Just like the horror flick trope where the evil character never truly dies at the end, leaving the gateway open for a gruesome return, consumers can count on the resurrection of every Halloween pun and one-liner they have ever heard before this month. 

Here in New Zealand we may not be bombarded to the same extent as our American and Canadian cousins. However, in the lead up to October 31 our storefronts, entertainment screens, car radios and even our inboxes will serve up enough of the annual horror-themed advertising slogans in a bid to scare up some sales before the pre-Christmas build-up begins in earnest. Some are worthy of applause for their clever play on words, and some are simply cringe-worthy.

As early as October 5th I was subjected to an email campaign offering un-boo-lievable tricks and treats for my social media marketing campaigns and a selection of orange and black themed banner templates to use for building my ‘spooky and creative’ Halloween ads. The question is; would I?

Should Kiwi businesses be using themed ads to leverage Halloween? If you are (or are considering) using this North American holiday as a way to promote your business, there are several ways you could go.

The kitsch one-liner

The large format retail stores have this one down to a fine art; with or without the cheesy graphics they can be effective and repeatable across different media for multiple exposure opportunities. Harvey Norman’s clever but eye-rolling plays on its name are a hands-down winner every time they roll one out in my books. Although Guy Fawkes is often the preferred focus at this time of year for LFR, the last week of October is likely to feature a few Halloween puns worthy of an eye roll from this sector.
Halloween themed composite with a Lego Freddie Kruger

In my opinion, if it’s catchy and doesn’t wedge itself in your brain on continuous play like a particularly bad jingle will then it’s worth doing, even just for an opportunity to get some brand awareness.

Tip: If you do want to put something simple and fun together, then pick a single pun, ideally one that ties the Halloween theme to your business, and don’t deviate.

Tasteless and disturbing Halloween blunders

Some marketing people are just too clever for their own good – or the good of their clients. Campaigns that are overly complicated or go a step too far with an idea are doomed to fail.

World Rugby may have crossed more than one line in their “creepy” photo to promote New Zealand’s Barrett brothers playing in the All Blacks’ World Cup clash with Canada. Drawing on the movie, The Shining, the photo posted on the World Rugby Facebook page showed Beauden, Scott and Jordie’s faces superimposed onto the toy dolls from the film – captioned with the famous line “come play with us”.

The stunt did nothing for the three brothers’ profiles or for inspiring fans before the game.

“What’s scarier than facing the three Barrett brothers on the pitch?,” the Facebook post says? My answer would be, the future job prospects for the person who came up with this idea.


The suspense-building scare campaign

This type of campaign is not for the faint-hearted and requires careful planning, precision timing and no small amount of luck. Choose either a single story that you roll out in teasingly short installments which lead to a final conclusion or a single-themed series that go a step further with each instalment. Your campaign needs to build expectations, crafted in a way that has your audience waiting in suspense for the next instalment. These work best with video and can be television ads or YouTube clips. Either way, you want people talking about and sharing them, or searching for them online.

Not thinking things through can lead to unexpected backlash

In 2018, British based mobile telephone network GiffGaff earned the dubious title of worst Halloween campaign for its video ad; “A Monster Family”. The 4-minute clip featured a young girl removed from her monster family and forced to live with humans, who then go on to alienate her before her eventual escape. The company received numerous complaints about the clip, accusing it of traumatising and offending vulnerable people.  The ad was banned from running on TV and in cinemas, and Giffgaff quickly removed it from its site and social media.


Your funny is not everyone’s funny – know your audience

A variation in this is to adopt a humorous angle. Getting it right is not easy though; when you swap out scary in favour of funny you had better know your audience.

Sometimes you can come up with a winner and sometimes you completely miss the mark, as demonstrated in the 2019 Halloween ad campaigns from Geico Insurance that are currently rolling out in the US.

The misfortune of getting a witch as a third roommate works well, with Griswalda plying her latest ‘recipe’ on her too polite to refuse roomie. https://youtu.be/XsZGXss02yo

Launched on 30 September, the video has clocked over 8.6 million views on YouTube. However, the follow-up ‘Cooking with Griswalda’ is less funny. For Geico’s second and third roll-outs for 2019 depicting possessed mannequins in the attic (the audience is reliant on the actor’s poorly delivered cues to establish the inanimate mannequins are indeed possessed and forcing him to join their tea party) and Casper as the annoyingly chatty resident ghost? Eh, not so much.

Tip: Play on something familiar and don’t over-complicate things. Be aware of the bigger picture – in any other context can your ad idea be considered tasteless, insensitive or offensive? If you are investing heavily in producing something then invest some time in testing audience responses.

To be honest, Halloween is still not a big seller in New Zealand, but unless you are a garden centre or licenced fireworks reseller, there is very little to leverage off in the no-man’s land between the arrival of spring and the start of the build-up to Christmas apart from the improving weather.

Whilst I continue to swing between fear of what grammatical horror will crawl out of my inbox next and anticipation of a Golden Globe-worthy campaign emerging from the mists of Halloween advertising in 2019, I’d like to wish you all the best with your own marketing ideas for filling the void that typically occurs at this time of year.

Have fun and if you miss this window, don’t worry; next year Halloween will be baaaack…

Fiona Cole - BigWords owner and copywriterFiona Cole is a professional copywriter with over 16 years in business communications and content marketing. With a post-graduate degree in English and Media Studies, she has studied the cultural and commercial impacts of advertising and film and has an unnatural interest in creative marketing ideas. Fiona confesses to Googling and watching ads online purely for entertainment.