Seasonal marketing seems to get more competitive every year. It’s not only Christmas campaigns that are attracting big investment though; Halloween campaigns are now a key marketing event on the calendar with brands rolling out increasingly ambitious campaigns.
Here we look at the best campaigns from 2019, as well as some favourites from the previous few years.
#1: GiffGaff pulls it back after last year’s nightmare
Last year, GiffGaff had a nightmare Halloween after its ad campaign was branded “offensive and traumatising” by UK Adoptive Parent Support Group for its depiction of an orphan girl. The network provider pulled the campaign following a backlash, but returned this year with a much less offensive Halloween campaign .
It’s designed for the Airbnb generation (and its pitfalls), centred around making better buying choices. GiffGaff is happy to line itself up as the right option for today’s digital-savvy, contract-shy youngsters. The animation sees a bunch of travellers arrive at a 4.6-star-rated house, only to realise the spooky gaff doesn’t live up to the online reviews.
Luckily, they choose to turn around and avoid the Halloween cliches waiting inside, and GiffGaff also avoids a sequel to last year’s horror story.
Dairylea Scarylea gets branding spot
Dairylea has gone social for this year’s Halloween by launching its seasonal Scarylea range of spreadable cheese. The limited-edition packs were available in-store ahead of October 31st, with a social Halloween campaign encouraging kids (and kidults) to turn their triangle cheese segments into ghosts.
It’s a creative, fun campaign that perfectly captures the lunchbox brand image and proves it’s sometimes OK to play with your food.
#3: Budweiser takes the higher ground
Over in the US, Budweiser changed the tone for this year’s Halloween campaign. Instead of the usual cliches, the beer brand focused on something truly terrifying in an attempt to tackle drink driving. With the caption “Don’t let Halloween haunt you forever,” Budweiser’s campaign spreads the #DrinkWiser message with a series of mug shots in fancy dress.
The US beer brand went heavy on social and TV ads for the campaign and reinforced the message with physical ads. It’s a powerful message that puts people’s wellbeing ahead of profits during a time when ethical purchase decisions are becoming more important for consumers.
“70% of consumers say their purchasing decisions are influenced by a company’s ethical behaviour.” – AAT.org.uk
#4: Periscope nails the shock factor
This year’s winner of the shock factor award has to go to Periscope. Their campaign, entitled Harvest Man, mocks a range of nibbles made of human eyes, ears and fingers.
The real magic of this Halloween campaign, though, is in the video ads Periscope produced, parodying those social recipe videos you see all over Facebook and Instagram.
It’s a cheeky campaign that definitely captures attention and the format of the video ads is perfectly on-point with Periscope’s online target audience.
It’s not easy to grab the shock factor award without causing controversy these days, but Periscope found that ideal middle ground of lighthearted gruesomeness that makes for an epic Halloween campaign.
#5: WD-40 proves any brand can create a killer Halloween campaign
We’re rewinding back to 2016 for this Halloween campaign but it was so good it’s worth resurrecting. WD-40 isn’t a brand you would normally associate with Halloween marketing and that’s part of the beauty here.
If you ever wonder how on Earth to associate your brand with a seasonal event like Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s Day, take notes from this campaign.
The premise of the ad is spot on; Halloween is the only night of the year you want your doors to creak and “for every other night, there’s WD-40”. That alone deserves a round of applause, but the Toronto-based agency behind this campaign (BIMM) wasn’t content will simply having a killer concept.
It developed an iOS app that plays various creaking door sounds, allowing users to choose their favourite sound and place their phone in a bag to hang on the back of their front door. Every time the door opens to a fresh batch of trick-or-treaters, the creaking sound plays for that haunted mansion effect.
#6: That time Burger King trolled McDonald’s
Burger King has been investing heavily in Halloween campaigns recently and this year’s effort includes “Ghost Whoppers” and an ad featuring a medium possessed by ghosts eating burgers.
Our favourite Burger King Halloween campaign was back in 2017 though, when it took a clear swipe at rival McDonald’s by playing on the bizarrely-common phobia of clowns.
Burger King’s Scary Clown Night ad feels like a crossover of IT and Stranger Things (if all that Coca-Cola product placement was replaced by BK), complete with a synth-heavy soundtrack and obligatory 80’s nostalgia.
Ronald McDonald will never look the same again but, luckily, the first 500 people to visit selected Burger King chains were given free Whoppers to fill that burger fix.
#7: Topshop jumps on the Stranger Things appeal
It seems 2017 was the year of peak Stranger Things hype and plenty of brands were lining up to capitalise on the show’s appeal to multiple generations. Season two of the popular Netflix series started just before Halloween and Topshop partnered with the streaming giant to capitalise on the show’s UK following.
At the brand’s Oxford Circus store, Topshop launched a range of in-store experiences reimagining key moments from the show and a collection of retro pieces and items brandishing Stranger Things logos.
British YouTuber Gregory Gaige uploaded his visit to the store on his channel, which took shoppers back to the 80s via recreated sets from the show itself. There were also competitions and incentives for people who spent certain amounts. As far as turning digital interest into in-store experiences, this is about as good as it gets – although it’s hard to fail when you partner with a show as popular as this.
Bonus: McDonald’s drops a rotten pumpkin
While GiffGaff delivered last year’s rotten pumpkin campaign, McDonald’s took the prize in 2019. More specifically, it was McDonald’s in Portugal that ran a campaign offering two-for-one sundaes with the slogan “Sundae Bloody Sundae”.
Let’s hope this was an unfortunate case of being unaware of the events that took place in Northern Ireland in January 1972 and a mistaken nod to the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday without knowing the story behind the song. Either way, it highlights the importance of understanding the true meaning of anything referenced in marketing campaigns – especially for international brands crossing language, cultural and historical barriers.
All the Halloween campaigns we’ve looked at in this article take a very different approach. None of the products themselves have particularly strong ties with Halloween or its associated themes, which forces brands to be creative.
Topshop essentially jumped on the popularity of Stranger Things ahead of its highly-anticipated second season while Dairylea proved it can come up with creative ways to position fake cheese as a slice of fun. Burger King took a cheeky jab at its biggest rival while Periscope found just the right amount of shock factor to command attention without offending.
My personal favourite is still WD-40’s campaign though, and there are two reasons for this. First of all, the practical everyday use of its product is at the heart of the message when most brands settle for simply aligning their brand with seasonal themes. Secondly, the campaign creates a genuine connection with Halloween when few people would ever associate a tin of oil with trick-or-treating.