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April Fools!

Today’s the day: April 1st, where everyone from our coworkers to major corporations attempts to have a sense of humor and play pranks on unsuspecting peers and consumers. What was once the best holiday for elementary schoolers has turned into a corporate opportunity to generate some headlines and, occasionally, controversy.

April Fools’ is an easy holiday to be a part of, and companies have participated for decades. Brands love capitalizing on trends, whether it’s dance challenges, the meme of the moment, popular hashtags, or celebrating holidays(real and fake). However, more than a few brand attempts at humor or trickery have recently fallen flat or caused outright issues for consumers.

Brands from Google to Lego have used April Fools’ Day to generate buzz—from product announcements to major brand shifts. While some have found success with their pranks, others have found themselves in hot water. 

When It’s Bad, It’s Bad

Brands from Google to Lego have used April Fools day to generate a lot of buzz, from product announcements to brand shifts. While some brands have found success with their pranks, others have found themselves in hot water. 

Google – Mic Drop

Minion Mic Drop

On April 1st, 2016, Google debuted its newest feature in Gmail, the “mic drop.” The feature allowed users to send a “mic drop” to their emails, accompanied by a gif of a Minion tossing a microphone. While intended to be humorous, the “mic drop” button replaced Gmail’s “Send and Archive” button, leading to misclicks and inappropriately placed Minions. Some users claimed that they lost their job due to the prank, while others faced awkward conversations after sending serious emails accompanied by the gif. Google pulled the feature soon after launch, apologizing for the stunt.

Volkswagen – Voltswagen

Volkswagen hoped to bring some levity to 2021 after a rough previous year. For its April Fools’ prank, Volkswagen announced that they’d be rebranding as “Voltswagen of America” to put a spotlight on their electric and eco-conscious lineup.

There were a few issues with their prank: they announced it before April Fools Day, leading to many thinking that this was a serious move by the brand. They went as far as changing social media handles, leading to major news outlets reporting the prank as a legitimate rebrand.

Volkswagen was still recovering from a mid-2010s emissions scandal when it was discovered that Volkswagen had intentionally programmed its engines to activate their emissions control only when testing, not when in use. This led to their vehicles emitting up to 40 times more air pollution than allowed by US standards.

The ill-thought-through Voltswagen prank hit Volkswagen’s reputation, led to widespread confusion, and rehashed a significant scandal that the public was just beginning to forget about.

The Franklin Institute – Apocalypse

The Franklin Institute, a Philadelphia-based science museum, used April Fools’ to promote their newest planetarium show on cosmic apocalypses with a press release that declared the world was ending, closing out the statement with the sentence, “This is no April Fools’ joke.” This took place in 1940 when the general public didn’t have access to the internet, where this prank could have been quickly debunked.

As expected, this led to widespread hysteria, with emergency lines overwhelmed by calls from panicked readers of the press release. Given the Franklin Institute’s trusted reputation and the explicit statement that it wasn’t a prank, the public took it seriously. The spokesperson behind the press release was fired as a result.

And Sometimes, It Works

While there have been countless failures by corporate America’s April Fools’ jokes, some have been successes. ThinkGeek, a popular website that caters to geek culture, has ended up creating and selling some of the prank products from its April Fools’ promotions, such as a wearable tentacle blanket and a Tauntaun sleeping bag. The once wildly popular mobile game, Pokemon Go, was inspired by an April Fools’ prank from Google, where they allowed users to find Pokemon on Google Maps. The developers behind Pokemon Go, Niantic, were inspired by the stunt and began development on Pokemon Go.

Is it Worth it?

Most of the time, these types of April Fools’ pranks tend to exhaust consumers and spark ire. There are exceptions where brands get it right and create a fun experience that’s remembered for years. But odds are, April Fools’ pranks from brands aren’t going to get the laughs they did in the brainstorming session and can lead to issues with credibility and public opinion. It can also come off as disingenuous advertising for some companies, which can annoy consumers rather than delight them.

With many brands continuously failing to meet expectations or even elicit a chuckle, take some time to consider whether it’s worth it to join in on the so-called fun. CollegeHumor perhaps said it best when they parodied the recent sentiment behind corporate April Fools’ pranks:

As you browse the aisles of your favorite store, you may notice it becoming more difficult to find your go-to brands. It’s probably not because those products were pulled from the shelves, not because they’ve sold out, and not due to ever-present supply chain issues. Most likely, it’s because your favorite brand is sporting a new look, and it’s practically indistinguishable from everything else on the shelves.

Going through a rebrand is by no means a new concept. Brands are constantly evolving and changing, from production processes, marketing and communications, and how they appear to the public. However, over the past few years, we’ve noticed widespread reimagining of brands and product packaging that feels stark compared to the minor tweaks and changes we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the past. 

Welcome to the new world of blanding: where new and legacy companies converge towards the same aesthetic trends. Often, blanding involves a generic color palette, abstract lines, edgeless shapes, and sans serif fonts. While the goal is undoubtedly to make the brand and products more appealing, they tend to have the effect of being hard to distinguish. 

Blanding Branding Examples

Who is Changing?

As new brands try to find their footing in the world and a place in our homes, they turn to branding that tests well and is aesthetically low-friction. That’s not a bad thing. However, it appears as if many of these burgeoning brands are looking at the same datasets, with many companies adopting similar styles, logos, colors, and fonts.  

Large legacy brands are not exempt from blanding, as many recent redesigns have turned to a toned-down, simplistic version of their former identity. Google’s newest brand identity has slimmed down from full graphics to lines with a basic color palette:

Google Workspace Icons Updates

While this new update is visually pleasing and demonstrates a clear brand identity, many users have complained that the icons are too similar and lead to issues finding the right websites and applications. This also follows a long series of branding revamps and tweaks over the years, leaving users struggling to find their everyday apps and websites. These bland rebrands are also problematic for those with impaired vision, with a lack of contrasting colors and decreased differentiation between each icon and brand. Reducing accessibility creates further barriers for those with visual impairments and alienates these individuals from the brand as a whole.

Blanding has even reached some of the world’s most iconic and high-end fashion houses. Several of these brands have updated their logos over the recent years, shunning their unique and askew fonts and replacing them with generic and aligned sans serif fonts.Fashion Brand Rebrands

Why Is This Happening?

Blanding is becoming the norm as companies seek to secure a place in the minds of consumers with what they hope is an easy-to-remember identity. With the emergence of DTC brands that compete aggressively with legacy mainstays, some of our favorite brands from the last couple of decades are becoming replaced or ignored. The rise of social media and digital mood boards, like Pinterest, has led many people to curate perfectly coordinated homes. Fearing that their products will be deemed not aesthetically pleasing enough to make the cut, many brands, new and old, are trying to secure or maintain a place by fitting into popular aesthetics and trends. 

While it’s nice to have a range of aesthetically pleasing items to choose from, some of our favorite brands have chosen to kill their personality in exchange for a new, more generic look. While modernizing isn’t necessarily bad, and there are plenty of examples of successful rebrands, sadly, many of our favorite companies have replaced modernizing with genericizing. Just take a look at the following logos:

Similar Logo ExampleThese logos represent very different brands with very different purposes and missions. A glance at this graphic could easily lead consumers to believe that these are all the same logo or related to one another. Granted, there are only so many colors and fonts and designs in the world, and there will always be accidental coincidences. However, this graphic shows the stark lack of differentiation between brand design and identity.

When a Modern Rebranding Goes Bad

While there are certainly many examples of successful rebrands, and some blanding is defined in the eye of the individual, some companies have faced losses as a result. Tropicana rebranded in 2009, choosing a sans-serif typeface on a white background and replacing the recognizable orange with a straw with a glass of orange juice, split between the front and side of their packaging.

Tropicana Rebranding Packaging

While the new packaging and branding were visually clean and straightforward, the rebrand was quickly deemed a failure, and Tropicana promptly reverted to its former branding within months. Why did it fail? People didn’t recognize Tropicana’s new packaging and skipped it for other, more familiar brands. As a result of this rebrand, Tropicana lost over $30 million in sales in just a few short months. This rebrand is widely cited as the definitive case study of what not to do when updating your brand.

What Now?

This isn’t to say that all brands should keep the same identity for decades and never modernize. It’s also difficult to quantify whether a rebrand is a success or failure, with a good amount of aesthetic critique being very subjective. But there is something sad about the rampant blanding we’ve seen over the past decade, and we hope that companies can take cues from some brands that have methodically evolved their image over the years.

Take Starbucks:

Starbucks Logos Over Time

The starkest rebrand occurred in 1987, where the brand shed the brown color, adopted a circle logo, and simplified the logo’s text. Starbucks has updated its logo several times over the past few decades, modernizing aspects of its graphic design and brand identity. However, they’ve maintained the primary images and colors, ensuring that Starbucks remains identifiable from a distance. Starbucks embraced the modern popularity of circular logos and minimalist design without abandoning its essential brand identity.

Brands also need to recognize the power of nostalgia and that newer doesn’t necessarily mean better. Nostalgia is a major driving force for modern trends, such as the resurgence of Y2K fashion among Gen-Z. Many of today’s consumers seek to return to simpler times and relive fond memories from their youth. Pizza Hut has capitalized on this with their latest branding:

Pizza-Hut-Logo-History

While Pizza Hut has evolved its look over the years, the iconic red roof and two-line logo have remained the same since 1974. Their most recent rebrand in 2019 harkened back to the first iteration of this logo direction. This retro look has reminded people of all ages of nights spent at the pizzeria chain, children redeeming a free personal pan pizza from the Book-It program, and fond memories from days past. This rebrand, or rather, brand reversion, has been very successful and maintained the brand’s iconic identity.

A company’s brand has a massive impact on its success. While some rebrands have been very successful and reinvigorated consumer interest, others have led to confusion and boredom. When updating your branding, be sure to prioritize maintaining your brand’s core identity. Trends come and go at a breakneck pace, and brands that attempt to keep up will risk losing their customer base’s interest.

How Can YMC Help?

Does your brand need a new look? Need to stand out from the crowd? A new marketing approach? At YMC, we specialize in building and connecting brands with Gen-Z and Millennial consumers, and we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge and skills with you. Contact us today!

Pot. Weed. Bud. All those bogus slang terms that the D.A.R.E program taught. Marijuana. 

With the rise of the legal cannabis industry, companies are dipping their toes in bringing the plant to the general public. Despite the growing acceptance of cannabis and the increasing number of states where the plant is legal recreationally and medically, it remains illegal on a federal level. This means that advertising and marketing marijuana products is complicated and impossible in some cases. However, brands are finding creative and effective ways to get around these restrictions and get the word out about their products.

Letter of the Law

Cannabis remains illegal on the federal level. Even in states with legal medical or recreational marijuana, federal law supersedes state and local laws, meaning that the government has the final say. Even as the federal government has largely shifted its focus away from cannabis, the laws are still in place, and defying them can come with dire consequencesranging from fines to criminal penalties.

Google and Facebook ban the advertisement of cannabis and related paraphernalia on the platform, which takes over half of the digital advertising market off the table for cannabis businesses.

Getting Creative

This doesn’t mean that cannabis can’t find a place on these platforms in the form of organic content. However, organic content can get flagged by the platform, resulting in removal or a ban altogether. Organic content cannot be geo-targeted to only legal states, meaning that marketers need to get creative with their language and shy away from direct promotion. Additionally, SEO has enabled cannabis brands to market themselves via search results without putting money behind promotion.

Programmatic advertising is an increasingly appealing option, with the ability to geofence advertising promotions to legal states and those over 21. These ads appear as banners on websites, on television services like Roku, and in mobile games. While it is platform-dependent on allowing these advertisements, many marijuana brands are finding success with this approach.

Guerilla advertising has been wildly successful in both legal and illegal states. Some well-placed stickers have led to brands achieving viral success. Recently, Bubby’s Baked made the world’s largest edible, an 850-pound brownie with over 20,000 milligrams of THC, leading to substantial earned media in major publications worldwide.

Foxy and Eaze broke into Tribeca X, the branded content showcase of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, with The Pope of Dope. The Pope of Dope, a cannabis activist biopic, premiered at the Tribeca X Film Festival. Backed by Foxy and Eaze, this is the first marijuana brand-backed project ever to make it into the Tribeca Film Festival, leading to a big surge of popularity in the brand without explicit advertising.

Success from Brands

Houseplant, Seth Rogen’s cannabis brand, has had wild success, with product launches including cannabis, lighters, and ashtrays. Houseplant is one of the first cannabis brands to get national mainstream attention. Seth Rogen’s celebrity status and weed-loving persona do a lot of the heavy lifting of their promotions, but another part of the success around Houseplant is that the brand is divided into House (which sells home goods and cannabis paraphernalia) and Plant (which sells marijuana). Advertising lighters and vases are far from illegal, meaning that the brand benefits from paid advertising from the legal aspects of the business and can avoid ever mentioning the plant aspect, as it is implied.

Often, celebrity-backed cannabis brands succeed due to their existing audience and their association with marijuana in general. Some famous stoners, like Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong, have created and promoted successful weed businesses through their existing network and innate associations with the plant. Even celebrities that have not typically been associated with marijuana have been able to launch successful weed brands, like Jaleel White (“Did I do that?”) and Melissa Etheridge.

In recent years, influencers have also significantly impacted cannabis brand popularity from paraphernalia to the actual strains. Formal influencer programs tend to get shut down in these spaces. However, influencers who promote these products and brands based on their personal connections are legally clear, leading to some brands exploding and achieving cult status. Blazy Susan has become a status symbol for marijuana users, with their signature pink rolling papers and rolling trays. The brand’s popularity has been attributed to super fans with big audiences on social media, like comedian Ashley Ray and other verified Twitter and Instagram profiles.

What’s Next?

The changing legal landscape around marijuana will have massive impacts on the industry beyond advertising. As more states legalize recreational marijuana, it is expected that the advertising restrictions will be loosened, and it is likely that we will start seeing paid advertising for weed. However, the industry has had success in marketing without ad spends and will likely continue to expand on these tacticsutilizing celebrities, influencers, and guerilla promotion.

How Can YMC help?

If your brand is interested in engaging with some non-traditional marketing, we’re here to help.

At YMC, we specialize in connecting brands with Gen-Z and Millennial consumers, and we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Contact us today!