The Marketing of Halloween – Shock, Horror, Ker-ching!

Halloween Jack 'o LanternWith Halloween upon us, we’ve been researching the market and discovered it is not as shocking as it might first seem. While the tradition of Halloween originated on this side of the pond, it has been commercialised in the United States and grown to become the third highest revenue producing US event. Representing around £4 billion pounds a year, this equates to mean household spend of £34 (1). In 2011, the UK Halloween market was worth a modest £310m, with average UK household spend at just one-third of our US cousins. Yet since 2005 the UK market has grown at twice the rate of the US (1). So what lessons can be learned?

USA vs. UK Halloween market 2005 to 2011USA vs. UK Halloween Household Spend 2005 to 2011

Understanding the cultural context and origin of Halloween, different consumers, their needs, drivers and attitudes to Halloween, and the range and nature of Halloween offers and promotions around the world reveals new marketing opportunities.

Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows Even, the night before All Hallows Day (All Saints Day). It started out as the Celtic celebration of Samhain when the Celts believed that the border between this world and the ‘other world’ became thin and allowed spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. All Saints Day was founded by Pope Gregory III (690-784) to remember saints and those that have died. It is recognised globally as a time to honour ancestors and departed souls. Wearing costumes and masks originated as a custom to copy or placate evil spirits. Begging for food dates from the Middle Ages when the poor would go door-to-door, seeking food in return for prayers for the dead – so called ‘souling’.

Awareness and interest in Halloween is being driven by popular culture, such as Hollywood movies, The Hollow and Halloween, and cultural crossovers such as Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight – driving interest in the ‘undead’ amongst teen girls and middle-aged mums.

Halloween at Wal-Mart in the USACompanies are making Halloween more appealing and accessible to customers, so they embrace it as their own. US corporations including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Disney and Wal-Mart have built Halloween into an event to fill the relatively ‘dead’ period between the Summer and Christmas. In the UK, Asda Wal-Mart has developed the Halloween market and remains market leader with around a 50% market share. Asda’s Halloween event runs for 6 weeks from late September and much of their merchandise is ‘own-brand’.

So how can you grab a slice of the growing pumpkin pie?

Understand traditional needs and reveal new needs to inspire ideas

Consumers include both adults and children. Both require a rich
Halloween emotional experience. Beyond the traditional activities like carving
pumpkins or turnips, and apple bobbing, needs include a ‘scary’ experience, to
‘trick or treat’ friends and neighbours, socialise, look cool, be a good host,
and of course, be entertained. Adults seek gifts to satisfy trick or treaters,
items for children’s and their own parties, and a day or night out. Children
want to spend their pocket money and have fun.

By uncovering, defining and delineating needs, new product opportunities are revealed. From confectionery, food and drink to skeletons to entertainment, games, dressing-up gear and make-up – to go with the pumpkins, turnips, and party fare.

Understanding and building on the rituals, such as pumpkin and turnip carving reveals requirements for design inspiration, cutters, carving kits, tea lights and other decorative or special effects.

Trick o’treating, prompts needs for mixed bags of sweets. An area increasingly served, for example, by Swizzels Scary Mix, Cadbury Screme Eggs, Haribo and more. Thinking about multiple needs, such as accentuating the emotional experience, by stimulating or depriving the senses, helps make more connections and inspire even more product ideas. For example, relying on touch alone (as in the party game) adds intrigue, shock or surprise to the sweet selection process. Using sound, light, colour or special effects adds decorative drama to a room or walk up a garden path.

Emotional and self-image needs such as socialising and looking cool are increasingly important. This is evidenced in, and suggests demand for products for sharing/making together, having a laugh, surprising and bonding and more dramatic make-over solutions. Thinking about the broad range of markets where needs could be fulfilled, such as food and drink, games, entertainment, mobile telephony suggests more opportunities.

Excite and engage by combining ‘fun’ with terror

The adrenaline rush in being scared provides enjoyment in itself. Like riding a roller-coaster. Most retail displays incorporate colours and symbols associated with the harvest (orange, pumpkins) or death (black, skeletons, bats). Adding more vibrant colours tones down the scary nature of the offer while providing a cultural signpost inviting people to explore and not shy away from the Halloween aisle. For example, greens, yellows and purples are colours associated with living things, and cuddly ‘full-of-life’ characters. In Asda this year, the theme, is ‘Party time’ and ‘trick or treating’. While bats and skeletons abound, the aim is to engage and encourage partying rather than frighten away.

Looking at mainland Europe, parts of Asia and Latin America provide further insights and ideas to develop the market. Auchan in France has taken the ‘fun’ a step further by hosting live entertainment – both to attract traffic as well as enhance the brand.

Marketing Inspiration

Understanding the market, cultural and psychological variables through a combination of observation and secondary research, and a few simple thinking tools can help marketers better understand what consumers want to do, think and feel. And thus clarify existing and reveal new needs and opportunities.

Understanding and building on the colours, symbols, artefacts and rituals associated with Halloween adds to the rich palette of insights to engage in-store and inspire new product and experiential ideas.

When purchasing is linked to deep cultural and emotional needs, this will have the most profound effect on demand, and enable more inelastic pricing. A little fun helps insulate from the current recessionary pressures.

The insight and thinking tools applied to understand Halloween can be applied to understand any market, occasion or consumer experience. Embrace them and you may even shock yourself.


(1) The Marketing Directors’ research and analysis based on trade sources. Get in touch to find out how our secondary research services can help you.

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