Next weekend, Halloween’s longtime standards of haunted graveyards, howling ghouls and things that go bump in the night will be underscored by the scariest fright of all: an airborne respiratory virus that has threatened to upend the family-favorite holiday as we know it.
Halloween is one of the calendar’s most important events for candymakers and costume-sellers, and with marketers having discussed how to best approach the night of Oct. 31 since the summer, many brands are now going all-in on COVID-safe messaging this year that encourages consumers to stay safe while keeping the festival of fright intact.
Hershey Co. and Mars Wrigley, which separately make some of the holiday’s most sought-after treats, both have Halloween-related marketing efforts running on multiple fronts this year in the hopes of maintaining steady candy sales.
In addition to campaigns devoted to its individual candy brands, Hershey this year assembled the “Hershey Halloween Squad” composed of five experts including a child psychologist, a lifestyle author and a husband-and-wife crafting duo who have been churning out recipes, at-home projects and decorating tips all October long.
Hershey was one of the first candymakers to get in on the spooky action this year, releasing four Halloween-inspired chocolate products in early July: Kit Kat Witch’s Brew, Reese’s Franken-Cup, Vampire Milk Chocolate Kisses and Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Creme Fangs. Hitting shelves nearly four months ahead of Halloween, Hershey wanted to “be prepared for a strong recovery while also making smart choices to mitigate risk if consumer behavior remains impacted,” CEO Michele Buck said on a conference call earlier this year.
To diversify their marketing for this year’s unconventional Halloween, Mars teamed up with Disney and 20th Digital Studio to sponsor a series of “Bite Size” short horror films available on FX, Freeform and Hulu until Oct. 31. The films will feature brand integrations with M&M’s, Twix, Snickers and more, and will serve as “one way we are able to ensure our fans have an enjoyable and entertaining Halloween season,” Mars Wrigley Media Director Ray Amati says.
Trick or treat… or don’t
While various municipalities, from Beverly Hills to Toronto, have banned traditional trick-or-treating in line with public health advisories, the continent’s appetite for fun-sized candy has proven steadfast, with neither snow nor rain nor pandemic able to dampen it.
Overall media spend on Halloween candy-related marketing is down 19% from 2019 in the United States, but in-store candy sales have been resilient, up 26% year-over-year as of late September, according to a Halloween Candy Tracker published by market research firm Numerator.
“Six months into COVID, consumers, brands and retailers are all still adapting in real-time. In the case of Halloween, consumers have acted early,” says Numerator CEO Eric Belcher, whose data also found that more than 6 in 10 consumers will buy candy for home consumption in 2020. Meanwhile, the amount of households planning to pass out goodies to trick-or-treaters is down 25% this year.
To encourage the longstanding door-to-door tradition, Reese’s—which spent more than 40% of last year's marketing budget in October, according to ad sales analyst MediaRadar—created a remote-controlled front door on wheels to roam neighborhoods and pass out candy via a robotic, voice-activated dispenser. All kids (or chocolate-loving adults) have to say is “trick or treat,” and a king-size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups will pop out of the door’s mail slot.