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Opinion and Insight

Piggy-Backing on a Witches Broomstick

VCCP, 1 year, 11 months ago

Why Dalston prostitutes have VCCP Creative Director Andy Booth thinking about Halloween marketing

Piggy-Backing on a Witches Broomstick

A few years back when we were living on Shacklewell Lane in Dalston, late at night we used to hear prostitutes arguing with each other below our bedroom window. No amount of their shouting and screaming obscenities, and in some cases chasing each other around the street, would resolve territory issues. It’s a hard life and there were a lot of them, so competition was tough. One Halloween we came home late and as we went inside I noticed one of the ladies across the road had added to her usual outfit a witches hat and a cape. I remember wondering to myself if, had she had the luck and good fortune in life that the likes of you and I have had, would she have made it in a career in marketing or advertising? She seemed to know her market well, but on that night particularly she had chosen to stand out from her competition with something that probably portrayed her in a friendly, accessible light to her potential clients. It may even make her more memorable to a returning customer next time around. All of which could be valuable. She was capitalising on a national event to help get clients interested. And probably getting a smile out of them in the process. 

When asked whether or not brands should capitalise on Halloween in their advertising, the answer is surely ‘yes’. You always hear the odd groan from people about the over-commercialisation of Halloween. But why not? I’m all for the amplifying of fun things, whatever they are. 

When I was a child, Halloween always passed by fairly quietly in the UK. I remember watching an episode of CHiPs (California Highway Patrol to the under 30s) based around a crime mystery set on Halloween. I was absolutely blown away by all the fun and games apparently happening on 31st October in suburban Southern California. Glowing pumpkin faces outside every house, scores of kids in spooky fancy dress costumes playing tricks and hoarding mountains of sweets and chocolate, all out on a night-time adventure. So I’m glad my kids will get the sort of Halloween that my generation had to watch from afar (not all Americanisation is bad). But, as all decent agencies and clients already know, only piggy back on the witches broomstick if you’re bringing something to the party. 

There are brands that can lay claim to helping facilitate Halloween so they’re well in there already. They still have a responsibility to do it in a rewarding way though. It’s better to do nothing at all than to do it lazily. Whether it’s an all-singing, all-dancing app that tells you which street has the highest average value of treats to give out, or simply an original and charming piece of creative, it’s better than just plonking an ugly pumpkin at the bottom of your ads or doing a Vincent Price voice-over on a radio ad. Granted, client’s don’t initiate it themselves that often, and it’s difficult to get them to invest in something without an easy to measure or obvious ROI, especially when relating to direct sales for just one day. But it is an opportunity to reinforce brand as well as sales, just as Christmas is. Brands can get into the spirit of it and bring something to the party. There’s plenty of Halloween wallpaper out there, but you seem as likely to see some good work as you are to see a ghost. 

When writing this I was surprised at how little good work I (or colleagues) could remember. Snickers’ ‘Horseless Headman’ came to mind but that was American so doesn’t count. There’s been very little that actually gives something to the audience to enhance their experience of Halloween in some small way, whether through entertainment, interaction or facilitation. The grumblers will be well within their rights to bemoan the commercialisation of Halloween until the brands get involved and the work gets better. And it will, because there are far too many smart (and fortunate) people working in our industry for it not to. I’m already looking forward to seeing the piece that I’ll remember from this Halloween. (Target anyone? Oh, that’s American again.) 

As for the ladies of Shacklewell Lane, they’ve long been moved on and scared away by the hipsters. With a bit of luck some of them have been helped off of the streets by the charity ‘Beyond The Streets’, because that’s what they do. Maybe, if you don’t get to give out any treats this Halloween, you could donate the money you save to ‘Beyond The Streets’, to help our friend in the witches’ hat. If it helps only one fortunate girl to do something like we do for a living, instead of what she has to do, it’s worth it. And who knows, she might even end up being the one that writes that brilliant bit of Halloween creative.


Andy Booth is Creative Director at VCCP