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Monday, Oct 29, 2007 « Back to the Press Room
NY_Times

Ghouls and Goblins Are Resurrected as Marketers

BLOOD-DROPS on axes and whiskers on witches. Bright copper cauldrons and monsters with twitches. Brown paper packages stuffed with bat wings. These, with apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II, are a few of Madison Avenue's favorite Halloween things.

Marketing campaigns for Halloween have become scary again, continuing a trend from the last couple of years. The gory, fright-filled imagery is in marked contrast with the toned-down tack taken by advertisers for the Halloweens that immediately followed 9/11.

Some examples of the ghoulish sales pitches:

-A skeleton is the star of a campaign for the Craftsman line of tools sold by Sears, Roebuck.

-The AMC cable TV network and Web site (amctv.com) are seeking eyeballs for their Monsterfest movie marathon by promising "10 days of nonstop horror."

-The Bravo cable network, not to be outdone, will offer programs like "100 Scariest Movie Moments" and - for viewers still not cringing under the covers - "Even Scarier Movie Moments."

-The Fry's Marketplace chain is urging shoppers to "fill the night with all the sights, sounds and scares Halloween has to offer" by stocking up on "creepy candy and spooky decor."-The Six Flags amusement parks are advertising their annual Fright Fest ("Thrills by day. Chills by night") with features on sixflags.com like "Defacer," a widget created by Freewebs that allows computer users to give photographs of themselves or friends "a monster makeover."

-Circulars for the Target chain of discount stores declare it to be the place to "get Halloween creeps for cheap."

-Sirius Satellite Radio is devoting a channel, named Scream 119, to what the company describes as "blood-curdling sound effects."

-Ads for the Walgreens drug-store chain suggest that shoppers buy large bags of candies for trick-or-treaters because, a headline proclaims, "The more the scarier."

-The Universal theme parks in Florida and California are promoting their "Halloween Horror Nights" attractions with a snarling clown who shares the spotlight with the movie demons Freddy, Jason and Leatherface.

"We showed the same sensitivities that everyone else did after 9/11 and we toned it down slightly," said Kurt Kostur, senior vice president for marketing at Universal Orlando Resort, part of the NBC Universal unit of General Electric.

"We heard from our guests that they wanted the extreme horror back," he added, "because it provided escapism.

"There's no question we push the envelope with our advertising," Mr. Kostur said of the campaigns created by David and Goliath, an agency in Los Angeles. "But people like to be scared when they know it's a safe environment," he added. "We are on track for another record-attendance year."

An annual haunted-house attraction in New York known as Nightmare "has gotten scarier" each of the last four years, said Chip Meyrelles, executive director at Art Meets Commerce, an entertainment company that produces the attraction and its Web site (hauntedhousenyc.com).

The attraction, at 107 Suffolk Street near Rivington Street, has been expanded this year "to 23 rooms," Mr. Meyrelles said, "each with a different 'horrible' waiting for our patrons."

The sponsors for the attraction include Time Out New York magazine, Verizon Wireless and the radio station WQHT-FM. They and the producers discussed the tone for the attraction and the ads, Mr. Meyrelles said, and agreed to play up what he called "the art of the scare."

Jeremy Coleman, vice president and general manager for talk and entertainment programming at Sirius Satellite Radio in New York, echoed that approach. "It's scary, in a Grimm's Fairy Tales kind of way," he said of Scream 119, which will offer sounds like wolves baying, doors creaking, glass breaking and thunder, well, thundering.

A sign of the appeal to listeners, he added, was a decision to expand the channel to five days from one last year, "when we did it under a slightly less clever name, Scarius."

The Halloween campaign for Craftsman - created by the Chicago office of Y&R Advertising, part of the WPP Group - is the first for the brand. It is appearing on television and on signs in Times Square as well as in newspaper and online ads.

The skeleton is made from Craftsman wrenches, lug nuts and other products, which explains the theme of the campaign: "There's a little Craftsman in all of us."

"Rather than just shouting at people the same message all year, we want to be relevant and disruptive," said Richard Gerstein, chief marketing officer at Sears, Roebuck in Hoffman Estates, Ill., part of Sears Holdings.

"We had a lot of discussions" about the appropriateness of featuring a skeleton in the campaign, he added, "but it's supposed to be fun."

Another first-time Halloween advertiser, the Papa John's pizza chain, is opting to treat consumers rather than trick them. Its pizza boxes are being decorated with giant spiders - not the creepy-crawly variety but the superhero Spider-Man, as part of a sponsorship of the DVD release tomorrow by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment of the movie "Spider-Man 3."

"We certainly have a lot of customers like young guys who would enjoy" gruesome Halloween ads, said Jim Ensign, vice president for marketing communications at Papa John's International in Louisville, Ky., "but we wanted to focus on something the whole family can enjoy."

Hasn't he ever heard of the Addams family? Or the Munsters?

Original Article URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/29/business/media/29adcol.html?_r=1&oref=slogin