Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, I loved dressing up, going out in the evening, and of course, trick-or-treating, also known as candy overload. When I reflect on the costumes I wore growing up, I recall being a ghost, a vampire, and even a bum, among others.
This year I was pleased when my 5-year-old son declared that he was going to be a ghost for Halloween. This choice remained steadfast from the first discussion we had a couple months ago. His choice seemed to capture his innocence and embrace the more traditional characters of Halloween. As I have grown up, Halloween has maintained many of the traditions from pumpkin-carving (which I eagerly embrace) and of course trick-or-treating.
The costume choices, however seemed to have evolved. While traditional costumes are still popular, pop culture and the brands surrounding them participate in Halloween as another opportunity to spread brand awareness. Evidence of this is clear if you go anywhere that sells costumes. They are populated by costumes relating to movie releases and toys. Characters from Disney’s Frozen are predicted to be among the top costumes this year. Or check out this infographic on costumes by state, which show the influence of people’s favorite film characters.
I had mixed feelings when my son’s costume selection changed a few weeks ago. It shifted right around the same time he completed his first viewing of the original Star Wars trilogy. While out shopping shortly thereafter we saw a display of costumes, including items from Star Wars. The ghost was out. Luke Skywalker was in. As a fan of Star Wars I am not upset with this choice, only that it appears my son is now embracing the marketing machine that provides these branded outfits. We could debate whether costumes should be purchased at all, or whether costumes should be created at home. I mean all you ever needed to be a ghost was an old white sheet and some scissors. Now, not only can you purchase a Luke Skywalker costume, but you have the choice to buy the “deluxe” version. And don’t forget the accessory – there’s no Jedi Knight without his light saber!
Halloween is big business. According to the National Retail Federation “Total spending on Halloween this year will reach $7.4 billion.” That’s sounds like a pretty good treat for businesses. And only $2.2 billion will be spent on candy as plenty will be spent on dressing up. “Specifically, celebrants will shell out $1.1 billion on children’s costumes, and $1.4 billion on adult costumes. It is clear Fido and Fluffy will not be forgotten: Americans will spend $350 million on costumes for their furry friends.”
Brands are certainly getting into the Halloween spirit with their Halloween themed marketing efforts. The pumpkin spice craze is just one example (check out Rachel’s Woodman’s blog). Companies are using the holiday as a way to have fun in order to engage customers with their brand. Check out the Skittles Halloween:
It’s not just candy brands embracing the Halloween trend. Geico got into the action with this scary spot:
Brands have to be careful though, as evidenced by Subway’s Halloween themed spot that got them in to trouble by sending the wrong message.
Dunkin Donuts has a whole line-up of Halloween treats, including a Halloween Pumpkin Donut. Last year, Honda created a Jack-o’-Lantern Facebook contest and page for fans to share their Honda-inspired pumpkins.
I have not been immune to the trends. When I decided to more fully embrace pumpkin carving a number of years ago, my first couple years I carved the traditional Jack-o-lantern faces as well as ghosts and witches. Once my twin daughters were a bit older and were obsessed with the Disney princesses, I found my carvings turned to of Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel from Tangled. The year Steve Jobs died I carved an homage pumpkin to honor him and one of my fav brands, Apple. Last year, I carved Ironman and the minions from Despicable Me.
Halloween itself is a holiday that was appropriated from another. The origins of Halloween date back 2000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain. The Romans who conquered the Celts made it their own, and then later elements were incorporated when it was part of All Hallows’ Eve, which is where the modern name Halloween derives from. As such, I’m not sure I’m in a position to complain if the mighty Disney or any other brand claims some of this family-friendly holiday for themselves.
In the end, it’s a celebration to be enjoyed, whether you dress up as Count Dracula or Count Dooku (from the prequel Star Wars films – he became a Sith lord for those non-Star Wars fans).
What are you going as this Halloween?