Using Halloween to scare up sales

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Marketers will attempt to take the fright out of the economy by dressing up for Halloween.

From fast food chains to package goods manufacturers to retailers and TV networks, marketers are looking for a sales boost from what has evolved from a one-day event into a top five selling season.

The National Retail Federation estimated Halloween spending on everything from candy to home decorations was $6.8 billion in 2000, up from $2.5 billion in 1996. That's still less than gift-giving holidays such as Mother's Day and Father's Day, and far behind Christmas with $194.9 billion in 2000.

"This year, [Halloween] could be a very good form of therapy," said Scott Krugman, National Retail Federation spokesman, who was optimistic retailers could wind up with more treats than tricks. The NRF's 2001 Halloween estimate, to be released this week, will reflect a modest increase over last year's estimate, he said.

Besides therapy, retailers view this spooky season as an opportunity to jump start sales by getting children to push parents back into shopping mode. "Halloween is very much a kids' event and parents want to teach them life is back to normal," said Ellis Verdi, president, DeVito/Verdi, New York. He anticipates parents won't deprive children of holiday fun. Already, retailers are seeing brisk sales of costumes with patriotic themes as well as police and firefighters, with a little less emphasis on gore.

Retailers such as Federated Department Store's Macy's West took out a full-page ad in major newspapers for an old-fashioned coloring contest. Walgreen Co., on Oct. 15, will run ads on national cable and in 20 spot markets pushing the chain as a destination to make things right for children on Halloween, instead of only focusing on price and item ads, said Craig Sinclair, VP-Advertising. In one spot from Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG McConnaughey Tatham, Chicago, a boy wrapped in aluminum perplexes a woman dispensing treats. "Halloween just isn't the same without the right stuff," says the voice-over.

Other retailers are developing the market among adults. LensCrafters is promoting its line of Halloween contact lenses from cat eyes to hypnotist pinwheels via direct mail.

Halloween, long a candy treat holiday, is also growing among a wider variety of marketers. Sony Computer Entertainment America will give away $1 million worth of PlayStation and PlayStation2 software via Hershey Foods Corp.'s Hershey's Snack Size Bags. From mid-September to mid-November, Kraft is selling orange-colored Minute Rice in select markets.

Kraft Foods will also offer two special Halloween varieties of its Kool-Aid Bursts-Ghostly Grape and Black Cat Cherry-in special glow-in-the-dark bottles. Pillsbury Co. will feature United Media's Peanuts characters on Pillsbury's Refrigerated Halloween Shape Cookies as well as on packaging for its Ghost cookies, Linus' Great Pumpkin cookies and Linus' Great Pumpkin Funfetti frosting and cake mixes. An Internet tie-in includes a sweepstakes for a trip to Camp Snoopy.

Kellogg Co. introduces themed cereals, including Kreepy Rice Krispies with orange-colored rice and spooky marshmallow shapes; Candy Corn Corn Pops flavored like the autumnal candies; and Jack O'Lantern Apple Jacks with special mini-cookies added.

Fox Family Channel is launching a $19.3 million marketing blitz for its "13 Days of Halloween" promotion including print ads, a sweepstakes with partner Yahoo!, and a tie in with General Mills cereal on over 4 million boxes of Count Chocula, Frankenberry and Boo Berry.

Fast food marketer McDonald's Corp. will run a nine-day Happy Meal promotion featuring Halloween pails decorated with McDonaldland characters and a black bat handle that serves as the meal packaging. TV, radio and in-store advertising breaks Oct. 19 from BCom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA and Publicis Groupe's Frankel, both Chicago.

For Burger King Corp., "The Simpsons" star in a new promotion called "Spooky Simpsons Light-ups." With the purchase of a Big Kids Meal or a Kids Meal, consumers will receive one of 15 Simpsons characters from Halloween episodes. (News Corp.'s Fox network's annual primetime Halloween show, "The Simpson Annual Treehouse of Horror XII," airs Nov. 6 due to the rescheduling of the World Series.) The Diageo chain will offer frozen Coca-Cola treats-Scary Black Cherry and Outrageous Orange-which stain tongues those colors. Kid-targeted TV spots from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, back the effort.

Contributing: Tobi Elkin, Wayne Friedman, Jean Halliday, Kate MacArthur and Stephanie Thompson

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