As All Hallows’ Eve approaches, we started thinking about the countless Halloween-themed marketing campaigns that would no doubt rear their gruesome heads come October 31st. Whenever there’s a timely event or holiday, brands want to insert themselves into the discussion to expand their reach and engage with new audiences. It may appear a bit tired and overdone, but themed campaigns can really engage with consumers and, most importantly, are memorable.
For example, back in 2014 Ford tricked unlucky individuals into taking their cars into a haunted car wash. The cars were locked down and plunged into darkness as a host of creatures threw themselves on to the windscreen, before someone (or perhaps more aptly, something) crawled from the boot. A pretty memorable experience, right? And something you’d definitely talk about. Suddenly, the seeds of virality were sown (1.8 million views and counting) and Ford established itself as a brand more engaged and willing to have fun.
Not everyone has the budget to transform an entire car wash and hire a team of actors, make-up artists and camera operators though. However, you can still achieve something memorable on a budget, if you’re creative enough. One of the best examples of this is The Blair Witch Project, which was the viral campaign, and achieved it all before Facebook was even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.
The premise of The Blair Witch Project is simple – three filmmakers investigate the Blair Witch, a ghoulish local legend, and go missing in the process. The film itself is the footage that was discovered after their disappearance. The beauty, however, was the real world buzz and mystery the marketing generated.
The production team created an entire website dedicated to the fictional Blair Witch legend, presenting it as a true story and filling it with historical accounts, biographies of the filmmakers and documents of the police search for the missing filmmakers. The website went live a year prior to the release of the film, before a distribution deal was even secured. The producers stirred interest by commenting on forums, whilst the filmmakers (who were really actors) were listed as ‘missing’ on the film’s IMDB page.
Slowly, the film was blurring the line between fact and fiction, breaking from traditional advertising and, in doing so, engaging with their audience and challenging them. To top it all off, they took a full page advert out in Variety Magazine that simply listed the website and the number of hits so far, which stood at over 20 million. They created a huge social buzz just by implying that this was an event you could not afford to miss out on, pre-empting the drive for viral content and the importance of social sharing.
That’s why brands use holidays and events as part of their marketing strategy, and why the best campaigns often focus on creating experiences for their audience. It’s an opportunity to be socially relevant and portrays them as more than just a static, faceless corporate entity – it’s far easier to have a connection with a brand that is a living, breathing part of everyday culture, rather than one that sits outside of it.
So whilst everyone else is simply photoshopping a pumpkin into their logo, consider how you can go beyond this to create something truly memorable for your audience. Otherwise, all you’re ultimately doing is playing dress-up in a pretty cheap Halloween costume, and God knows there are enough of those.