April Fools Search Jokes Find Believers

Some Internet publishers and marketers awoke April 1 to find news in their e-mail inboxes that Yahoo made an “unsolicited offer” to buy AT&T Yellow Pages for $21.2 billion.

They immediately contacted the source of the information, YPCommando.com, an e-newsletter for the directory business sent to 10,000 in the industry, to learn whether the news was really true.

“It [the April Fools joke] went unbelievably well,” bragged Dick Larkin, commando in chief of Small Business Commandos Inc. — Targeted Online Marketing, Carlsbad, CA. “It suckered so many … really in-the-know people.”

More than 100 people e-mailed or called Larkin about the e-mail by Monday morning, and one publisher was preparing to convene an emergency session of its board before discovering the story was a lark.

Though Larkin was happy with the joke's response, he did not realize that people would check e-mail on their PDAs. Many did not click on a “press release” on the purported merger that went to a page on YPCommando.com. There, they would have seen a funny picture of President Bush and the statement, “Happy April Fools Day!”

The joke was believable to some in the industry, Larkin said, because of speculation that Google could buy Verizon's directory business, which is up for sale.

Larkin's gag was one of many in the search engine industry, and most came from the engines themselves. Google made people laugh with its fake new online dating service, Google Romance. There was little chance that Google users would take this one seriously, with the tagline for the service billed as: “Pin All Your Romantic Hopes on Google.”

Google promised to send users a “contextual date,” “which we'll pay for while delivering to you relevant ads that we and our advertising partners think will help produce the dating results you're looking for,” according to a statement on its site.

Meanwhile, Yahoo said it was buying Web 2.0 and renaming it Web 3.0. Instead of buying companies in piecemeal, Yahoo will buy “all of [Web 2.0], all the people, the round cornered boxes, crazy business ideas and pastel colors,” according to a statement on the Yahoo Search Blog.

Ask.com said it was introducing “Rhyme Rank,” capable of producing searches that rhyme with the user's original query. The example Ask presented: If a user types in “Weight Watchers Rewards,” results include: “Mongolian hordes, the history of fords, maternity wards and names of drug lords.”

The engines' April Fools high jinks have become standard in the search marketing industry and go a long way in boosting the brands' image, said Fredrick Marckini, CEO of search marketing firm iProspect, Watertown, MA.

“For the period of time that it is mistaken for being not an April Fools joke, it can dramatically increase the reach of a brand,” he said. “Later, when people find out it was all in fun, they leave with … a reminder of the brand and, hopefully, a warm association with the brand.”

Ask.com spokesman Paul Loeffler agreed.

“For users, the post provides insight into our company and shows that we can have a little fun — and fosters positive brand perception with users, employees, the industry and future employees,” he said.

Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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