Halloween: should PR care about the scare?

Whether young or old, Halloween has become ubiquitous among UK consumers, largely thanks to our American counterparts bringing all manner of traditions our way via myriad media forms. What does it offer PR?

(Getty Images/Jan Kruger/Stringer)

It’s no surprise that the UK has followed the US: there’s a projected spend of £500m across ‘spooky szn’ this side of the pond, which still pales compared to the whopping $8bn in the US. Either way, there’s no doubt brands are looking to capitalise.

But is it worth it? In a cost-of-living crisis, when sustainability is more top-of-mind than ever before, plus a dwindling interest from not only consumers but from brands themselves, is it worth the investment of a brand to completely rethink their entire marketing ecosystem to feature a pumpkin, a ghost or a vampire?

Although there is clearly a financial gain to be made from Halloween – currently the third-biggest retail spending event after Christmas and Easter – there is a mounting dissatisfaction from multiple sectors. There is a drop in consumers taking part in any related activities – with two key points being that 86 per cent of people will not be taking children trick-or-treating, and 68 per cent of people will not be giving treats to children trick-or-treating. And from a brand perspective, there is a lack of investment in themed products or items; only a quarter of retailers are giving the event extra focus in 2022, down from 44 per cent in 2021. So the future of Halloween in the UK is looking a little… grave.

There is, however, an argument to be made for select brands being involved in Halloween itself – and it’s a group of brands that speak specifically to three personas:

The Trick-Or-Treat Elite

First, families. This demographic will likely have small children – and pets – who will want to wear costumes and take on the role of a little haunted sweet-hunter, going from door to door for any chocolate or goodies they can get their hands on. The novelty factor of this event is hugely popular for both parent and child, and so they are ripe for the marketing.

The Ghoulish Grads

Another key demographic is that of 18- to 24-year-olds – likely students or young professionals, this group are most likely to host parties while at university or with other people of their age. Bobbing for apples and eating ‘zombie fingers’ or ‘witch’s eyes’ which they’ve created themselves to add to the fun of the occasion, having donned various ‘blood-spattered’ outfits to get into the spirit.

The Hardcore Halloweeners

And finally: the outliers. The niche but very engaged audience, who you’re likely to see watching one horror film for each day of October, in the lead-up to the ‘big day’. They see Halloween as bigger than Christmas, but will be engaged for a longer period of time. They will also have an interest in dressing up on 31 October itself and will be vocal about this across social media.

With general interest waning from a brand perspective, and with a broader future view that any perceived financial uplift from 2020 and 2021 will reduce, brands that can directly correlate with these three personas will be able to reap the reward. Part of the benefit of the first two personas is that within these, you have a rolling audience that will be constantly invested – as couples become parents and want to showcase the magic of Halloween to their children, alongside teenagers becoming students or young professionals.

But for generalist brands? The spook is not worth the spend.

Tom Bradley is associate director at Shiny

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