How Halloween can put a curse on PR

Halloween is just around the corner, and while Skout HQ is a bit thin on the ground in spooky lights or pumpkins, it’s hard to escape the themed decorations adorning shop windows. Love it or hate it, there’s no doubt that Halloween is a good way for retailers and other businesses to draw in customers. But a couple of cases have shown that going too far with the festivities can cause a PR disaster that will do more than frighten away customers…

 

Recently we heard that an American store, Spirit Halloween, was selling a ‘Caitlyn Jenner’ costume that was modelled on the famous Vanity Fair cover- complete with a brown wig, white corset and sash saying ‘Call me Caitlyn.’ Maybe the costume will be a hit, but that hasn’t stopped transgender communities from reacting with anger at the implication that Jenner is up there with ghouls, witches and vampires as a scary figure. The retailer’s PR department responded saying: “Caitlyn Jenner has proven to be the most important real-life superhero of the year, and Spirit Halloween is proud to carry the costume that celebrates her.” Are you convinced that the retailer was ‘celebrating’ her all along though? It seems like an attempt to worm its way out of a PR disaster to me.

 

It’s not the first time that something like this has happened. Two years ago, Tesco and Asda were both criticised for retailing a ‘mental health patient’ costume, which caricatured the look through ragged clothing and a fake meat cleaver. Mental health charities reacted unfavourably at the facetious attitude towards mental health, leading to the retailers taking the costume off sale. Asda and Tesco had some serious apologising to do.

 

Who would have thought that Halloween could teach us a PR lesson or two? The key to using the annual festival of all things spooky as a marketing tactic is to remember that regular standards of not offending people still apply- don’t get too carried away! Otherwise the grim reaper could appear from the darkness at any moment to put an end to your brand’s good image…

 

Alex Brown has just started his career at Skout PR and will be a regular contributor to the Skout blog.

 

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