This post was updated on October 17, 2021.
After a scary couple of years battling the global pandemic, Halloween 2021 is expected to make a rebound, with consumer sentiment and purchases up. That’s great news for businesses that offer products and services around the celebrations, with the most popular segments being costumes, candy, decorations, and pumpkins, of course.
With US consumers predicted to spend just over $100 each on Halloween related products this year, getting inspired with creative Halloween marketing ideas is definitely something marketers should be doing.
That’s why we’ve reinstated our annual roundup of best Halloween campaigns, and this year doesn’t disappoint. Check out how some of the biggest brand names are marketing during the spooky season, and use these as a springboard to get creative with your own Halloween campaigns.
1. Heinz – The “creepiest condiment”
As every self-respecting child knows, the best pretend blood for a Halloween costume is ketchup. Heinz is taking it to the next level with limited edition “Tomato Blood”. It’s the same ketchup we all know and love, rebranded with a new spooky-looking label that definitely ramps up the creepy atmosphere. The campaign is designed to create a “full Halloween experience”, and also includes a pop-up store in LA where visitors can make costumes using the fake blood, as well as a Halloween Heinz Blood costume kit available for purchase online. All in all, a great way to leverage a beloved product for a special holiday. And no campaign is complete in 2021 without the social media angle – consumers are encouraged to share photos of their ketchup-(blood)-soaked Halloween costumes.
2. Butterfinger – Turn yourself in
Parents munching on their kids’ Halloween candy – it’s the ultimate crime, made famous by Jimmy Kimmel’s popular annual YouTube challenge, “I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy.” Butterfinger is focusing on a similar theme with a funny, catchy campaign aimed at parents. It encourages them to “Turn yourself in” if they are guilty of stealing their child’s Butterfinger from the trick or treat basket. They’ve dubbed it the “Butterfinger Case Files”, and parents who ‘fess up and submit their mug shot to the dedicated website are in the running to win a $25,000 prize. A smart example of how specifically targeting parents can be a winning tactic on Halloween.
3. Snickers – Bite size Halloween
No matter what you’re marketing, great storytelling is always the key. And when it comes to Halloween, spooky stories are a fantastic way to capture consumer imagination and attention. Snickers has done it this year with a smart Halloween short with a scary twist. It’s more funny than scary, but it definitely keeps you wondering what will happen next. Of course, candy is one of the most popular product segments for Halloween, with a forecast of $3B consumer spending around the holiday in the US in 2021, so naturally candy brands are competing for eye-catching and original marketing ideas. We think this short film fits the bill.
4. General Mills – “Monster Mash”
Nostalgia in marketing is powerful. That’s what General Mills is tapping into with their new Halloween campaign, a 50th anniversary reunion of the five cartoon monster characters from their Monster Cereals line, first launched in 1971. To celebrate the reunion, the monsters got together for a take on the popular 1962 single, “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Kickers. The full-fledged campaign includes a spoofy “Behind the scenes” style short video, “The Remaking of the Mash: A Monster Miracle”, and special product releases, including cereal flavors with retro packaging, vinyl character toys and watches. Everything old is new again, and that’s especially true for Monsters Cereals this Halloween.
5. Temptations – “Tasty Human”
With so much pressure on brands to always be original and exciting, Halloween marketing is getting stranger by the year. Temptations, the cat food brand, isn’t holding back, releasing a limited edition cat food for Halloween in “Tasty Human” flavor. It’s true, cats can give off a somewhat freaky vibe, and research postulating that if cats were bigger, they’d eat humans definitely does not help their reputation. But Temptations is bravely running with it, and this wacky Halloween-centric product and campaign is sure to gain some buzz among cat owners.
6. Nike – Halloween sneakers
Did we mention that Halloween marketing is getting weirder? Candy and costumes are pretty obvious, but a Halloween-themed special edition Nike sneaker is something else. Even so, it’s become a tradition, and this year, Nike is once again tapping into the whimsical, child-like side that seems to infect people of all ages around Halloween with new release shoes especially for the season. For example, the Nike Dunk Low style is black, cream and orange (very Halloween-y colors) with a glow in the dark overlay, illuminated outsole, and creepy spider pattern on the insole. For Nike lovers, the product is the campaign, generating so much anticipation, buzz, and endless unboxing reviews online. It’s a good example of a product so completely entwined with the brand that almost any new release will be sure to generate interest. Halloween? It’s just an excuse.
7. Lego/Star Wars/ Disney+ – Terrifying Tales
Brand collaborations are always a good thing, especially when you’ve got three uber brands working together. That’s what’s happened this Halloween season, when Lego Star Wars kicked off the Disney+ “Halloweenstream” with its Halloween special, Terrifying Tales. Together with the trailer of the new spooky film, Lego Star Wars dropped a series of five shorts, each featuring a funny, Halloween themed plot and some favorite Star Wars characters. Of course, we’re talking here about three of the world’s most famous brands, but any brand can ramp up its power around Halloween and other holidays via clever collaborations with like-minded brands.
8. Crest – #BringOnTheCandy Safes
Candy, kids, cavities! It’s not hard to make that leap when you consider how much candy gets eaten during Halloween season. And that gives toothpaste brand Crest every reason to get in on the action. This year, they’ve run with the theme of protecting your candy and protecting your teeth. As mentioned above, parents are notorious for taking their kids’ candy stash on Halloween. So, customers were invited to enter a competition to win a limited edition Candy Safe, where candy can be safely locked away from prying eyes and hands! To enter, participants had to post on Instagram why their family loves Crest toothpaste and why they want a Candy Safe, with all the right hashtags of course. Marketing lesson? Figure out how your brand can fit into the celebrations, and go for it!
9. Reese’s – A Better Place
As one of the most popular trick-or-treats, Reese’s is a big player in Halloween marketing. The brand’s Halloween commercial gets ironic and spooky this year, wondering what happened to all the Reese’s chocolates that ‘disappear’ around Halloween (“they’ve gone to a better place…). But it’s not just the creative ads. Reese’s has secured its place in the Halloween consumer culture in other ways, by partnering with neighborhood social network Nextdoor, for example, to offer the Treat Map app for local trick or treating. And now the brand is pushing its wildly popular Reese’s Pumpkins chocolate as the “Official Pumpkins of Halloween”, even competing with sellers of actual pumpkins for the title! It’s all done in good humor and with goodwill of course, which is the best way to strengthen a brand.
The section below was published on October 15, 2019.
If it seems like the spooky season starts earlier with every passing year, you’re not wrong. In fact, in 2019, an astute blogger found an M&Ms Halloween product on a Target store shelf in mid-July!
Although Halloween falls on the very last day of October, the Halloween commercial season launches well before the fall leaves change color. Brands try to get in early to lengthen the Halloween shopping season, boost sales volume and put the upcoming holiday at top of mind among consumers. What’s more, brands and businesses go all out to create the most hair-raising (and fun!) Halloween campaigns to keep customers on their toes and opening their wallets.
Let’s take a look at some of the best Halloween campaigns in 2019:
10. Skittles Zombies – Go horribly viral
Candies and chocolate are one of the biggest sellers during Halloween, after costumes and decorations. In fact, 9 out of 10 Halloween shoppers in 2018 planned to buy candy.
In 2019, the Mars company did a 180-degree-turn away from delicious fruity candy, with its release of Zombie Skittles. The product comes with 5 tasty Halloween themed flavors, such as Boogeyman Blackberry and Mummified Melon. However, it also includes a ‘rotten’ Zombie flavor, and the consumer will only know they are eating it once they experience the terrifyingly awful taste.
The beauty of this kind of marketing tactic is its potential to go viral with the help of influencer marketing. Playing on the psychology of the dare and the human fascination with anything weird, the Zombie Skittles concept drew loads of attention online. There were numerous video reviews, video challenges and taste tests by bloggers and foodies to show viewers just how horrible (and irresistible!) the rotten candies really are. As the Skittles press release stated, “It’s an utterly disgusting taste experience that will elicit strong reactions from anyone and everyone daring enough to try it.” The key to any great content marketing campaign? Emotion, of which Zombie Skittles have plenty!
11. Universal Studios – A watch party to remember
Universal Studios promoted its annual Halloween Horror Nights event with a TV spot that turns the innocent “watch party” concept into a terrifying prospect. The Halloween Horror Nights event, held at Universal Studios locations in Florida, California, Japan and Singapore, is a popular Halloween tradition, combining mazes, attraction, parties and more, all with a horror theme. This year, the focus was on the 80s, and the promo campaign centered around a group of friends getting together at home for a relaxing watch party. But the night turns terrible as the group is preyed on by their deepest fears. It’s a fun, nail-biting short video that definitely gets you in the mood for a horror night. Plus it’s a good example of the power of video advertising to communicate a message and a mood to your target audience.
12. UNICEF Halloween Heroes – Nostalgia for a new generation
Another emotion that works well in marketing is nostalgia. Think of recent Disney movie remakes, like Aladdin and The Lion King. The grownups who watched the original films in the 90s enjoy a nostalgic trip back to their childhood, while the next generation (their kids) fall in love with the new version at the same time. UNICEF Canada is banking on nostalgia with a reboot of its traditional Halloween Heroes campaign, where kids would go trick or treating with orange UNICEF money boxes, collecting donations house to house while they collect candy.
This year, UNICEF has launched its Halloween Heroes campaign in a fully digital online format, based on four “hero” characters representing kids’ right to childhood in areas like water, food, education and security. It just goes to show that in content marketing, you don’t always have to be new and original – sometimes, you can rejuvenate an old theme and make it powerful for a new generation.
13. Lunar Beauty Cosmetics – Witch theme works best?
Here’s an example of another nostalgia-driven campaign that’s playing on a theme – and using a drip approach on social media to tease customers with a slow buildup. Famous makeup artist, YouTuber and beauty blogger Manny MUA launched a special Halloween cosmetic collection under his brand Lunar Beauty. The Moon Spell Collection is based on pop cultures’ favorite witches from the 90s, drawing particular inspiration from the cult classic series Charmed.
The campaign created suspense over a few days before the launch of the spooky collection on October 4, with the release of a long-form half-hour YouTube video, and Instagram posts and teasers to get customers in the Halloween mood. The popular campaign combined good old nostalgia, a clear and catchy theme, and a slow drip approach to build momentum. As can be seen in some of the Instagram comments before the products were available for sale: “Can you drop the collection already so i can buy it!” When customers are begging you to release your products, you know your Halloween marketing campaign is a success.
The section below was published on October 18, 2018.
Did you know Halloween is a huge boon for business, and not just in the US?
While there’s a strong focus on candy, costumes, and decorations, Halloween is a huge retail event reaching even more categories, like cars, video games, and even makeup.
Check out these fantastic and frightening Halloween content marketing campaigns in 2018 that kept audiences worldwide in delicious suspense:
14. Burger King trolls McDonald’s – with clowns
What better way to kick off our top Halloween content marketing campaigns than with Burger King’s ingenious idea. It combined customer interaction with the clever trolling of rival McDonald’s and its famous clown mascot.
Burger King offered a free Whopper burger to the first 500 people to visit select Burger King stores dressed as a clown. The campaign was promoted via a creepy clown-filled YouTube video with the hashtag #ScaryClownNight.
A campaign that combines clowns and trolls? We want our Whopper!
15. Long-form horror ad by Skittles
In a Halloween campaign titled “Bite Size Horror,” confectionery giant Mars screened a series of four commercials for Skittles, Sunburst, Snickers, and M&Ms, each featuring a mini horror movie. Rather than directly promoting the products, the videos engaged the viewer with the brand by creating unforgettably scary stories, ending with a screenshot wishing “Happy Halloween.”
The long-form videos ran for two minutes, providing the necessary time to develop the plot, characters, and suspense for an engaging video story. This follows a clear trend as part of the recent rise in long-form video, which has been known to achieve even higher completion rates than shorter video ads.
Check out another Skittles “Bite Size Horror” commercial, which freaked out spectators when it was screened at a Yankees vs Indians baseball game.
16. Halloween goes haute couture with Dior
If you thought Halloween was all about kids in costumes collecting candy, then you are missing out on the beautiful, dark side of Halloween. Even Dior got into the spooky vibe with an influencer campaign featuring Bella Hadid, where the supermodel demonstrated how to create fabulous makeup looks just for Halloween.
The “how to” makeup videos were promoted on social media under the #DiorMakeupHalloween hashtag, targeting an entirely new Halloween audience with content that speaks their language.
17. Not just for kids – Skoda goes scary
Candy, costumes, and of course, the obligatory pumpkin carving – Halloween is, and has always been, a special day for children.
Skoda, however, decided to appeal to the kid inside every adult. Its car commercial juxtaposes a young boy carving a face into an orange pumpkin against the adult version of the boy. Except years later, he’s carving a face into an orange….Skoda hood cover.
It’s a great example of content designed to appeal to different target audiences.
18. M&Ms engages with interactive ghost stories
Last year, M&Ms ran an interactive social media campaign in the month leading up to Halloween. The campaign featured a weekly installment of an ongoing ghost story, promoted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Every installment led up to two alternative endings, and viewers were asked to vote on their preferred finale. The following week, the story continued, based on the previous week’s winning ending.
The campaign combined some of the best practices of content marketing: a dynamic story, compelling video, and a layer of interactivity to get audiences engaged and personally involved.
19. Fanta’s holistic approach to horror
Fanta is repeating its popular campaign featuring seasonal graphics on its packaging along with experiential Halloween kits available at every point of sale (POS). This year, the graphics can be scanned to Snapchat, where they unlock Halloween-themed filters.
The soft drink giant’s Halloween campaign combines physical and digital elements, building on its past success. Last year, Fanta sales grew by 23% at convenience stores during the Halloween period.
It just goes to show how powerful content can be when made interactive, and when it includes more traditional marketing activities.
20. Fortnite Does the Ultimate in Suspense – and the Results Show
We’ve discussed before how Fortnite, the world’s leading interactive computer game, pwns when it comes to content marketing. For a game that was released only a year ago, every whiff of marketing generates an incredible amount of interest, and Halloween is no different.
Last year, Fortnite released the Skull Trooper “skin” for Halloween, before the game reached the phenomenal levels of popularity it enjoys today. Now, the marketers behind Fortnite are using an incredible amount of hype to further ignite interest during Halloween 2018.
The question on everyone’s minds: Will Fortnite reinstate the Skull Trooper skin for Halloween this year? It’s this kind of suspense and build up that is the foundation of fantastic marketing.
Just check out the impact of the suspense-laden campaign on Google Trends — interest in the search term “Fortnite Halloween skins” just keeps going up and up:
Halloween is not for the faint of heart, and that’s true even within content marketing.
Spice up your Halloween content campaigns with creative inspiration from these seven spooky examples, and you’ll be celebrating with scary-good results!
Also, be sure to download the 2021 consumer insights holiday marketing guide for more tips about gaining and retaining your holiday customers.