Go into any Halloween superstore and you’ll find a plethora of packaged costumes, cheaply constructed and relatively affordable. Inside each plastic satchel is the promise of transformation – for one night you can become Freddy Kruger, Alice in Wonderland, or even Snooki. On All Hallow’s Eve you’re given permission to tap into a latent dimension of your psyche, and express your hidden desire to be scary, funny, or sexy.
In the context of advertising, Halloween is an individual’s opportunity for disruptive rebranding.
364 days a year you present yourself to the world within the fixed parameters of your personality and identity. Some days you’re more pleasant than others, but unless you’re bipolar or suffer from multiple personality syndrome your identity typically falls within a specific predictable range.
The same hold true for brands.
While Oreo exuberantly celebrates its 100th anniversary and even releases a candy corn flavored cookie for Halloween, it steadfastly maintains its core identity. According to Becky Tousey, Kraft Foods’ corporate archivist, the brand’s message has maintained a consistent theme throughout the years. Tousey told ABC News: "The focus of advertising was on the fun of eating Oreos, the fun of the parts of the Oreo. It has that theme of the enjoyment – the twisting, the licking, the dunking.” By consistently reinforcing this fun-focused brand identity, Oreo remains on top of the packaged foods pyramid.
Going dramatically off-brand can have immensely positive effects. Just look at Old Spice, traditionally considered a “grandpa” product for the mature gentleman. That is, until the now virally famous “Swagger” campaign transformed the product into a direct competitor to the Axe-wielding 12-34 male demo. The result: 400% sales growth.
The impact of a dramatic rebrand comes with inherent risks of confusing the audience. Consider P&G’s Parthenon campaign for Pantene. Traditionally identified as the “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” product, Pantene rebranded itself by focusing on 18 benefit-themed collections including quirky terms like “4 o’clock flop” and “second-day hair.” Customers didn’t grasp the concept. The result: P&G failed to hit their usual 5% annual beauty growth mark – which CEO A.G. Lafley directly attributed to the Pantene rebrand in his April 2012 earnings call.. Ever the adaptable powerhouse, Pantene has since reignited a dynamic campaign that focus on its core value of beautiful, manageable hair.
The allure of Halloween is the promise of a rebranding transformation for a single day without repercussion. The lowly assistant can transform into a princess without the consequence of being considered a social climber. The buttoned-up exec can let loose as Elvis and avoid HR write-ups for his manic hip gyrations. The introverted analyst can become a sexy (insert random non-sexy profession or animal here) without having her morals questioned too harshly.
As with Old Spice, you might astound your associates with your contemporary, bold reveal. Or, you could present your audience with a confusing, socially awkward faux pas. The key to a successful rebrand is to create something that will surprise and delight your audience. But, in the world of Halloween you could either delight or horrify and still be considered a raging success. For one night you can explore the daring and bizarre aspects of your personality by becoming someone or something else. Come November 1st, you return to your normal self – perhaps slightly hung-over from sugar and cheer, hopefully holding on to that beautiful self-expression and exploration only Halloween can conjure.