This Halloween, the Skout team won’t just be carving pumpkins and playing apple bobbing. This annual event provides PR pros with the opportunity to piggy back on the festivities and use it as a campaign hook. Brands have carried out some spooktacular Halloween stunts over the years and we’ve seen some great successes with content going viral. Take Ford’s car wash prank as an example, in which passengers were convinced to get into a car wash which became more like a haunted house ride. The video has been viewed over 1.8 million times.
But unfortunately, getting into the Halloween spirit can backfire for some brands. Over the years, Halloween has been responsible for some PR horror stories, leading to bad press that could haunt those brands for years to come. Back in 2013, ASDA and Tesco retailed a ‘mental health patient’ costume, featuring ragged clothing and a fake meat cleaver. It was met with criticism from some members of the public, particularly mental health charities who condemned the costume due to its distasteful representation of mental health. While it might not have had any lasting effects on sales for the two supermarkets, it was an ill-advised move for the two brands for whom portraying the right reputation is essential
Seasonal retailer, Spirit Halloween, has also offended people with its costumes. Two years ago it retailed a ‘Caitlyn Jenner’ costume, based on the famous Vanity Fair cover and with a brown wig, white corset and sash saying ‘Call me Caitlyn.’ Some transgender communities criticised the costume, saying that it was offensive to imply that Jenner is a scary figure just like witches and vampires. But just as you would have thought that Spirit Halloween would have learnt its lesson, this year it has launched another costume that has sparked outrage. The retailer’s ‘Border Patrol’ costume has made many claim that it’s insensitive to migrants, but the company’s PR representatives have replied merely saying that they expect people to find its costumes offensive every year.
As a B2B PR agency, we often use an annual festivity to boost campaign coverage where appropriate. Previous examples include a Christmas campaign for our client Wax Digital, which we gained national coverage for. However, there’s a fine line between having fun with the festivities and not getting too carried away with the caricatures and satire, and then risk offending people. Don’t turn your PR campaign ambitions in a PR nightmare.
Alex Brown enjoys being one of the Skout blog’s most regular contributors.