The Top 10 Halloween Marketing Campaigns

It’s that time of year again when ghosts and goblins emerge from their hiding places. With so many holidays packed into such a short span of time over the coming months, there’s hardly any room left for rest. However, one of the busiest yet under-appreciated times of the year for marketers is Halloween. While it might not be a universal marketing phenomenon like Christmas, there are still a lot of businesses that leverage this spooky holiday to their advantage.

For inspiration on how to come up with something that stands out and doesn’t get lost among all the other scary marketing gimmicks, this article reviews some of the best Halloween marketing campaigns and how you can take inspiration from them.

1. KFC: Cursed Colonel

KFC decided to play Trick or Treat with its Australian customers in its “Cursed Colonel” campaign in 2019. They partnered with food delivery service Menulog, offering customers a 25% discount on all KFC orders throughout the country. But it didn’t stop there – some orders were delivered by people dressed up as different versions of the Colonel – Zombie, Werewolf, Skeleton and Vampire Colonels, as well as “Jack-In-A-Buckets” that sprung false snakes on unsuspecting customers. All of this was filmed, making it a great PR opportunity.

This stunt would have been memorable not only for those on the receiving end of these wicked tricks, but for KFC’s customer base overall. It shows their fun, human side – an example of how creating experiences can build or enhance an emotional connection between a brand and its customers. It’s the kind of campaign that creates brand loyalty and advocacy – after all, wouldn’t you rather buy from a company that entertains compared to one that’s dull and predictable? For a company like KFC whose main competitors sell similar products, these types of ideas are important for differentiating themselves.

2. Airbnb: A Night in the Catacombs

Airbnb spent €350,000 renting the Paris catacombs as part of their “Night in the Catacombs” competition. The winner would get to stay in the catacombs overnight – along with its seven million skeletons. They would also get to enjoy a free dinner and concert, followed by a session with a storyteller that would tell nightmare-inducing tales right before bedtime.

The campaign’s promise of exclusivity drew entrants in – in a tweet, the company reminded its audience of how they could win the opportunity to do something no human has ever done before – to be the only living person to wake up in the Catacombs.

This campaigns was quite the publicity stunt. It was also subject to criticism by locals who considered it disrespectful to the dead. Whether or not you consider this campaign to be unethical, it’s certainly an innovative way to gain brand awareness. What unique experiences can you offer your customer this Halloween?

3. Burger King: Scary Clown Night

With this campaign, Burger King killed two birds with one stone – they out-witted their competition (McDonald’s) and promoted their own products and image. The campaign involved an ad showing a boy crossing paths with a clown that looked like Ronald McDonald. He was then chased by a group of clowns into Burger King. The ad closed with the tagline “Come as a clown, eat like a king”, which brings us to the second part of the campaign – any customers wearing a clown costume would get a free Whopper. Like the KFC campaign, this was fun and engaging, creating a true experience for customers – something that beats simply offering discounts.

4. “Halloween Hotel”: Fruit-tella’s Interactive Alexa Campaign

This year, Fruit-tella teamed up with Amazon to create their Halloween Hotel campaign. Halloween is the company’s biggest event, but the campaign is not a one-day occurrence – it launched back in September, allowing them to benefit from the lead-up to the holiday and build anticipation about the big day.

The voice command “Alexa, open Halloween Hotel” gives users access to a range of themed interactive games, scary stories, jokes and prizes – ideal for families that want to celebrate the season together. Users can unlock new areas and receive notifications to remind them to check in and play. This is a perfect example of using gamification to engage customers and increase brand awareness.

5. Burger King: Halloween Whoppers

We’re back to Burger King again. The Halloween Whopper is Burger King’s ongoing campaign, where the fast food chain swaps their traditional burgers with novel Halloween-themed products. Past campaigns have included black garlic sauce and ghost peppers.

The best part is that they didn’t have to change their menu or sell a different product; they just repurposed their classic menu item. Many food companies take this approach, including other fast food giants that add a new sauce or ingredient to fit the Halloween mood.

While this type of campaign is somewhat less engaging than the experiential campaigns mentioned above, adapting existing products is a good way make the most of the scary season even if you have limited resources. Can you modify any of your products to give them the fear factor?

6. Snickers: “Bite-Sized Halloween”

Halloween is not just about costumes and candy; it’s also about scary stories. Many brands have based their Halloween marketing campaigns around storytelling and Snickers is one of them. Their “Bite-Sized Halloween” TV ad tells a funny and engaging story about a trick-or-treater that thinks she is a bear; no matter how much anyone tries to get her to admit she’s not, she’s adamant that she is, in fact, a bear. We then find out that there have been reports that there is a bear on the loose in the local community and the ad culminates to an encounter between the so-called bear and the park ranger. Storytelling is a powerful technique for any occasion, so think about how you can leverage it this Halloween. 

7. Marks & Spencers: Little Shwop of Horrors

British clothing company and supermarket Marks & Spencer’s used Halloween as an opportunity to showcase its ethical side. It hosted a recycling event specifically for swapping Halloween-themed clothes and costumes. M&S worked with Oxfam on this occasion and received endorsement from various celebrities, their collective efforts raising millions of pounds. Aside from the environmental benefits of re-use, this campaign may have helped families on low incomes to enjoy Halloween without having to spend much money. 

With sustainability and ethical business in general being such a high priority for consumers these days, any philanthropic campaigns will do a great deal not only for the communities they benefit, but for your brand’s image as well. Can you think of any ways to give back to your community through Halloween-themed events?

8. Ford’s Carwash Prank

Imagine you’re taking your car through a carwash when a bunch of masked figures jump out from behind the brushes. That’s exactly what happened with a few Ford customers that thought they were out for a test drive. When stopping for a car wash, they were ambushed by all sorts of ghoulish figures, as if in a haunted house theme park ride.

Like KFC’s Cursed Colonel campaign, Ford used the element of surprise to create memorable experiences for their prospective customers. Think about how you can give your audience something unexpected that will make your brand stick in their minds.

9. Veero’s “Haunted Cinema”

Leading up to the opening of their London-based venue, this virtual reality cinema company built up some hype by collaborating with pop-up cinema company, Wearecinema, and launching their Halloween Cinema experience where visitors could watch horror films using VR headsets. Again, a highly immersive experience for consumers and one that lets them test out new technology that they may not have used before. Not only did it increase the brand’s exposure, it increased product awareness.

10. Temptations: Tasty Human

Finally, another food brand – but not for humans. This cat food brand put a fearful image in consumers’ minds – being eaten by their cats. Their advert involves a man in a bath explaining that “if cats were bigger, they would try to eat us”, before feeding his cat some “human-flavoured” treats. As well as the TV ad, their social media channels featured related content.

Using humour in your Halloween marketing campaigns adds a new dimension to your communications (and cats seem to be a popular theme when in comes to jokes in marketing, like Cravendale’s “cats with thumbs” ad). In the case of Temptations, they combined humour with the shock element (i.e., cats eating people), which grabs attention. Humour is a great marketing tactic overall, so see how you can leverage it this Halloween.

Halloween is a great opportunity for marketers to get creative. From spooky costumes to blood-themed burgers, there are many ways to turn this spooky holiday into a marketing opportunity. If you’re looking to do a marketing campaign around Halloween, make sure that it is original and creative – remember, the best Halloween campaigns are fun, engaging, and experiential. You can also use the opportunity to introduce new products or simply increase the number of special offers available to attract customers.

With enough preparation, you should be able to come up with some scary good marketing ideas that will leave your competitors disturbed!

If you’re looking for assistance with your marketing campaigns or simply don’t have enough time to do it yourself, feel free to get in touch – my team and I are happy to help.

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