If experiential marketing had to adopt a national holiday, there’s no question which one would be the right choice: Halloween. Americans spend an estimated $2.7 billion dollars on Halloween decorations each year, and these are no mere ornaments. Halloween decorations are about creating thrilling, otherworldly environments — transforming a mundane porch into creepy mist-filled cave, a simple lawn into ghoul-infested graveyard. While other holidays are often focused on family, Halloween is about creating a shared experience for your entire community. For one magically weird night every year, everyone becomes an expert in experiential design. Halloween for experiential marketers, it’s the ultimate holiday.
Scaring is Caring
Why do we go nuts over Halloween? The devil is in the details… of our biology. The way our brains react to being scared to death isn’t too different from being happy. After all, both scary and happy things can make us feel thrilled. We love theatrics and experiences that leave a lasting impression, which is in step with a good scare.
“One of the main hormones released during scary and thrilling activities is dopamine,” sociologist Dr. Margee Kerr told The Atlantic. “It turns out some individuals may get more of a kick from this dopamine response than others do.” Not to mention, there’s the emotional release that comes after a good, safe scare.
As live marketers, are we hard-wired to enjoy a scare more than others? Sure, you can’t bring a lunging zombie reaper onto the trade show floor. (Or can you?) But ask yourself, would you consider spending Halloween night sleeping in the Paris catacombs? Are you already booking your plane tickets?
The market has certainly caught on, making everyone an armchair experiential marketer on Halloween, borrowing some tricks of the trade that might seem eerily familiar. Want the visage of a decaying Victorian family waving from your home? Who doesn’t? There’s projection mapping for that. When a child rings your doorbell, is she gaining candy or losing her soul? Give her the option with an interactive, judgmental doorbell.
Consumer gadgets have opened up an underworld of new options for the experiential arts Halloween (aka, creeping out friends and total strangers alike). You can fly a ghost drone around your neighborhood, turn a gesture-controlled remote car into a scuttling ghoul that follows your commands, or even enlist Alexa for some scary sound effects.
Then there’s the goo, the gore, and the gross-out, from the fake blood to the chocolate eyeballs. You’re only limited by your macabre creativity.
Take AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Sure, there’s drama, intrigue and literal catastrophe. But why do some people really love the show, which reached 17 million viewers at this highest ratings?
“The stretching and tearing of skin and cartilage on a person’s face as they’re being eaten alive. [The show’s] bottomless appetite for ever more creative permutations of zombies, guts, and gore is still a reliably perverse delight,” writes one reviewer.
There’s a good old evolutionary reason for this. While the science of gross keeps us alive by not eating spoiled food stuffs, some of us — who may or may not be reading this article right now — actually enjoy the horror of it.
The Sweetest Swag
Finally, don’t forget about Halloween’s end game: sugar. The number one favorite Halloween candy, at least according to FiveThirtyEight? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. In second place: mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Capitalizing on this, the Hershey Company, one of the biggest players in all of Halloween Land, pulled off a clever interactive experience with a candy converter. Everything that isn’t a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, you feed into the machine, which turns your bad trick-or-treating haul into precious Reese’s peanut butter cups.
Be it fear, gore, sugar, or a blend of all three, Halloween lets everyone pick their poison. And if an experiential expert is offering the goods, all the better.