A row of Halloween pumpkin lanterns carved with Boris Johnson's face

Seven Spook-tacular Halloween Stunts

Following a year when it felt like we had more than enough scares in real life without Halloween adding to the fear, we’re all more than ready for a little seasonal silliness this year.

So, before we tuck into the Bonfire Night toffee apples and start eating the Advent calendar chocolates, let’s kick off with the trick-or-treat candy!

For years, the UK lagged behind the US in embracing Halloween but an apparently insatiable appetite for new ‘holiday’ events has seen its popularity grow steadily. As we prepare for Halloween 2021, we round up some thrillingly good stunts from recent years. 

1. The Haunted Door

If you ever think your brand has no obvious connection to a theme, let this clever little campaign by WD-40 be your inspiration. It’s one of those bright ideas which, once someone has come up with it, seems completely obvious. Playing on the old Halloween favourite of a haunted house with creaking door, the campaign used the tagline: “for every other night, there’s WD-40”. It’s a great angle and was backed up with the creation of an app that played a variety of creaky door sounds, letting people ramp up the spookiness in their own homes when answering the door to trick-or-treaters. Amusing, perfectly themed and a reminder of why you actually need WD-40 for the other 364 days of the year.

2. Burger King: Ghost of McDonald’s

Burger King is big on creative Halloween campaigns, usually at the expense of rival McDonald’s. One of its most memorable was dressing a New York Burger King branch in the ‘scariest’ Halloween costume they could think of – the Ghost of McDonald’s. The simplicity was part of its charm. No fancy fast-food outlet makeover, just an enormous white sheet draped over the billboard and shopfront, with a sign reading: “Booooo! Just kidding. We still flame grill our burgers.” A pleasingly straightforward way of making people smile, getting across the brand’s core message and teasing the competition all in one!

3. Google Trends: Frightgeist

Not a stunt in the traditional sense but with Frightgeist, Google has created an entertaining, interactive way of reminding everyone just how much it knows about human behaviour and trends. It set up Frightgeist to hunt the most popular Halloween costumes for 2021 in the US, using Google Trends to tell people what costumes are trending around them. Never one to miss a trick, the mini-site points out how the Google News Initiative puts the mammoth amount of data it holds to use – from powering insightful journalism to choosing Halloween costumes.

4. Greene King: Boris Pumpkins

You’ll have to forgive us for sneaking in one of our own campaigns here, but it made us smile – and delivered great results for our client! In 2019, we created a spooky display at one London pub, featuring hundreds of pumpkins carved with Boris Johnson’s face. In the midst of the Brexit crisis, Boris was very much the centre of attention news-wise (a reminder that not everything has changed since 2019) and it was a light-hearted dig at those in power at a pub just a stone’s throw from Parliament. The stunt was picked up by national media and proved popular with customers. Making sure it delivered in terms of footfall and sales, it tied into a wider campaign that saw 1,000 Halloween events at Greene King pubs nationwide, including a free pint for anyone who took a pumpkin into any Greene King pub on 31 October…Boris’s face optional.

5. Marmite: Trick or Treat

If brand authenticity is the trick to really making a Halloween concept work, Marmite’s Trick and Treat jars are right up there. Adding a topical twist to the ‘love it or hate it’ tagline, the labelled jars encouraged customers to give a ‘poison for the haters’ and a ‘potion for the lovers’. Another wonderfully simple idea, capturing the brand’s message and creating a limited-edition product for customers to buy.

6. Mars: Treat Town

We’ve picked this as a great example of how some brands adapted to the uncertainty of 2020’s seasonal campaigns. With physical trick-or-treating out of the question, Mars Wrigley wanted to appeal to audiences at home. The Treat Town app took kids on a Halloween adventure with virtual tricks and candy credits exchangeable for real treats. The sweet idea tapped into the mood of the season, added a twist to a Halloween tradition and had real social traction.

7. Poundland: Invisibility Cloak

In 2019, Poundland used the love for all things Harry Potter to promote its largest ever range of Halloween products, with selected stores stocking ‘invisibility cloaks’. Coat hangers, with a card that read “Halloween Invisibility Cloak FREE”, were displayed among the range. The firmly tongue-in-cheek launch release featured a quote explaining: “We intended to trial this item last year but couldn’t find it in the distribution centre.” It was a witty idea that got people talking on social channels to increase engagement, as well as encouraging customers into stores.

If you would like to find out more about how WPR can develop seasonal campaigns for your brand, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.


The author: Jane Ainsworth is managing director of WPR. She has more than 20 years’ experience in developing and delivering communications strategies for consumer brands including Dunelm, Tesco, Mothercare, Greene King, John Lewis, Bullring, Beaverbrooks and Westfield.