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The tricks and treats of Halloween marketing

Spooky season is fast approaching which means: Trick or treat?

Its commercialisation is largely Americanised, yet Halloween’s spooky beginnings lie with the Celtic festival of Samhain. It’s a mark of seasonal change; signifying the end of summer and the beginning of winter.

And in 9th Century Ireland, this would’ve been a pretty big deal for the economy and welfare of the people, stamping a midpoint between life (summer) and death (winter).

On the evening of October 31st, Celtic tradition believed that all dead souls would return to their houses. This sparked traditions we still follow today: Villagers dressed up as ghosts and ghouls to ward off evil, while scary faces were carved into vegetables to scare away ghosts.

Jumping on the commercial bandwagon

Fast forwarding to today, it’s safe to say this has become a commercialised festivity rather than a necessity. Plus, the cost of living itself is enough to make the monsters under the bed flee in terror.

Nevertheless, Halloween’s folkloric origins have materialised into a commercial giant that has stapled itself into the culture of autumnal Britain.

For the best part of a century, Halloween has been a great excuse for businesses to promote seasonal marketing campaigns. Seasonal marketing teaches us a lot about our audience, and how to execute new campaigns.

Let’s look at the thrillers and chillers of Halloween marketing campaigns and unearth some key takeaways in festive marketing, that will either harvest growth or send customers running and screaming.

Treat: Marmite's 'Trick or Treat?' campaign

Since day 1, Marmite has been aware of its audience. The world is split in two. Marmite successfully markets to loyal customers who love Marmite, and the other half who literally hate their product.

And although they're not going to make any sales from the latter, this drastic difference between ‘love and hate’ generates powerful brand awareness. It increases sales and more importantly – gets everyone talking about their brand.

Marmite has literally grown in popularity because people don’t like their product. This creates a very unique selling point.

Taking advantage of this USP all year round, Marmite capitalised on ‘love it or hate it’ by selling ‘trick or treat’ jars of Marmite. The campaign was, of course, a success.

The takeaway? Take advantage of what makes you stick out, and market it. If it gets people talking about your brand out of curiosity – it’s a big win 

Treat: Tesco's 'Spookermarket'

In 2018, Tesco did a little bit more than offer a few Clubcard deals on sweets. Tesco went to town on their Halloween marketing.

They converted a store into a live-action spooky walkthrough, in which shoppers were scared in the aisles by live actors. Terrifying, thrilling and effective.

This great effort to impress their customers with an immersive Halloween event could’ve been some attempt at a major reputation comeback after the 2012 horse meat scandal. If it was, then it worked. The live marketing event was terrifying, thrilling, and effective.

In fact, 80% of internet conversation revolving around Tesco during this time was incredibly positive. A huge success for the supermarket giant.

The takeaway? Big marketing efforts = big rewards. Going all out will really help your customers remember your brand. Don’t be afraid to make a statement.

Trick: Subway's 'Fresh Fit' ad

Not such a good show for Subway when they released an insensitive advert which attempted to market a lower-calorie menu.

Subway insensitively jumped on the ‘weight loss’ pain point, with the ad showing a woman able to fit into tighter Halloween costumes as she’d opted for Subway’s healthy choices. Ouch.

Not only was the ad sexist, but it shamed pre-existing customers who weren’t opting for Subway’s ‘Fresh Fit’ choices.

The takeaway? Keep in mind that content represents your business. Put inclusivity at the heart of your marketing efforts, and keep all your marketing friendly, no matter how 'fitting' the marketing campaign seems. This opens opportunities to release positive messages and improve reputation.

Trick: Insensitive products

Halloween is a time for fun and games – but it’s important to keep marketing within the boundaries of sensitivity.

Asda crossed this boundary when they released a ‘mental patient outfit.’ The product entailed a bloodied straight jacket alongside a fake meat cleaver, which perhaps went a bit too far considering the mental health epidemic.

Amazon also made a gravely offensive mistake when they had on sale a zombie Jimmy Saville costume.

The takeaway? Keep it non-offensive. Stay away from sensitive issues, and if you have the slightest doubt that your marketing campaign or product might offend, then it’s probably not worth your reputation.

Treat: Mars/Rubicon's 'Trick or Trash' campaign

Just like every confectionary giant, Mars’s sales rocket every Halloween. But of course, this comes at an environmental cost. Triple the sales, triple the plastic waste.

While Mars will capitalise on Halloween, it also means an influx in landfill contribution. Working together, Mars and Rubicon have been using their Halloween campaigns to raise awareness about the environmental effects of plastic waste and mitigate their environmental effects with the creation of recyclable bags and ‘Trash or Treasure’ boxes.

This encouraged consumers to recycle their wrappers into recycling boxes to reduce landfill contributions. A yearly success, they released reward-based incentives; created social media hashtags; and even encouraged schools to get involved.

The takeaway? Acknowledge the environmental effects of your business operation, and mitigate it. Tying this into your marketing can do wonders for brand reputation and awareness.

Get creative

Ultimately, festive marketing is all about being creative. In terms of Halloween - it means something different to all of us. That means you can weave Halloween into just about anything.

Whether your industry is part of Halloween festivities or not, you can create content, or promote Halloween-themed awareness simply because it’s a notable time of year. You can weave the festivities into your own brand, and market your brand’s take on Halloween, which will match your audience’s take on Halloween.

Marketing to families with children? Halloween is all about sweets, trick-or-treating, fun dress-up costumes, and pumpkin carving.

Marketing to 18–25-year-old Uni students? Halloween is all about the parties.

Marketing to another business? Halloween is a time signature that Christmas is coming. Staff may be taking annual leave in the coming months, and the season is getting busier.

Dish out incentives, limited edition offers, or create content about Halloween that is in some way related to your business. We’re doing it right now, with this very blog (which is of course a treat...)

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