The Industry

Every Silicon Valley April Fool’s Joke Was Selling You Something

Screenshot of Google Maps with Where's Waldo? pop-up.
Screenshot from Google Maps

We’re all so used to the annual ritual of internet April Fool’s jokes that by the time March 31 rolls around, our eyes automatically revert to position, ready to roll. We expect the jokes to be lame. But we also expect them to be jokes, not acts of marketing. One thing that distinguished a few of this year’s April Fool’s Day jokes was how many of them seemed to be aligned with the companies’ business imperatives. It’s like they aren’t even in it for the love of the game! Below, a guide to the tech-industry April Fool’s jokes that were a little too #onbrand for comfort.

Netflix. Just in time for April 1, the streaming service announced it had acquired the rights to Seth Rogen, full-stop. Not a project of his, but him, the guy. The joke plays on Netflix’s reputation as a big spender, the streaming site that doesn’t hesitate to drop millions on series, movies, and specials. It’s very much in the company’s interest to maintain this image, of course, and it’s actually not totally outlandish that the service would buy a person—what exactly are the terms of its deal with Adam Sandler? The April Fool’s joke ends up teasing Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity special, coming this week, so it also serves a more immediate purpose than the larger purpose of reminding its audience that Netflix owns all the content so you better keep subscribing, or else.

Tesla. Chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that the company had gone bankrupt—this as the company is facing actual questions about its reserves of cash—and in another post, wrote that he “was found passed out against a Tesla Model 3, surrounded by ‘Teslaquilla’ bottles.” Following a fatal car crash in late March—and Tesla’s admission only two days earlier that its autopilot feature was involved in the collision—these posts looked badly timed. But for Elon Musk, there’s never a bad time to burnish his image as a wacky, fun-loving guy, the type of person you want to give a bunch of money to dig holes and go to Mars and build autonomous cars. Also, since Elon Musk’s jokes tend to become actual products, you’ll probably be able to buy a bottle of Teslaquilla soon.

Pokémon Go. The game went 8-bit for a bit of holiday fun … and to remind you that it exists.

Snapchat. Speaking of reminding the world of its existence, Snapchat was also working that grind this April Fool’s Day. It introduced a filter designed to make it look like users were on Facebook and Russian bots were liking their posts. Snapchat, which has touted its troubled redesign as a tonic to our toxic news environment, wanted to remind users that, unlike Facebook, it is not currently reeling from the fallout of the 2016 presidential election. Unfortunately, it is reeling from plunging shares.

Google. The tech giant’s contribution to April Fool’s Day was bringing Where’s Waldo? to Google Maps—users could look for him and his friends all over the world. Waldo appeared to be using location-sharing, a feature Google added to Google Maps last year that hasn’t quite entered the zeitgeist. But maybe Waldo using it will convince a few more Google users to get in on the fun? In another bit of Google-boosting, the game also worked with Google Home speakers and other Google Assistants. Why aim for just comedy when you can achieve synergy?