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From scary to lairy - how successful marketing has transformed Halloween into a mainstream celebration

21st October 2019

TV’s favourite all-American family celebrates Halloween the only way parents know how: by reluctantly taking their children trick-or-treating in sub-par temperatures (image from: madmen.fandom.com)

Ahhh, Halloween. When else in the year can you hack a round orange vegetable into something which vaguely resembles a face, or attach some cardboard, cat-shaped ears to your own head in a half-hearted effort to ‘take part’ at work?

Nowadays, October 31st is a night which is engrained into our culture, anticipated by some as much as Christmas. As confectionery sales boom and glowing pumpkins add warmth to suburban streets, it is hard to imagine that Halloween was once rarely celebrated in this way.

To celebrate, we're exploring how marketing has influenced its evolution, with a few ideas for ways in which your own company can join in.

Making the most of the spooky season

Halloween is the perfect time for the promotion and humanisation of your business, and a valuable opportunity to engage with your customers in a fun, current way.

Photographs of employees in costumes, one-off giveaways, the posting of relevant social-media jokes, memes and videos are just a few of the ways in which businesses can make the most of the annual spooky season.

Yet a full-blown Halloween marketing campaign can really make a mark and help your company stand apart from the competition. Here are a few examples:

a) UNICEF Canada: Halloween Heroes (2019)

“Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” is one of Canada’s longest-running youth fundraising campaigns, and it is celebrated on Halloween. It has raised over $100 million to date. The campaign was launched in the 1950s as a method of fundraising using UNICEF-branded orange Trick-or-Treat boxes. Nowadays, it has become a real tradition, and  with the aid of social media, has gone entirely digital. This year, to appeal to a younger audience, the campaign has now introduced four ‘Halloween Hero’ cartoon figures (representing water, food, education and security - the four basic needs which UNICEF believes all children should have access to). 

Not only has this campaign successfully reclaimed a commercial holiday as an initiative for a charitable cause, it is also demonstrates how Halloween can be used creatively as an opportunity to inspire the public to do good - it does not have to be celebrated as a sinister event.

b) Urban Decay: Hallow-Queen (2019)

Influencer marketing is one of the hottest trends in digital marketing at the moment, delivering up to 11 times higher ROI than other forms of marketing. This makes it a highly lucrative tool.

Following an immensely successful online campaign last year, the popular cosmetics brand Urban Decay has launched a highly effective influencer marketing campaign,  called Hallow-Queen, to promote its products online this Halloween. Showcasing several Halloween-inspired make-up looks across its social media channels, the brand has teamed up with many prominent social media influencers online, producing a series of videos demonstrating to their younger audience how to recreate the Urban Decay make-up looks at home (using Urban Decay products to great effect!). 

Glamorous, fashionable and youthful, this marketing campaign demonstrates a clear understanding of their target demographic’s appetite for social media. Influencers have helped to expand the brand’s reach exponentially. 

c) Kellogg: AR Trick-or-Treat (2017)

Teaming up with Shazam and the digital agency Orchard in 2017, breakfast cereal manufacturer Kellogg utilised Augmented Reality (AR) to reinvent the traditional Halloween ‘trick-or-treat’ experience. In this case, Shazam codes replaced traditional gifts in cereal boxes and were used to unlock Halloween-themed online features such as AR flying slime, and videos teaching users how to incorporate their cereal of choice into Halloween-themed recipes such as ‘Rice Bubble Bats’ and ‘Coco Pops Skeletons’. This campaign is a great example of how popular technologies can aid both the conception and delivery of creative ideas. 

From grave plots to party shots... How did the secular observation of a religious holiday turn into an opportunity for socialising and commercialisation?

It is believed that Halloween originated from ancient Celtic Harvest Festival celebrations, in particular the Gaelic festival Samhain, which was designed to celebrate the end of the Harvest season, bidding farewell to Summer and ushering in Winter.

Given the darker nights and colder temperatures, this became a time associated with darkness (the Celts themselves believed that those who had died would return as ghosts each year, on the night before Samhain. This became known as “All Hallows’ Eve”). To mark this event, commmunities put out food and other offerings for visiting spirits, and dressed up in elaborate costumes in the belief that this would act as a disguise, to protect them through the night.

How Halloween became celebrated as it is today is down to a complex mix of economic and social factors. However, mass immigration of the Irish into the United States in the 19th century meant that many Celtic traditions became naturally integrated into American society, including the introduction of trick-or-treating. The economic prosperity of mid-twentieth century America, combined with the take-off of commercial advertising meant that by the 1950s, Halloween had firmly established itself as a family-orientated holiday. Consumers were happy to spend their new disposable income on non-essential goods such as costumes, confectionary and decorations.

Since then, Halloween has become a popular date in the social calendar, with over 70% of adults claiming to celebrate it.

The magic of marketing

As is often the case in modern society, commercialisation has played a huge part in the transformation of Halloween.

While people are quick to criticise the commercialisation of Halloween, Halloween is now recognised as one of the world’s fastest-growing festivals, raising billions of pounds each year in retail, food and media sales. Businesses, shops and tourist destinations all stand to benefit from this increase in spend at an otherwise dull time of year. And with chocolates, pumpkins, parties and treats all around, Halloween is becoming much more palatable for the mainstream.

Through successful marketing, Halloween is swiftly shedding its traditional reputation as a night of fear and trickery. Children’s parties, neighbourly generosity and the coming together of communities are things which can really be celebrated.

From all the team at Glow... Happy Halloween!

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