Opinion: how on-trend horror themes are helping brands slay

Halloween may have come and gone now that ‘Mariah Carey season’ is well upon us, but this doesn’t mean that all things creepy are being left behind.

Kids Industries’ researcher Aleksandra Szczerba explains why she believes why brands and campaigns should tap into the 365-days-a-year consumer interest and appetite for all things spooky.

“Much to the satisfaction of horror-lovers around the world, spooky season is no longer contained to October. Now it is a year-round affair with a strong, newfound grip on the dual worlds of entertainment and marketing.

The root of our love for all things spooky is psychological. Experiencing fear in a safe, controlled environment gives us an adrenaline and dopamine boost.

We are also more drawn to horror during turbulent times; when the real world around us looks bleak, we tend to look ‘beyond the material plane’ with more curiosity. Horror serves as escapism, comfort, catharsis – and itself can be a vehicle for political or social commentary.

Unsurprisingly then, 2022 has been an incredibly strong year for horror film and TV. For the second year running, horror beat all other genres (bar action) at the US box office.

Low budget movies attracted large cinema audiences week-after-week, like Smile or Terrifier 2. Specialist streamer Shudder is growing its slate of acclaimed releases, and Netflix is seeing success from its record-breaking fan-favourite Stranger Things as well as new releases like The Midnight Club and Cabinet of Curiosities.

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Online creators are tapping into real-world paranormal fascination. Jack Wagner’s ‘Otherworld’ podcast has climbed charts thanks to dedicated Gen Z listeners, while on YouTube, Watcher’s Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej released their long-awaited ‘Ghost Files’ series and went on a sold-out tour.

The jackets they wear throughout the series have sold out too, with everyone looking to dress like the internet’s favourite ghost-hunting duo.

Horror themes are also a hit with young audiences. Roblox is home to numerous games featuring zombies, monsters and killers, while popular titles like Piggy, Survive the Killer! or Apocalypse Rising’ have inspired official toys. Mattel even resurrected its Monster High doll line this year to much excitement, complete with a live-action movie on Paramount+. A sequel has already been greenlit.

Marketers have been paying attention to this tendency towards the spooky. Although most campaigns happen around Halloween, like AR-facilitated costume shopping via Snapchat, or the annual Halloween-themed burger from Burger King, 2022 has seen numerous takes on horror outside this period.

Many brands go down the cinema-inspired route. Ford’s summer campaign for the “scary fast” F-150 Raptor R was heavily inspired by 70s and 80s horror. The final commercial, with striking grindhouse-style visuals and retro title cards, felt like a post-apocalyptic, psychedelic ride.

Elsewhere, KFC Spain opted for laughs with its B-movie teen slasher parody, creating a short movie for its ‘killer’ Pollizza.

Horror can also be used for a good cause. ITV’s healthy-eating campaign aimed at kids returned with the popular horror-inspired slogan ‘Eat Them to Defeat Them’ (the ‘them’ in this case referring to zombified vegetables causing apocalyptic damage.

The American Red Cross advised against ‘wasting blood’ in its partnership with actress Neve Campbell in a slasher-style spot promoting blood donation, which paid homage to her iconic role in 90s teen slasher movie Scream.

This works to show the versatility of horror tropes, themes and aesthetics for a range of campaigns. Horror is evocative and unexpected, and there are many styles, subgenres and eras to choose from. Nostalgia and humour work well in tandem with horror, and it is adaptable to different audiences and ages.

Looking ahead to 2023, we will surely see even more horror in the media. And marketers shouldn’t be afraid (ha) to look to the genre for inspiration; it is truly a broad and diverse category with many elements marketing can draw from.

Creative and CampaignsNewsOpinion

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