halloween digital pr

Halloween: scarily good engagement, or not worth the risk?

The end of the year is fast approaching and Halloween, as well as many other seasonal holidays, is speeding towards us faster than we can keep track of. It can be a stressful time to work in digital PR and to get your campaign out there with so many other competitors also pushing similar ideas.

As a brand during Halloween, it’s easy to stick to the safe security of a more wholesome and family friendly approach.

Think pumpkin recipes, Halloween costume ideas, comfy autumnal vibes, and lots of spooky puns, to name a few.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, it can be great, and surfaces some of the most appropriate content for Halloween, but what about doing something unpredictable?

Every few years, a new horror-related campaign will go viral for jump scaring or catching the audience when they’re off guard while in the comfort of their home. There is often a mixed reaction that follows; those who loved the creativity, and those who feel they were taken advantage of, uncomfortable with being scared.

The impression these campaigns can have on our emotions and behaviour may stick with us. Even if we feel unsettled it’s more than likely that we’d discuss the campaign with friends, or online.

As a result, more and more brands are pushing the boundary at Halloween because, even though the audience reaction can sometimes be negative, the long-term attraction, shock and discussion around said brand or campaign can be vastly positive when it comes to clicks.

blair witch halloween campaign

Over time, there have been some unique and memorable cases of this. Let’s take ‘The Blair Witch Project’ as an example. Rather than simply releasing trailers and movie posters, the marketing for the horror classic built fear and interest with its audience. Activity consisted of posting fake disappearance posters, a website about folklore, as well as many other terrifying visuals to trick people into believing it was all a real paranormal case before its 1999 release.

In 2017, fast food giant Burger King challenged its main competitor with one of its most controversial campaigns yet. ‘Scary clown night’ enticed customers with striking clown imagery across billboards and bus stations, as well as an eerie television ad that encouraged customers to go to a selected store in full clown attire to receive a free burger.

Other brands such as Skittles have previously capitalised on Halloween by releasing a rotten zombie flavour, whereas Burger King’s campaign not only poked fun at Ronald McDonald, but was seen in poor taste by some as, at the time, there was a trend of teens dressing up as clowns to scare people late at night.

On the contrary, many loved how creative Burger King’s campaign was. The discussion and debates that arose out of the clown fiasco ultimately led to hundreds flooding into Burger King for the event. The campaign was even awarded a D&AD Pencil award.

A lighter, but still spooky, digital campaign from Airbnb dared customers to stay at the Paris Catacombs; an ancient burial ground to around six million skeletons. This was a perfectly unique way to showcase the huge diversity of accommodations the site has to offer.

Despite the potential success, it’s critical to remember the impact of these type of controversial and frightful campaigns. At the end of the day, people’s emotions and feelings are involved. Yes it could lead to long term success for the brand, but is that risk worth taking if people can be hurt or offended?

For those who don’t celebrate Halloween because of religious or cultural beliefs, they may think the holiday is inappropriate, so being subjected to such PR stunts could be really distressing.

We should also question whether Halloween is worth pushing so hard for? According to Ahrefs, the keyword ‘Halloween’ had around 4.8m clicks in October 2021, whereas the previous five years only received around 2-3m clicks. We can maybe assume that the surge in 2021 was a result of the pandemic restrictions lifting, however now we are almost back to normality, will the interest in spooky season fall back down again?

So, if you’re feeling unhappy and stuck for ideas on how to improve a previous Halloween campaign that may have underperformed, or you’re looking to stand out from the crowd, would you try taking a risk and doing something unpredictable?

About the author:Rosie is a Junior Digital PR and Outreach specialist at CreativeRace. Previously she has been a part of the Channel 4 Content Creatives scheme, and now specialises in strategic outreach for a diverse range of clients, participating in creative, illustration work on behalf of the Digital PR team.