Opinion

How corporate America ruined April Fool's Day

The barrage of viral-friendly ads has taken the spontaneity out of the day

This morning, I woke up to some strange emails. FreshDirect, my grocery delivery service, thinks I might be interested in its cheese cleanse. Hulu now has programming for pets. And the dating app Hinge is introducing a service for toddlers.

Of course, none of this is true. It's just another way companies have hijacked a holiday to make it about money.

Look, I don't want to compare the commercialization of April Fool's with that of any real holidays, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. But the barrage of marketing (and subsequent coverage of that marketing) has made the day less about good-humored pranks and more about a slog of advertisements on an ever-growing number of platforms. After I checked my email, I scrolled through my Instagram feed, to be greeted by Sephora's creepy new "make-up hack" and Target's new "fanny basket." Is it April 2 yet?

And speaking of the ill effects of commercialization, here's another holiday-related complaint that is usually associated with Christmas: season creep. In the way that Christmas starts around, oh, Nov. 1 these days, April Fool's is no longer relegated to just one day. My alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, puts out its annual joke issue a week early to ensure the element of surprise. This year it announced that Emma Watson would be getting her Master's at the school. A few fellow alums breathlessly posted the news, before the rest of us wisely cross-checked the announcement with Google and quashed their excitement. (Not quickly enough, however: Vanity Fair was taken in briefly.)

Now that everyone and their phone carrier has to get in on the fun, are we going to have to spend all of late March bracing ourselves for early pranks?

I do have to admit, however, that the barrage of internet-friendly bids at virality do have one perk: I am so primed by the flood of emails, posts, and videos that I am way too savvy for actual jokes (nice try, friend who tried to convince me she's engaged!).

The fun of April Fool's Day used to come from tricking people who have forgotten, however momentarily, what day it is. But these days, who can forget? With the torrent of brands getting in on the fun, is it even possible? Is there someone out there who only gets email marketing from Uber? How many more companies can use a quick Photoshop job to claim their services are now for cats? Is anyone actually getting fooled by any of this?

Of course not. That's not even the point anymore. The point is to get on a list of best pranks that we'll read and share. Advertising that begets free advertising. Even if we don't fall for it, the joke's still on us.

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Marshall Bright
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