Boo! Unexpected Dos and Don’ts for Halloween Marketing

This time of year, theatrics really do the trick.  Here’s some solid suggestions on keeping your customers entertained.

Susie Almaneih Halloween MarketingIt’s a fine line between an archetype: Frankenstein, Dracula, Nos Feratu, and cliché: Ghost, Witch, Jack-o-lantern.  Halloween is a day unlike any other day.  It invites the average ho-hum guy to reveal the Technicolor rainbow side of his personality.  It inspires creativity, uncertainty, mystery, and fright. Why wouldn’t you get in on that opportunity to show the silly, outrageous, witty side of your brand?

Of course, there have been some massive belly flops in the pool of Halloween marketing ideas too, some of which provide a teachable moment in how to get the right kind of attention from your target this time of year.  The following list offers dos and don’ts with examples of success and, well, monster failure.

DO think subgenre.  Zombies are all the rage these days, but cross-pollinate the zombies with say, beekeepers or librarians, or whatever demographic might fall under your brand identity, and you give your audience something to laugh at, and strangely relate to. REI did a really zany campaign where its team created a Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Video.  They presented all the information as fact and gave the company a chance to highlight some of their emergency and outdoor equipment.

DON’T rely on clichés.  Monsters and Werewolves are old hat and predictable, but unusual and creative Halloween concepts get attention because they are unexpected.  Your audience is primed for the absurd right now.  Think about things that are scary in real life: Honey Boo Boo or the DMV.  Popular culture provides loads of fodder for tongue-in-cheek and play on words.

Don’t miss a photo op.  If you do organize a company-wide theme, take it out in public.  Take your entire team bowling in Abraham Lincoln costumes.  Pair your disguises with hit songs and film yourselves singing Karaoke.  Have a very serious business meeting where everyone at the conference table is dressed like a baby.  The more deadpan, the better.

DO get obscure.  This is the one time of year that people want to be creeped out.  Apocrypha?  Great.  The Occult?  Tell me more!  Work in the séance and the Ouija Board.  Go back to the advent of Halloween in Ireland where the end of the harvest and the beginning of the cold meant evil spirits lurked everywhere.  Look up old Halloween ads and work them into some clever memes about your product.

DON’T go overboard with the shock value.  Take a lessonfrom the great Albert Hitchcock, the master of suspense.  He realized that the audience got so much more freaked out if he just made the suggestion of gore or violence and let the imagination do the rest.  FOX made the mistake of running ads for Sleepy Hollow with an image of a headless horseman and the caption: “Does this axe make my head look small?” Unfortunately, another ISIS beheading in the press turned this ad into a very insensitive joke.

DON’T miss the chance to weave in sales, promotions, and contests. You can work a practical joke into a giveaway because a good belly laugh is a great hook.

It’s easy to throw an online contest into your theme, getting your visitors to participate in a way that keeps them coming back to your page.  This could be a mystery story, or an online treasure hunt where you reveal a new clue everyday.  Vine is a great medium for this where you post a new 20-second segment everyday.

DO form a partnership with another business.  Another clever way to rope in customers is to blend your campaign with another brand, again, in an unexpected way.  For example, if you are brick and mortar, consider partnering with a non-profit like your local SPCA.  Nothing sells like animals in costumes, but even if you are not a retailer, video, infographics, posters, or funny memes can boost your traffic if you are linking up with a good cause.

Think outside the coffin for your Halloween blast to give your target audience the sense that your company knows how to get in the spirit.  A good rule of thumb is just to keep your sentiment positive, inclusive, and timely.  This is the one time of the year that people actually like a little mystery, a jolt, or just a good joke, so use that to your brand’s advantage.

5 Emergent Offerings and the Efficacy of Unconventional Marketing

A great product is only one piece of the puzzle; congruent and novel marketing strategies get that product the attention it deserves.

The breakneck pace of the tech industry is less of a bell curve, where developers have predictable phases of adoption, and more of a “big bang.” Either a disruptive technology explodes onto the marketplace, or it doesn’t.  With everything pouring into consumer view faster and cheaper, the response is educated, immediate and has therefore changed the whole product lifecycle.

Looking over recent history, some technologies have hit, not just because of their usefulness, but also because their marketing strategies struck a chord.  The uniqueness of any particular idea makes it salient, and hard to reproduce predictably, but understanding the language of innovation wrapped around these products is valuable information.

  • Uber came into public awareness for a few key reasons: it provided a desperately needed service, in this case transporSusie Almaneih marketingtation, it used existing infrastructure by hiring car owners instead of investing in vehicles, and the digital platform is extremely efficient, so consumers get results fast.  Uber was solving a couple problems for cities at once: commuting, parking and reducing carbon emissions.

Uber’s marketing campaign was very much a combination of word of mouth, high-profile partnerships and promotions.  Its “Kittens” campaign joined forces with the SPCA to deliver kittens in seven major cities, playing on the social media meme kittens equal happy people.

  • Another product and service combination that gained tremendous traction was Etsy.  This strategy capitalized on the DIY movement and gave creatives a high-profile venue to pawn their wares.  Like Ebay, but without the auction, Etsy gave producers of goods a direct line of sale to their customer, as well as control over pricing and shipping.

Etsy’s global marketing campaign was very effective in that it delivered a sense of authenticity and connection between consumer and producer that has all but disappeared from the marketing scene.  This was especially triumphant in gift-giving and seasonal cycles, where the value of vintage, one-of a-kind and handmade goods resonates with a large base of consumers.

  • Ever since the Jetsons, the collective imagination has yearned for a time when just thinking about an action makes it possible.  The Emotiv Neuro Transmitter may have broken the finish line with a headset that translates brainwaves into commands.  Users can optimize their own cognitive functions, compose music, or play video games, just by thinking about it.

Tan Le, the founder and developer, used a very simple but sophisticated strategy in introducing the technology: she sought out her audience by giving a Ted Talk, a behind-the-scenes video to illustrate the evolution of the headset, and made the bold move of taking the product to the public, rather than B2B specialization, like the medical or military industries.

  • Susie Almaneih marketingHootsuite was such a simple idea that it was nearly overtaken by a few competitors in the Software-as-a-Service game, but its agility in allowing users to schedule and control posts to big platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook put it out in front.  Hootsuite was able to leverage its efficacy as a social media conveyor by creating some spoof videos that went viral like wildfire.  Using the iconography of Game of Thrones, Hootsuite was able to put itself on the map (quite literally if you watch the video) by borrowing the very recognizable logos of all the major players in the social media arena.  You can watch the video here:
  • Illustrating similar ingenuity, Hubspot coined the term inbound marketing, a circular concept that brings targeted consumers into contact with relevant business content.  The platform does this by offering a treasure trove of materials and tools including marketing kits, case studies, analytics and tons of evergreen content that creates a short cut for both businesses and customers.

What is unique about this offering is that the product is the marketing.  Because they are specialists in all things marketing (viral, social, e-commerce and the list goes on); the service advertises for itself.

The take away from these examples may not be platitudes about how to energize consumers; humans are fickle and with more variety available than ever, they are far more discerning than the previous generation of consumer.  However, maybe the bigger lesson is that with a unique offering there must be equally unique messaging.  What these companies proved is that questioning assumptions about how to sell a product is one of the most basic ingredients in a magnetic and memorable campaign.

Marketing Then and Now: The Evolution of the Customer Relationship

From the first marketplaces where farmers and craftsmen peddled their wares, to the line around the block for the newest iPhone, the buying and selling process has transformed around the entire globe. To illustrate just how this exchange has progressed over time, let’s travel back over the last few decades to see how new approaches and technologies have changed– for the better.

Susie Almaneih marketing

Post War and the advertising boom

With a new flood of industry, companies relied mostly on producing a good product and informing customers with brochures, catalogs, and periodical advertising.  In addition to the TV as a means of capturing public attention, an emphasis in salesmanship emerged and campaigns relied heavily on presenting trustworthy goods as a way to a more modern lifestyle.


As media became more sophisticated, companies began to look at longer-term strategies, but the method stayed pretty much the same: “outbound” marketing talked at customers.  Telemarketing, for example, took root, much to consumers’ chagrin in the 70s.


The notion of relationship marketing meant companies moved away from courting simple, one-off transactions and tried to cultivate more complex relationships with customers.  The concept of relationship marketing is still quite popular today.  Part of the reason for this development was cable TV emerging in the 1980s.  It represented an electronic, immediate way to track customer behaviors like with the Home Shopping Network (launched in 1982) and QVC (1986), as these channels sold discounted goods directly to viewers, who called in orders to telephone operators. 1

In tech, Apple distinguished itself as an innovator and a maker of tools that foster independent thinking, like the famous 1984 commercial that recreated Orwell’s dystopia.  Apple brought a few new ideas to the marketing table: empathy or deep understanding customer need, focus on creating one masterful product rather than dozens of mediocre ones, and impute, the idea that the presentation is an accurate and desirable rendering of the product.


The explosion of the Internet made it possible for companies to observe buyer behaviors with much more precision.  The buzzword of the 1990s was “integrated marketing,” a consistent message through a variety of media to cut through the noise of standard advertising and reach a specific demographic.

Companies such as Amazon and eBay were early players in e-commerce, which allowed marketers to sell products directly to consumers, as well as collect data about them.

Marketers looked toward alternative techniques such as database, interactive media, sales promotion, direct response, PR and viral marketing, and targeted methodology.


Search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft’s Bing continued to shape the consumer experience.  In a thesis for Duke University Business School, authors Bradford Colton Lightcap and William Anthony Peek explain it this way: “Until the advent of the Internet, real-time analytics on advertising were scarce.  Advertisers often struggled to target specific demographics with audio or display ads run in widely circulated broadcasts or publications.  Furthermore, figuring out how effective an advertisement was proved difficult.  The Internet is poised to solve many of these problems via three key features: measurability, targeting, and interactivity/effectiveness.”3


Several factors contributed to a shift in attitude at the top when it comes to both the running of the business and the treatment of the customer.  The foundering of Enron, the Big 5 bailout, and the real estate crisis all created a zeitgeist of questioning the big business-as-usual mentality.  There was a big push to get domestic manufacturing back on track and small business and local production saw a surge.  During this era, women moved into the workforce in a big way, and brought a re-humanizing approach to marketing and branding.

The newer understanding is that customers want their needs met, but they also want to have an authentic exchange with the maker.

Moreover, the latest trends indicate that solution marketing is the big focus.  Problem solving is the main objective, particularly with technology-based offerings that drive customer engagement throughout the product lifecycle.

What this history demonstrates is that marketers really have the best of several worlds; they have all the tools to discover customer need and the ability to have a more level conversation with their target audience.  Interactivity has paradoxically made it easier for consumers to shop in their pajamas, but it has also served to develop the dynamic between consumer and company.

With that undeniable American individualism, investors are more open-minded about new visions and individual makers.  And even more promising, small companies no longer have to find ways to fund huge rollouts; they can build their own campaigns by doing it themselves or crowdsourcing.  This also provides testability that enables small companies to gain investment and growth because they have real-world case studies.

There is no one way to sell a product, but those who have success do so because they have applied the effective techniques of the past and integrated them into a more evolved relationship with their target consumer.