Apr 1, 2022 - Economy

April Fools' Day jokes present risks to businesses

Illustration of a giant foot about to step on a banana peel stylized in an 8-bit art style.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In our misinformation age, it’s increasingly risky for companies to fib for fun on April 1.

Why it matters: April Fools' Day entices businesses to circulate false information to bolster their brands — but many people struggle to discern fact from fiction online.

Threat level: For companies eager to protect their reputation and maintain trust, there’s a fine line between harmless and harmful.

  • “The danger with these kinds of jokes is that if it’s not obvious, then instead of free publicity, you get expensive public relations,” Georgetown University business ethics professor Peter Jaworski tells Axios.

Flashback: In late March 2021, Volkswagen issued a press release saying it was renaming itself “Voltswagen” in a nod to its electric vehicle investments. Several major news outlets reported it as fact, and at least one major Wall Street analyst initially thought it was true.

  • It turned out to be false — a misplaced attempt at humor. The company later apologized, but the SEC didn’t see the humor and it launched an investigation into the matter, Reuters reported.

Yes, but: Humor can humanize.

  • It’s hard not to chuckle at 7-Eleven’s faux 0.7-ounce Tiny Gulp, which it described as “the perfect little sip for only 7 cents.”

My thought bubble: My dad taught me something simple: The first rule of joking is to make sure it’s funny.

  • But in the digital age, it’s hard to guarantee people will be in on the joke.
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