Last weekend was Halloween and business was good.

jack o lantern $

According to the National Retail Federation, American consumers will have spent $6.9 Billion USD on Halloween costumes, decorations and related items this year.  This includes haunted houses, and candy.


So, wow did it go from a niche holiday to the 2nd most lucrative holiday behind Christmas?

Halloween used to be only popular among school aged children because they get candy.  Now, the holiday is not just for kids.  Adults are embracing it full-on.  Some 13% of Americans ages 18-44 say Halloween is their favorite holiday, reports DDB Worldwide.  There are just as many adults costumes are here are children’s costumes in the stores.  Including “Sexy Pizza Rat“.

It probably started like most trends: Organically.  A small bunch of young adults in relatively isolated enclaves throughout the nation that wanted to partake in costuming.  Then other people saw how fun it was and then the number of participants grew into a measurable amount.

Slate has a pretty interesting article theorizing about its beginnings at the Halloween parade in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  This parade for all-ages, first started in the early-70’s, began as a neighborhood event organized by a local puppeteer and mask-maker.  Its fun and popularity then spread to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The appeal to adults is not a difficult concept to grasp.  “There are several reasons [for its adult popularity],” says Denise Delahorne of DDB Worldwide, a global marketing communications network in a recent 2012 Forbes article, “There’s no stress to it. You don’t have to travel or deal with relatives. There’s not the holiday pressure to find a date if you are single. You can wear whatever you want and not be judged. There’s the fantasy, role-play element.”

Businesses saw this trend (the power of market research!!) and seized this market opportunity.  Voila! Halloween as we currently know it came to being.

Not Just Halloween

Because of these reasons, ancillary (niche) markets have begun reaping the benefits of costuming.  Now, dressing-up has gone from beyond Oct. 31 to dates throughout the year at comic book conventions, anime expos, etc. and throughout across the United States and beyond.

anime character at 2012 Anime Expo

The commercialization of Halloween isn’t unique though.  In fact, Christmas wasn’t always about retail.  An event that might have happened in the Spring over two millennia ago eventually became linked to a 4th-century Greek bishop known for gift giving.  This act of gifting, over centuries, became more commercialized.  In even in the 1800’s letters were written lamenting that “Christmas wasn’t the same as it used to be.”

We also did it with Valentine’s Day.  For better or for worse, the next step might be commercializing Thanksgiving.  Then we can have 5 uninterrupted months of “holiday” spending.  If I were commissioned to do a marketing/PR campaign to commercialize Thanksgiving, I would investigate the underlying psychology that differentiates Thanksgiving from the other holidays (see the Denise Delahorne quote above).  Maybe a little DIY, a little up-cycling/repurposing, gluttonous eating, etc.  Then craft an activity/event that addresses these elements.  Next craft the marketing communications that implies the psychological elements in the advertising of the product/service I’m selling.

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