Once a relatively minor holiday, Halloween has had a major marketing boost

October 27, 2015

Probably one of the best marketing programs in history turned Halloween from a relatively minor celebration to a major event. In fact, Halloween is the fourth most popular holiday in terms of consumer spending trailing Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

If all goes according to past trends, about 158 million Americans will celebrate Halloween on Saturday. In all, about $6.9 billion will be spent on Halloween items ranging from candy to costumes. In general, Halloween has become a party for all ages.

No doubt the event is much different from when I was young or even when our daughters were children. In those days, decorating for the Halloween was simply carving a jack-o-lantern or two. You might set them on the porch and get a bowl of candy ready to hand out to children who rang the doorbell and shouted “trick or treat.” Usually I’d go with the girls around a couple of blocks and come home with enough candy that, with rationing, could last past Thanksgiving. I will confess that there were times when I may have sampled more than one candy bar while passing out the treats. Now, if I’m home, I enjoy handing out goodies, but that’s as far as it goes when it comes to celebrating the event.

What has really surprised me is the intricate decorations that adorn houses and yards. We’ve all seen yards that are filled with Halloween scenes. It is just part of the growth of the holiday.

Make no mistake, sales of Halloween candy is big business. In 2014 Halloween candy sales totaled $2.33 billion in the United States. There was a time when kids got homemade cookies, popcorn balls etc. but with security concerns it is recommended that all treats be packaged. A new addition to the holiday scene is “trunk or treat,” where groups such as churches sponsor a gathering in a parking lot and folks open the trunks of their cars and hand out treats to children in a safe, controlled environment.

When our children were young, Jean spent a lot of time making or assembling costumes. Now I suspect most costumes for children are purchased, since $2.79 billion was spent on children’s costumes last year.

Halloween has become an adult celebration, too. One source said the sales of adult costumes totaled $1.22 billion. Again thanks to adept marketing, the “in thing” is an adult costume party, which is a very new addition to the celebration.

Certainly Halloween has spawned a whole industry of professional haunted establishments. There are many in the metro area, including one of the best in Bonner Springs. I have never been to a professional haunted house for a simple reason: I don’t like to be scared. I can find enough frightening items just by reading the news.

In one way, Halloween is fairly tame compared to when I was young. In most small towns “Halloweening” usually included kids jamming the town square with “borrowed vehicles.” Usually authorities turned a blind eye until things got out of hand and property was destroyed. Yes, I’ve heard of outhouses being overturned, too, but that is certainly a welcome disappearance from the Halloween scene. In the 1940s and ‘50s causing a little mayhem wasn’t a serious problem; now it would be called juvenile crime. Let me add that there never is any reason for vandalism and damaging property of others.

I still enjoy Halloween, particularly the annual parade from the grade school down Oak Street. It is a small town tradition that dates back for decades.

While the observance of Halloween started as a pagan ritual centuries ago it has become a relatively harmless time to have fun. Enjoy the good times and make sure that you are extremely cautious if you drive on Halloween night.

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