsic motivator is, I bet, to cherish the possibility “to be a fool for one day,” with all the genuine delight that it brings for everyone involved. In that sense, Google Nose, and the many other delightful April Fools’ jokes today, make the world a better place, even just for one day or one moment.