Three things that got me thinking: April Fools’ Day as marketing tool, the Palin & Lauer show, and reflecting on roots

Foolin’ Around

When did April Fools’ Day become a marketing opportunity? While pranksters are concocting gags likes shaving cream-filled Oreos for their colleagues or posting that they got engaged on Facebook (two examples from friends of mine who shall remain nameless), marketing mavens are using this hallowed holiday as a way to get their names, products, or causes in the news.

Is nothing sacred?

Google has raised April Fools’ Day shenanigans to an art form. As this Huffington Post item recalls, the company has been taking April Fools’ Day seriously for years. According to Wikipedia the first Google hoax was the MentalPlex in 2000. The gag “invited users to project a mental image of what they wanted to find whilst staring at an animated gif,” (an annoying pinwheel). Chuckle (or groan) inducing error messages ensued.

This year Google gave us the self-driving car and the 8-bit Google maps tool, among other gags. My favorite comes from Google-owned YouTube: the YouTube collection, a giant box of DVDs delivered to your home.

Is there a way to use April Fools’ Day for (mostly) altruistic purposes? In a ploy that I really had to admire, the City of Philadelphia used the day of mischief to draw attention to the modern plague of texting while walking. The NPR item on the “world’s first designated lane for distracted pedestrians” played the story straight until a couple of minutes in, and I actually fell for it! Well played, NPR and Philly. Well played.

Palin & Lauer

I didn’t watch the entire Sarah Palin guest stint on the Today Show this week. I tend to use the NBC morning mega-show as my default; I know I’ll get the big stories in the first 20 minutes, but after that it’s anyone’s guess what could crop up, so I switch over to CNN’s Starting Point and go back and forth.

Anyway, I did catch the great dressing room moment. Lauer seemed truly miffed at seeing Palin there! Later I saw Lauer’s remark about Palin now being part of the “lame stream media” replayed elsewhere.

Is it just me, or did the whole adventure seem like a passive aggressive slugfest between Palin or Lauer?

Finding your roots, and mine

I caught the Cory Booker and John Lewis episode of this great new show from PBS and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It’s a genealogy program that–in my view–trumps NBC’s Who Do You Think You Arein several ways:

  1. No commercials. Naturally, because it’s on PBS. But the lack of interruption allows the viewer to immerse in emotion of the stories without being jarred by ads.
  2. Historical context. The NBC show does provide some history, but I found the PBS treatment of context and backstory deeper.
  3. DNA. When appropriate and necessary to find more information, the show employs genetic testing to help complete the genealogy picture. In the case of Booker, DNA solved a family mystery and brought the Newark mayor into contact with family members he never knew he had.
  4. The book. Gates and his team compile their findings in meticulous albums that provide tangible evidence of family trees. These albums include copies of letters, census records, and photographs: poignant proofs of life.
  5. Sharing your story. The show invites non-celebrities to send in their own family histories.

Watching the show prompted me to do something I’ve toyed with for a while: test my DNA. I used 23andme, the service that tested Booker’s DNA. I have a pretty good grasp on who most of my relatives are, so I am not really looking to find family members. Instead, I am most curious abut the global origins of my ancestors.

As a person of mixed race, I am excited to find out such things as where in Africa my roots lie and whether–having roots in Belize–my ancestry includes Maya forebears. I know my father stock is mostly Bohemian (my grandmother’s side) and English (my grandfather’s side), but there could be some surprises there. My mother’s lineage also includes Europeans, possibly Scots. We’ll see!

Don’t get me wrong about Who Do You Think You Are on NBC, by the way. It’s pretty good. I really enjoyed the recent Helen Hunt episode, in which she learned her forebears included a woman who played a key role in gaining voting rights for women. Also fantastic was the Vanessa Williams show from 2011, in which she discovered how her ancestors played key roles during and after the Civil War.

BONUS: A few items for your consideration on the global front

What got you thinking? 

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