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How the Marketers Hijacked Halloween

How the Marketers Hijacked Halloween

October 24, 2013

If you grew up in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, you might think that Halloween is about superhero costumes and candy. 


Think again. Today, Halloween is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s not because of the kids; it’s because of shrewd marketers who saw the possibilities for selling the fright fest to adults.


The big question now isn’t Trick or Treat?  It’s how can you harness the remarkable marketing lessons learned from the repackaging of Halloween?

Behind the Mask

The adultification of Halloween has grown because marketers saw a void between summer sales and the end-of-year buying blitz.  

But it’s more than that. Times were simpler when the Baby Boomers were growing up. The grown-ups worked and took care of the home while the kids had all the fun. Today’s complex, high-tech, fast-paced world brings with it increased tension. With that comes a greater need for adults to release their stress. In other words, today’s adults want to have fun, too.

That’s where dressing up comes in, at least for adults. Donning a mask allows grown-ups to release stress, fantasize, and be mysterious or frightening.

On a recent trip to New Orleans, I spoke with local entrepreneurs about Mardi Gras. They told me that once upon a time, the rule was that you had to wear a mask just to participate in the Mardi Gras experience.

And that’s what Halloween marketing is all about: providing an experience. Why do I put up with getting nauseous riding roller coasters? Because my kids love the experience.  Why do people, young and old, love to watch horror movies?  For the experience of being spooked.

Providing an Experience

Halloween marketing is built around providing some type of experience. In San Diego, for example, more than two dozen bars and restaurants will team with sponsors to bring their annual version of Mardi Gras to the city’s famous Gaslamp Quarter. They host a massive annual Halloween with music and partying for thousands of adults, including prizes for best costumes.  Now that’s a major experience.

On a smaller scale, restaurants and stores nationwide decorate and/or offer their own Halloween experiences.  The annual Dressed to Kill fundraiser sponsored by Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants asks customers to show up in costume and they can get a burrito, bowl, salad, or order of tacos for only $3 on Halloween from 4 p.m. to closing.  


Of course, the idea of treating your customers to an experience is hardly limited to Halloween.  The Pinnacle Peak restaurants in California say “No Ties Allowed” year round, and they mean it.  If you walk in with a necktie, the staff will actually cut your tie in half and post it up on the wall (honest).  And if you want the Harley Davidson experience, the motorcycle company has provided leather jackets and offered  those who wanted to experience the feel of the open road an opportunity to sit on a Harley with the wind in their faces (thanks to a conveniently placed fan) while rocking to Steppenwolf’s classic Born to Be Wild.


Tapping into the Fright

Here are five ways in which marketers have built the Halloween experience. 


1. Halloween characters:  A menswear store had Dracula working overtime, talking in his recognizably eerie voice on automated telemarketing calls to alert customers about seasonal sales events.

2. Halloween-themed products: Promotional products that can be branded with company names range from custom trick-or-treat bags to Hot Dots (glow-in-the-dark stickers).  

3. Halloween packaging:  Orange-and-black wrapping paper, boxes, and bags or those with ghosts, goblins, and witches.

4. Hosting Halloween-themed contests:  Best costume contests, pumpkin carving contests, or even pumpkin pie eating contests, can all draw attention to a business.

5. Halloween Dress-up: This is common in many restaurants, where the servers appear in costume, and sometimes even in retail or office environments, you'll find adults in costume.

While you contemplate how you can harness these marketing strategies for any occasion, we’re having our own experience - a contest of our own.

The first five correct answers will win a pair of giant two-foot ears.


These will certainly help you listen to your customers and your team. And if you give them to your kids, they’ll have no excuse to say, sorry dad, or mom, I didn’t hear you.


Question # 1:  How big an industry is Halloween today?

  • $4 billion dollars
  • $6 billion dollars
  • $8 billion dollars

Question # 2  What percentage of Halloween costumes are now sold to adults?

  • 50%
  • 70%
  • 90%

 E-mail your answers to jongoldman@brandlauncher.com

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