Costumes, candy and decorations are flying off store shelves in record numbers, as Halloween draws near.
Katherine White, a marketing professor in the UBC Sauder School of Business, explains what drives the Halloween consumer frenzy, how businesses can capitalize on it – and the scary truth about those harmless-looking little candy bars.
The U.S. National Retail Federation says Halloween spending is on the rise, and is expected to reach $8.4 billion this year. What drives this consumer spending?
It’s being driven in part by kids and businesses marketing to kids. Marketers term them “influencers”; they don’t make purchases, but they influence household spending. There’s more and more stuff out there that kids are seeing. It’s not just “I want a costume” anymore. It’s “I want a costume, and I want to decorate with lights and remote-control bats. I want a party, and I want to dress up the dog, too.”
The other part of spending is driven by adults. There’s a trend towards adult Halloween parties and grownups dressing up too. It’s partly the nostalgia effect. Previous generations may not have gone trick-or-treating when they were younger, but this generation of adults grew up with it. Social media could play into it as well—there’s a pressure to have the coolest costume and the best decorations, so when you’re sharing it online it looks more impressive.
How can businesses capitalize on the Halloween craze?
If you’re a business trying to get people through the door, creating special events and activities around Halloween can bring in customers. It could be as simple as having a kids’ colouring contest or handing out candy – but be sure to let people know in advance that these things are happening so you get the word out.
You might want to offer different products that you don’t normally offer, but that has to make sense for your business and for the brand. For example, coffee shops could offer Halloween cookies. It can get weird when businesses offer things, or decorate in a way that doesn’t really fit the core product or service they are selling. If your business is supposed to be a peaceful, relaxing spa and yoga studio and there are flashing Halloween lights everywhere, it will probably turn away your customers.
Are there any other Halloween faux-pas for businesses?
One thing you often see with holidays is preparing too early or too late. Consumers can get irritated if they’re seeing Halloween stuff in early August. Conversely, if you decide two days before Halloween that you’re having an event, you don’t have time to get the word out and it isn’t likely to be successful.
If you’ve got employees that are representing your company and dressing up at work, it’s fair to ask them to avoid any costumes that may be culturally offensive or politically incorrect. And when you decorate, be careful not to cross the line into a gory display that reflects negatively on your business. It’s good to get publicity and attention, but you have to think about what kind of associations you’re creating in the minds of your customers.
You did a study on candy size and consumption. How does that relate to Halloween candy?
The study came about because another researcher and I had Halloween candy in our office. We looked at ourselves and said, “Wait a minute, we’re eating way more of this candy than we normally would eat.” Because of the small packages, it feels like it’s not such a big deal. We did a study and found that when people get exposed to treats in small packages, they kind of stop paying attention and just keep opening packages. They eat more than people who are given a bowl or bigger package. Ironically, this was particularly the case for people who were sensitive to watching their weight and what they eat. That’s something to keep in mind when the kids come home with bags of treats – those harmless-looking little packages maybe aren’t so harmless!