Successful Halloween Ads Aren’t Scary, They’re Relatable

It’s the end of October which means Halloween ads will have been gracing our screens now for at least the last few weeks. Some of them make us laugh, some of them make us cringe, whilst others make us want to hide behind the back of the sofa… but what makes for a successful Halloween ad?

In order to be appreciated by a significant number of viewers, Halloween ads need to be relatable, which is why it shouldn’t come as any surprise to see advertisers up the ante and leverage cinematic tropes as a type of shorthand. 

It would be wrong to define horror too narrowly because the genre can be broken down into 6 broad sub-genres:

  1. Gothic
  2. Paranormal
  3. Occult
  4. Dark Fantasy
  5. Survival
  6. Science Fiction Horror

Today’s horror movies incorporate as much humour as they do scares which is a good thing for advertisers seen as, playing for scares is a risky approach in the eyes of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority). If you’re looking for tips on how to manage avoidable mistakes in your Halloween advertising, then you might find this blog post useful too.

Of all the events in the marketing calendar, Halloween is probably our favourite because it provides brands with an opportunity to relax and have a little fun and that’s certainly true in these 6 ads we discuss at length below.

Burger King – Scary As A Clown

Burger King have a strong track record of guerilla marketing and this ad is no different, as it has the cheek to associate the totem of its biggest competitor, Ronald McDonald, with the terrifying clown from the IT horror movies. Smart move when you remember that IT had only recently returned to cinemas about a year before this ad aired. 

The spot takes place at night and features a young man cycling through town evading creepy clowns as he navigates jump cuts to fill his belly at burger king. It’s a brilliantly done visual feast with a tagline that speaks directly to the audience by daring them to visit Burger King dressed as a clown on Halloween to receive a free whopper. 

Ronald McDonald hasn’t featured in much of McDonald’s marketing in recent years, meaning you would likely have to be of a certain age to appreciate the inference Burger King are making. Bravo! 

Cravendale – So good, the cows want it back (2010)

This spot serves as a great example in our book of how brand led ads can work to effect recall, instead of highlighting product features. 

Set in what looks to be a post-apocalyptic world, this ad combines a number of horror movie tropes such as those of zombies, and with the young boy as the protagonist, it would seem like it also borrows a lot from M. Night Shyamalan’s, The Sixth Sense.

We loved this ad for the sinister tones and the strong visual language aka red cows.

Skittles – Trap The Rainbow (2014)

The use of silence in ads is a bold move for any advertiser because it’s a portion of potentially expensive air time, which more cautious brand managers would say is being underutilised however, in this ad it is gold as it sets up the comedy.

We also felt the absence of music, the silly art direction of the spider and the witty script pitched this ad perfectly. Finally on this ad, positioning the skittles in the web implies that a risk needs to be taken to obtain them, thereby placing value on the product.

A play on the trick or treat concept, Skittles famous tagline ‘taste the rainbow’, was manipulated into, ‘trap the rainbow’ which we felt was a clever play on words and a lot of fun. 

Snickers – Nothing Satisfies (2010)

This ad is creepy and definitely aimed at parents who could do with reminding that they’re going to get inundated with trick or treaters on Halloween evening. 

We liked this spot because it harks back to the horror of the absurd, but because we the audience learn at the end that the parent is being pranked, it has a fun wickedness to it. 

We mostly enjoyed this ad because it’s a risky approach for a Halloween ad, if only because it is so odd. There were undoubtedly far safer creatives on offer. 

Squarespace – Eternal Eyes (2021)

An update on the vampire concept, this ad is extremely cool and boasts some beautiful art direction to boot. Replete with witty puns, this ad is rather conceptual and it is in that context that this spot stands out amongst this collection of Halloween ads.

The majority of the ad takes place inside a computer screen, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that Squarespace sells a platform where you can quickly get your own website up off the ground. The issue with this, is it creates some challenges from a production perspective. 

Kudos to the script-writers on this project because they managed to tell a story that embraced the restrictions of telling the majority of the story through the screen and didn’t just make it work, but made it extremely captivating too.

Carling (2013)

Produced by Creature, this ad features the brand’s regular talent, Dylan and Jon, as they prepare for a Halloween party at their place. 

We loved this ad because of the pub-culture script and the humorous performance. As Edward mentioned, in the featured podcast, for some alcohol brands, it is very easy to lean on pub culture like they have done in this Carling spot.

Where we felt this ad was also extremely successful was in the fact that it was hyper-aware of the genre in which it was leaning on. The pretence to play with the voodoo doll concept demonstrates an awareness of the genre we felt was quite smart.

In Summary

Whilst some Halloween ads can be scary (Burger King), and some might be funny (Carling), a constant amongst all the ads that we have featured, is that in all scenarios the concept has to be relatable. 

Brands use the horror genre as a shortcut to hang their branding. In some cases, like in the Cravendale ad, the product itself doesn’t even matter, it’s more about influencing brand recall. What is true, the more current the reference, the more powerful and if you can’t be current, defaulting to entrenched halloween activities ie trick or treat (skittles), is a safe way to remain relevant. 

Squarespace is a brilliant 2021 embodiment of this concept – it references the ultimate horror character, Dracula, and brings him right up to date as a modern-day entrepreneur.

If you need help creating ads that keep your brand fresh, tell us about your ideas.

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Bank of Cyprus

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Stella McCartney – Breast Cancer Awareness

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Harrods – Toy Kingdom

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KEO Beers

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Coors Light

Bernhard Pucher

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Bring Nature Inside

Effie Pappa

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