The temptation to use Halloween and the entire month of October as a tie-in to new product launches is great for brands, as the season's themes are wide-ranging, fun and unabashedly commercial. That said, PR firms and departments need to be careful at this time of year. Without a keen and up-to-date picture of media mentions, companies could make scary mistakes that come back to haunt them.
Before digressing into warnings about Halloween promotions, it pays to remember how valuable it can be to launch or promote a product with a strong link to the holiday. This is especially true for food and beverage makers, as there is perhaps no holiday tied so closely to snacking.
Foodbev Media recently ran down some of this year's launches and tie-ins from around the world, including some clever uses of Halloween imagery on products that have not previously had any link to the holiday. For instance, Frito-Lay has debuted black Doritos-brand chips adorned with vampire imagery - exclusive to Japan, at least for now.
The source noted that Lidl went even further away from traditional Halloween snacks, debuting tri-color pasta with ghost, bat and pumpkin shapes. The opportunities to launch a new flavor, shape or packaging design in the run-up to Halloween are nearly limitless. With a little effort, you can make just about anything scary. That said, companies can misjudge demand and end up in crisis mode.
Not every brand that launches a tie-in to the season is having a happy Halloween. In fact, those that make a mistake will likely need much more active PR departments than their competitors. The U.K.'s The Telegraph recently ran down a list of offensive Halloween costumes for this year, the type of context no brand wants to be mentioned in.
While some of the ideas mentioned in The Telegraph's roundup are clearly in bad taste and courting controversy, others may have seemed like a good idea at some time. Brands that end up in trouble over their decisions will likely need strong media intelligence to quickly realize there is a problem and great messaging to counter any lasting reputation damage, truly great PR departments can prevent such a situation from ever happening.
When teams perform active and up-to-date media monitoring regarding topics of interest, they may realize in advance that an idea is a mistake or holds the potential to offend. Such thinking by costume manufacturers may have prevented the creation of an outfit designed to evoke Kim Kardashian becoming the victim of a robbery in Paris, which took pride of first place in The Telegraph's offensive costume list.
Sometimes, events in the Halloween season cause PR problems for companies that weren't even trying to engage with the season. In these cases, it's especially important for organizations to stay aware of potential issues and counter them carefully.
The Guardian, for example, reported that McDonald's decided to keep its popular Ronald McDonald character out of the public eye in the U.S. market after a rash of incidents throughout October in which individuals dressed as clowns have intimidated or frightened passersby.
By taking in the tone of coverage around clowns worldwide, the restaurant chain made a proactive decision to avoid possible negative associations. Significantly, the decision was seemingly reached not based on any incident with Ronald McDonald, but the general attitude toward the frightening clown sightings. Preemptive actions are only positive if PR departments have keen and timely awareness of media activity.
As long as brands make sure to keep their promotions tasteful, staying aware of current events and public opinion, they should have plenty of great options for branded announcements or product launches in October. This applies to organizations in fields directly related to the holiday, such as snack producers, and those with only tenuous connections.
Just in case something does go wrong, it pays to be hyper-aware of any negative coverage of the business or products in question. Provided leaders equip their PR departments or partners with adequate technology, this level of visibility is possible today. Halloween is a season of tricks and treats, but brands don't want to be haunted by PR mistakes made during October.