With Halloween on the horizon, we'll be starting to see a number of marketing campaigns reflecting the spirit of the season, perhaps drawing on horror references and the tradition of trick and treating. And then, not long after that, the annual flurry of high-profile Christmas campaigns will kick off.
Other than just acknowledging the time of year and resonating somewhat with the public mood of a particular season, what value can these kinds of campaigns really bring to the businesses they're associated with?
Many of the biggest challenges faced by businesses and marketers revolve around trying to figure out what an audience will actively be looking for. A large part of marketing, in general, is about appealing to the projected interests of specific demographics. And then, take something like search engine optimisation as another example: a large part of that task revolves around tailoring your web pages to anticipate the search queries that your audience may want addressing.
What big seasonal events offer to marketers, then, are helpful guidelines to predicting what audiences may be interested in throughout the year. During the summer holidays, you can reasonably expect a broad interest in travel; during Christmas, you can anticipate searches for jewellery or children's toys; during Halloween, you can expect a more widespread interest in horror-themed decorations.
The effectiveness of using yearly events such as these as a benchmark can be seen in a recent article published on The Drum that shows just how much can be gained from delving a bit deeper into these seemingly basic assumptions. In the article, Caroline Parry uses data to suggest a number of specific ideas that brands should consider incorporating into their 2019 Halloween campaigns, ranging from DIY costume tips to suggestions on celebrating Halloween sustainably.
It also, of course, contributes positively to the general image of your brand. A blog post by Troy Tran, for social media management platform Hootsuite, identifies one particularly negative common tendency in how many businesses use social media.
"[Many] businesses will get on top of it, grab their proverbial megaphone, and start shouting about their content until they finish and leave ... Instead, they should be treating social media management like a dinner party — welcoming people in, and encouraging conversation between the host and the guests."
So, there's a necessity for brands to appear more human on social media, and to avoid coming across as single-mindedly sales-oriented. One way of doing this is to simply keep on top of current trends. As Tran continues to say in his post for Hootsuite: "by jumping on big current trends, you're able to instantly connect with your audience since those events are likely top of mind for them already."
Obviously, keeping up to date on absolutely everything that's going on in popular culture would be counterproductive, but keeping an eye on the calendar and factoring key dates into your content strategy can be a fairly easy and effective way of humanising and encouraging engagement with your brand.
Furthermore, it can be a good idea to look out for days that may resonate with your brand identity and your target audience. This piece, from The Startup, lists a multitude of somewhat lesser-known days — amongst them the International Day of Friendship, World Youth Skills Day, and even Harry Potter’s birthday — along with a few examples of how brands have incorporated them into their social media output.
As well as presenting your brand in a more relatable, and less sales-oriented, light; there are other ways in which seasonally-focused marketing efforts can help to present your offering to a broader audience.
Take these two campaigns designed around Halloween, for example. In 2018, English Heritage produced a video in which three YouTube personalities spent a night in one of their most supposedly haunted properties. And this year, Direct Line worked with comedian and director Alice Lowe on a campaign based around parodying horror tropes to explore the mundane "real life horrors" that insurance companies provide coverage for.
As well as showing a sense of fun and humanising their brands, English Heritage and Direct Line have also been able to market themselves a younger audience who ordinarily may not be interested in what they have to offer.
Using the season as a jumping-ff point, these two brands working in industries that traditionally skew towards an older demographic — heritage and insurance — have been able to create a more accessible way into their services for younger audiences. Direct Line's Rachael Lynch acknowledges this, speaking to Marketing Week about how the ad is geared towards the concerns of those taking their first steps into independent life:
"[Young people] want to maximise their personal freedom and decision making, however, this comes with worry about things going wrong ... We've tried to find entertaining ways to show how Direct Line's promise is relevant in their lives. Nobody's perfect: at some point, we all mess up, but Direct Line understands and is there to help."
Recommending that brands keep abreast of the key dates in the calendar can seem like a bit of an obvious suggestion. But that's also why it's so easy to underestimate how much it can contribute to a brand's personality and relatability.
By then asking more in-depth questions about these key dates — figuring out how they'll affect audience wants and needs, thinking of creative ways of relating them to your brand's overall message — your brand can really effectively use these seasonal events as a springboard for conceiving content that can relate to a broader set of people and get them interested in what you provide.