Halloween Marketing: Should You Take a Walk on the Dark Side?

From haunted attractions, costumes, candy & spooky decorations; Halloween can mean big profits for small businesses.

While many businesses gear up early for Christmas, many allow the Halloween season to pass them over like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin.  If you’re being left out in the cold on All Hallows Eve, it’s time to re-think your attitude towards one of the fastest growing holiday celebrations in the world.

The History of Halloween in a Nutshell

Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is celebrated each year on October 31st and is a mix of Celtic, Roman, Catholic and European traditions, rituals and folklore.  Halloween is often considered the time when the dead can return to our world.  As far back as 5 B.C., Ancient Celts, would burn large bonfires and wear costumes in efforts to ward off these spirits in the festival known as Samhain (pronounced sow-en).  For part of the celebration, the Celts would place an ember in a hollowed out turnip, creating a lantern that resembled our modern day jack-o-lanterns.

Centuries later, the conquering Romans fused their rituals with Samhain and created All Saints Day in order to do away with pagan holidays (it didn’t work).  And later, the Catholic Church melded the festival with their own sanctioned holiday, All Hallowmas (Hallow is the Old English word for ‘holy person’ or ‘saint’).  So the night before the day of November 1st (Samhain/All Saints Day) was called All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.

When European immigrants sailed to America, they brought their traditions with them.  A new form of Halloween began to take form, especially in the southern colonies.  Folks would gather around harvest time to sing, dance and tell stories of the dead.  After the potato famine of 1846, Irish immigrants helped shape the holiday into what it is now by adding their own customs.  Before long, people were dressing up in costumes, telling ghost stories and going house to house asking for food or money (a precursor to trick-or-treating).  By the late 1800’s, Halloween was becoming more about community get-togethers and socializing and less about witchcraft and superstitions.

By the 1920’s, most communities were having their own Halloween parties and parades.  But vandalism was also a problem.  Town leaders and newspapers tried to steer the holiday toward children in an effort to curb the destructive tendencies of young adults.  The ritual of trick-or-treating was revived, but this time geared towards youngsters.  Many in the communities believed that offering a treat could prevent malicious tricks being played on them.

The Modern Day Popularity of Halloween

Trick-or-treating became an American tradition that now results in $2 billion of Halloween candy and $2 billion in costumes sold annually.  Add another $1-1/2 billion in Halloween decorations, $100 million in greeting cards and $500 million in haunted attraction tickets and it’s easy to see why some businesses consider Halloween more of a treat than a trick.  The typical American spends nearly $70 on Halloween purchases each year.  Of course, that’s the average.  Some spend nothing at all.  But if you can target the true Halloween fanatic – you’ll see their budget may range from several hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Halloween isn’t just for Americans either.  Many countries from around the globe celebrate some form of Halloween, with the American version growing in popularity.  So if you do business internationally, Halloween could add profits from markets other than just the U.S.

Profiting From the Spooky Fun

There are many ways for businesses to take advantage of the Halloween season.  If there is a haunted attraction near your business, suggest to them that you can give away coupons or be a sponsor.  Any business that needs to drive traffic to their store (or website) could potentially benefit.  Let’s use a large scale example:  Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando is one of the premiere Halloween events in the country.  Every year, Florida residents can purchase discounted tickets at any Publix supermarket when they purchase a Coca-Cola product.  Publix drives traffic to their store.  Coca-Cola sells extra product and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights gains hundreds of convenient ticket outlets and display reminders.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Of course, being a sponsor of major haunted attractions like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights or Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream may not be possible for your business.  However, other independently owned haunted attractions could be ideal cross-promotional partners.  These operations usually have tight budgets and are always looking for sponsors.  Do you have an asset or skill that you can cross-promote or barter with?  Haunted attractions need help in spreading the word about their event.  They need printing services for tickets and coupons, hardware supplies, website advertising, etc.  In return, your business can be promoted at their event or have traffic driven to your store or website.

Some haunted attractions sell T-shirts with their sponsors’ logos and websites printed on the back.  That could result in publicity for years to come.  Others allow their sponsors to put up banners or give away flyers at the event.  There are all types of promotional possibilities for both businesses.  Go to the haunted house owners as early as possible and propose your offer.  If the plan benefits both sides, you might be able to enter into a successful sponsorship.

There are plenty of other ways to take advantage of the Halloween craze.  If you own a pet supply store, are you offering pet costumes?  Over 11% of owners dress their pets up for Halloween.  If you own a bakery, try creating individually wrapped goodie bags that people can give out to trick-or-treaters.  If your store is in an historical district, try offering ghost tours or bring in a local celebrity to read scary stories.

Can your business provide decorations, food or music for Halloween parties?  Over 70% of grown-ups aged 18-44 celebrate All Hallows Eve.  A high percentage of these adults go to parties.  In fact, Halloween is the third largest party day behind New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday.  Over 65% of U.S. adults put up some form of Halloween decorations in their home or office, a number surpassed only by Christmas.

As with all marketing efforts, allowing your imagination to flow freely is the key.  One of the reasons people love Halloween is the ability to release their inner child.  This is the perfect time to let your marketing campaign get creative.  People will respond more favorably to a wild and crazy campaign than other times of the year.

Now is the time to plan for next year’s Halloween season.  A well-thought out Halloween marketing attack will take time to implement.  Do what you can this year to whet their appetite and then really knock your customer’s socks off next year.

How early should you start your sales and marketing?  That really depends on your business.  Most retail stores have their Halloween merchandise out right after Labor Day.  Some start a lot earlier.  Michaels, the arts and craft chain, sets their Halloween goods out in July.  This means their marketing has to be in place well before that.  Some dollar stores had their merchandise out in July as well.  Believe it or not, their early sales are brisk.  Halloween fanatics use chat rooms and other forms of communication to spread the word when merchandise is first put out.  Being early just might make sense for your business.  Other businesses might need to wait till October when the general public is more focused on Halloween, but their marketing should be in place well before that.  And no matter when you start, make sure your marketing plan accounts for mobile web traffic.

No matter what your type of business is, your Halloween marketing efforts need to be reinforced on your social media networks.  Make sure your fans know well in advance about your plans for the season.  Make it a desired event.  Place status updates on Facebook.  Send out Twitter announcements.  Create a Youtube video.  Sure, it means a little extra work.  But it could pay off handsomely in the long run.

No matter what the season, being a small business owner these days can be frightening.  Dark clouds seem to be everywhere.  But the time between back-to-school and the holiday season doesn’t have to be a nightmare before Christmas.  Embrace Halloween, use your imagination and have a solid marketing plan in place.  You just might scare up some extra profits that will have you grinning wider than a bright-eyed jack-o-lantern.

Does your business engage in any Halloween promotions?  If so, have you seen an increase in your bottom line?  What are some of your successful marketing tactics you’ve used during the Halloween season?  We want to hear from you!  Visit our Facebook Fan Page to share your story with our friends.

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