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Apr 02 2015

When April Fool’s Jokes Become Smart Branding

Business branding may seem like an odd stage for pranks, but I can’t help appreciating the creativity that April Fool’s Day seems to bring out in some parts of the internet–especially now that businesses are taking part in clever ways. Instead of being a terror-inducing and mean-spirited occasion, it can become a neat project for the business and a smart move for their brand to have some harmless fun with an April Fool’s Day joke.

Because we love Portland businesses here at Upswept, I’m taking a look at a few local, independent businesses who had a bit of extra fun with their April Fool’s Day.

Ground Kontrol “Artisanal Artcade”

This April Fool’s Day homepage shows what Ground Kontrol might be like if it got a makeover from the staff of Portlandia.

Portland’s own “barcade” Ground Kontrol, normally offers you pints after 5pm, plenty of classic arcade games to keep you entertained, and a dramatic interior with gaming-inspired details. You’ll see sleek seating and tables with lighting elements inside, Pac-Man tiling in the bathroom, and a general atmosphere that makes you wonder if you’ve stumbled onto the set of TRON.

On April Fool’s Day, however, Ground Kontrol unveiled a parody version of their web site with a sharp change in direction: “Ground Kontrol Artisanal Artcade” traded contrast-y, retro-modern design for wood grain textures and old-timey type, and their homepage copy boasted a fancy new menu and craft cocktail menu, and a “de-modeled” interior that rolled back their futuristic look to its original, 1900s-era architecture.

Why it works for their brand: Ground Kontrol is one of the places that makes Portland unique, but much of what the world thinks of when they think of Portland is the opposite of what Ground Kontrol offers: people in flannel shirts, riding fixies, eating an artisanal vegan/gluten-free lunch from a food cart you probably haven’t heard of. 😉 Any good parody is born from a love of the thing being parodied, though, so this ends up being a clever way for GK to say, “no, really, Portland, we like being here.”

Fort George Looks to Purchase Anheuser-Busch InBev

I couldn’t help but giggle when we saw this April Fool’s Day press release from local beer crafters at Fort George Brewery. When Anheuser-Busch InBev recently purchased Elysian, another local brewery, there were plenty of alarmed and horrified reactions. With that in our recent collective memory, Fort George’s April Fool’s Day announcement that they were looking purchase InBev made an amusingly perfect response to the buyout of Elysian. The announcement shared quotable lines about their proposed buyout, such as, “‘Bud Light Lime-A-Rita would definitely fill a niche Fort George does not serve,’ explains Jack Harris, co-owner and brew master at Fort George.”

Why it works for their brand: I’ve sampled many a Fort George brew in the past, and uniquely-delicious beers like their Hellcat Trippel prove their far-from-macro approach to brewing. With this fake announcement, Fort George gets to poke some fun at big corporate beers, and remind us that they’re happy being a smaller brewery, and committed to creating beers the best way they know how.

Powell’s Discovers an Exciting New Author

A look at Blue, Minnesota--a made-up book release from Powell's Books.
A look at Blue, Minnesota–a made-up book release from Powell’s Books.

The folks at the world’s largest bookstore definitely planned ahead for this April Fool’s Day: if you were following Powell’s Books on social media yesterday, you saw multiple postings creating buzz and excitement surrounding a new book called Blue, Minnesota: reportedly the first novel ever written by an exciting new author, Todd Furlong.

The team at Powell’s gradually unveiled the joke throughout the day, sharing photos of their staff enjoying the book, and even a Q&A with the author. As the day went on, things got weirder–the author photo featured a suit-and-bowtied body with a cat’s head, and pages of the book were revealed as being nothing but a series of meows. Finally, in the late-afternoon, the Powell’s Facebook page announced, “BREAKING: We’ve been catfished. Todd Furlong’s new novel Blue, Minnesota is in fact just a series of meows transcribed by his overzealous owner.”

Why it works for their brand: Powell’s had a chance to play with the online buzz machine, by generating excitement about something goofy, silly, and 100% made-up. It’s a cute reminder of how easily we can get swept up in the “hottest” new Thing Of The Moment, but underneath that, Powell’s is also reminding us: they’re excited about books, and they want you to be excited about them, too. Even when they’re written by cats. 😉

If you parked near Sizzle Pie, you may have gotten a parking ticket with a surprise inside: it's a couple for a free slice of pizza!
These parking tickets held a surprise inside: a coupon for a free slice at Sizzle Pie!

Sizzle Pie: Parking Tickets with a Surprise

Portland purveyors of pizza deliciousness Sizzle Pie did a great job of taking a shocking prank and turning it into a happy ending. Little yellow envelopes that look nearly identical to the ones the City of Portland uses for parking citations appeared on cars parked near Sizzle Pie locations.

Upon closer inspection, however, there are telltale signs that this is no ordinary parking ticket–like the, “Pizza Alert System Headquarters” address on the front. Pranked victims then pull out the citation, and see a slip of paper formatted like a City of Portland parking citation… but it’s actually a coupon for a free slice of pizza!

Why it works for their brand: This might be my favorite prank of the day: it’s good exposure that will stick in the memories of locals, and it works because what looks to be bad luck turns out to be a good gift. Sizzle Pie won’t shy away from a bit of mischief, but really, they just want Portlanders to enjoy delicious pizza. The down side? We seriously hope those who were hit by this prank took the time to look at the ticket, rather than throwing it away in anger and missing out on the payoff.

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