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Marketing for Fools: How Google Made Hoaxes Market for Them

Written by Sarah Wai | Apr 1, 2016 3:00:00 PM

Google has a reputation for coming up with some of the best hoaxes on April Fool's Day. What started out as simply a joke, over the years, turned into a joke that pointed at a real product they offered. This creative way of marketing is something that every marketer can learn from and implement. Here are some ways Google marketed for Fools and how you can learn from them!

In The Beginning, There Was A Hoax

It all started in 2000 with the "MentalPlex Hoax", where users were invited to stare at an animated gif while projecting a mental image of what they wanted to see. Each time, the user was presented with a humorous error message, such as:

  • Error 144: That information was lost with the Martian Lander. Please try again.

OR

  • Error 006: Query is unclear. Try again after removing hat, glasses, and shoes.

And my personal favorite:

  • Error: Insufficient conviction. Please clap hands three times, while chanting "I believe" and try again.

After Google played with a few minds in 2000, they obviously got smarter and adapted to their audience, deciding to use their hoaxes to market products that they had released. 

Get A Gulp of Google

My all-time favorite hoax was in 2005, with the release of a fictitious drink called the Google Gulp. Users were invited to "quench their thirst for knowledge" and become better web surfers/researchers by drinking the Google Gulp because:

"Any piece of information's usefulness derives, to a depressing degree, from the cognitive ability of the user who's using it."

Essentially Google was saying,

"You're obviously too stupid to figure out our methods for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so we have created a line of 'smart drinks' to help you."

In the end, users found that they had to have the cap from a Google Gulp to get another drink, and this cap had to come from one of their friends who had already had one. If the user didn't have friends who had caps, then they just weren't "cool enough".

This hoax was believed to be a parody of Google's Gmail, which at the time was an invite-only email service. In the Google Gulp FAQ, someone questioned, "I mean, isn't this whole invite-only thing kind of bogus?". Google replied with, "Dude, it's like you've never even heard of viral marketing."

Don't Miss The Point

The Google Gulp, as well as the other hoaxes, weren't about fake products. They were about viral marketing of real products through humor and sarcasm, while capturing the audience's attention with something they understood and appreciated.

What can we learn from the Google hoaxes?
When marketing, we need to meet our audience where they are. The best way to reach your audience is to capture their attention.

Captivate them.

Stun them.

Humor them.

Give them a reason to seek more.

When you focus your efforts on what the audience wants and needs to hear, rather than only what you want to tell them, you step into a different realm of marketing. Is your marketing as effective as it could be?