Today is a day to tread lightly around the Internet, lest you get drawn in by some April Fools' Day prank. Whether you believe it or not, the masters of the craft can use April 1 silliness for business purposes.
That's what Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is doing today. If you go to the Google.com home page right now, you'll see a brightly bedecked Topeka logo smiling at you. Click on that, and Google explains that the company has changed its name to Topeka in honor of how the capital city of Kansas was semi-officially known as Google, Kan., in the month of March.
It's a quick reminder of Google's fiber broadband experiment, in case anyone forgot about it already. This little naming trick doesn't cost Google anything, but if it raises awareness of broadband shortage issues in at least one politician somewhere, Topeka has served Google well. The company also takes the opportunity to plug its beta-centric product development schedule as well as how Google is a great place to dig for information. There was something about rebuilt bridges and digging for potatoes in there to make it all Topeka-topical.
It doesn't end there, either. In what looks like a coordinated publicity stunt, tech news site TechCrunch primed its followers for "some kind of huge new alternative energy initiative" announcement from Google, and then sprung a clever April Fools' joke a day early. A nuclear energy buyout in some unspecified but unregulated country would give Google the power to make depleted uranium for next-generation energy needs -- and to build nuclear weapons to keep China honest. This prank highlighted both Google's recent Chinese troubles and its long-standing commitment to alternative energy, and I bet that Larry, Sergey, and Eric were in on the joke.
It's a crafty use of our silliest global holiday that would look right at home on our own Fool.com home page. You might expect more businesses to leverage this crazy, free marketing, but the usual suspects of outlandish behavior, like Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) , are playing it straight this year. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) made a half-hearted attempt to crack some jokes and bust myths about software piracy, but came out looking the wrong kind of foolish.
Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK ) shows signs of life with its "delicious photo cheese" gift idea and digital aromatography announcement, and I appreciate the 2-ounce and 1-gallon coffee mugs from Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) . Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) gets bonus points for plugging an actual product in its report of the mirasol display causing butterfly attacks, but Google is the untouchable master of corporate hijinks today.
Did I miss your favorite April Fools' marketing move? Fill in the blanks in the comments section below, please.