Pulling off the perfect April Fools’ Day prank involves balancing entertainment with credibility. Far-fetched jokes are hilarious, but it’s the ones that make you wonder whether they’re true that get the best reactions. Many car brands and other companies have created April Fools’ stunts over the years, but Toyota’s 2008 prank may be the most credible one yet.
Toyota has claimed some legendary stories over the years, and this stunt joined those ranks.
Toyota’s ultimate April Fools’ joke is one for the history books
In 2008, Toyota capitalized on Oldsmobile fans’ wish for the General Motors brand to return following its demise four years earlier. The Japanese automaker spun a shocking yet plausible tale that it had purchased the naming rights to Oldsmobile after GM failed to renew its copyright. Toyota explained that a savvy U.S. Copyright Office employee had alerted auto executives to this information, so they wasted no time in swooping in, snatching it, and making plans to design Toyota’s own Oldsmobile-branded vehicle. Reputable automotive publications Car and Driver and Automobile Mag published farces reporting on the claim.
Although Toyota identified the story as an April Fools’ joke, the company did so subtly. Car and Driver buried the detail in a subheading that many readers missed. And Automobile Mag waited until the final sentence of its credible article to admit the story was, in fact, an April Fools’ prank.
Everyone believed Toyota until the last second
Most April Fools’ jokes are outlandish enough that no one falls for them for more than a few seconds. But Toyota put in a surprising amount of effort to have, well, everyone going until the very end. By planting articles in multiple well-known, well-respected publications, Toyota followed all the rules of choosing credible sources. Car and Driver and Automobile Mag are two of the automotive industry’s most reliable media outlets, and packing two detailed articles with dozens of supposed facts about Oldsmobile’s naming rights meant there was more information out there for readers who missed the well-hidden “April Fools” and ran a search to learn more.
Average readers weren’t the only ones who believed Oldsmobile’s future was in Toyota’s hands. Ron Chapman, a substitute host on ABC Radio, meant well when he told the world that Toyota’s acquisition of Oldsmobile’s naming rights was not an April Fools’ joke the day after the phony articles ran. But Jalopnik wasted no words in calling out Chapman’s blunder. The joke still resurfaces from time to time as an urban legend over a decade later, and there’s even a Quora question from just two years ago that asks the crowdsourced answer platform whether Toyota actually bought Oldsmobile’s naming rights.
Other car brands’ April Fools’ Day stunts
Toyota may have pulled off the most believable car-related April Fools’ prank in history. But it’s far from the only auto manufacturer to have delivered a well-planned stunt. Mini Cooper revealed the fake Mini Cooper T, purportedly fueled by various tea flavors. In 2014, Honda took model car building to a new level by creating a video showcasing a 180,000-piece DIY vehicle. And the same year, Nissan introduced a stretch limo version of its 370Z sports car.
A car maker’s sense of humor can go a long way toward helping build relationships with customers, and April Fools’ Day is the perfect opportunity for brands to show off their creativity. By pulling off a prank that was entertaining, relevant, and almost entirely believable, Toyota’s legendary stunt is still making the rounds over a decade later.