BUSINESS

Canadian companies seek brand buzz with April Fools' Day advertising

04/01/2013 01:08 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Some Canadian companies tried to generate some good-natured brand buzz Monday by releasing April Fools' Day ads, but not everyone viewed the effort as a laughing matter.

This year's participants included WestJet, the Toronto Transit Commission, Lululemon, Boston Pizza and Rogers, each of which seemingly introduced a new product.

Calgary-based WestJet's tongue-in-cheek ads last year promoted kid-free planes. This year, the airline said it's allowing any kind of animal, including bears, to roam free on board.

"We recognize that a growing number of families want to travel with their 'extended' family and we are proud to be the first airline to offer this type of service," said Richard Bartrem, the airline's vice-president of communications, in a video posted on YouTube.

The ad concludes with employees acknowledging it was a prank.

Bartrem said WestJet (TSX:WJA) expects that a very small percentage of people won't get or like its efforts.

Last year, their April Fools' video garnered more than 600,000 hits, boosting the airline's search engine ranking. This year, WestJet added a three-day promotion at the end of the video to drive potential revenue.

"But ultimately the primary goal is to just demonstrate that this is a fun brand and take advantage of the one day a year where there's a bit of licence to demonstrate that," said Bartrem.

For April Fools', clothing maker Lululemon (TSX:LLL) said it was introducing lululeather after partnering with local cow farmers who feed their animals organic grass and chia seeds. In addition to Cowabunga yoga pants, it said it was also set to offer Moomats for exercise at $208 apiece.

The Vancouver-based company fooled some customers with a realistic-looking page on its website that included photos, videos and reviews. It even said the pants were sold out.

"Wearing pants from a cow named Betsy, I peed a little," commented one fan.

But others were "truly disgusted" until they realized the date.

"This ad is so distasteful. I feel like throwing up this morning in disgust," wrote one woman. "This is so disrespectful to yoga and the yoga culture."

York University professor Russell Belk said the companies are all seeking buzz and general good rather than immediate sales.

Well-executed humour can go viral and attract lots of mainstream media attention, but he warned those that who miss the mark may also risk offending.

"Humour can always backfire if it offends someone or is seen as inappropriate," he wrote in an email.

Newspapers have run April Fools' stories for decades, but social media can accelerate how widespread the best ads are seen.

Belk said staid companies like Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) or CIBC would likely have a more difficult time pulling off a prank like this and could even harm their reputation if the message is too slapstick.

BMW's advertising agency said its April Fools' Day concepts are designed "to teeter on the verge of credibility" to take in less vigilant readers.

"The concepts tend to focus on a new and revolutionary piece of technology from BMW, yet push the idea just beyond the plausible," it wrote on the automaker's website.

This year's new in-cabin Klimatabeiter Climate Control System (KCCS), can supposedly recreate any of the world's 23 registered climates inside a BMW and comes as standard in BMW 7 Series models.

Meanwhile, the Toronto's transit system released a video spoofing annoying things passengers do on the subway. It promoted a personal subway car that allows riders to apply makeup, do personal grooming and use seats for bags and to stretch their legs.

Boston Pizza (TSX:BPF.UN) said it was banning all buns and replacing them with new uses for pizza dough. Several ads on YouTube said it was adding pizza salad, pizza beer, pizza cake and pizza burgers to its menu.

Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) introduced a toque that connects to smartphones and displays what wearers would see if their faces weren't covered. The hats have sensors that monitor your brain frequency as you listen to music and plays Canadian hits depending on your mood.

Canadian companies are certainly not alone in taking advantage of April 1. Scores of businesses in Britain and the U.S. also issued joke news releases or videos.

Search engine Google promoted a new service called Google Nose that allows users to scan its 15 million "scenta-byte" database of smells around the world.

"By intersecting photons with infra soundwaves, Google Nose Beta temporarily aligns molecules to emulate a particular scent," it said.

It also unveiled a new feature on Google Maps that allow people to search for pirate treasures.

YouTube itself warned followers that it would no longer accept videos until 2023 while it decides the best video ever posted on the popular site that it claimed started in 2005 as a contest.