Who's being tricked and who's being treated?

Halloween's increasing popularity has been driven by the confectionery industry in an effort to capitalise on potential profits

Halloween is upon us once again. No doubt some revellers have been planning their costumes for weeks and getting their "trick or treat" goodies ready. Traditionally, many Australians have been largely indifferent to this event. But in recent years, Halloween has been casting its spell on Australian children in ever increasing numbers.

Despite Halloween's growing popularity in Australia, research shows that when compared to the US, we're still nowhere near as enthusiastic about it as Americans are. Research conducted by McCrindle indicated that 41% of Australians see Halloween as the least meaningful special event day of the year (no doubt a good challenge for Diploma of Marketing students). In spite of this, the Australian National Retailers Association has reported that supermarkets are responding to growing consumer interest in Halloween by stocking increasing amounts of pumpkins, chocolates, costumes and other merchandise.

Halloween can be big business. In the US each year, US$8 billion is spent on Halloween related items, including US$2.4 billion on confectionery alone. While spending in Australia is much more restrained, our major retailers are still doubling up on promotions and marketing to entice Australians to buy. A quick scan of retail merchandise shows novelty items including decorated pumpkins, capes, witches' hats, dress-up sets, skeletons, lollie bags, and of course the sugary goodies to go inside them.

While it's doubtful that Australian children really understand (or care about) the meaning of Halloween, they certainly understand the theme of "free lollies". But do they understand much else? The gradual rising popularity of Halloween in Australia suggests confectionery manufacturers are exploiting the event to increase sales in a traditionally quiet period of the year. With Father's Day already a distant memory, and Christmas preparations still a long way off, Halloween is a good way to fill October's marketing and retail gap. Based on incremental growth, Halloween in Australia looks set to follow other invented and imported traditions including Valentine's, Mother's and Father's Days.

Market figures indicate that a quarter of Australians now plan to celebrate Halloween. There's some evidence to suggest Halloween's increasing popularity has been driven by the confectionery industry in an effort to capitalise on potential profits. This year Wizz Fizz have recognised that Australians don't know much about Halloween and so are taking a digital and social content marketing approach by sharing facts about Halloween. With family values in mind, the campaign combines the use of Halloween characters, bright colours and the Wizz Fizz brand icon to appeal to children, using sponsored social media updates. Many consumers (especially parents) see the dark side of Halloween as the marketing of unhealthy products directly to children. But Wizz Fizz is pre-empting this by also reminding parents that the treat is portion-controlled, which means less tummy aches after trick or treating.

Just in case you were wondering, the precursor to Halloween was a Celtic festival celebrating summer's end and the new year. In the ninth century, the Pagan festival was replaced by All Saints and All Souls Day, when dead souls in purgatory were remembered. On the evening before this, All Hallows Eve, the poor would go door-to-door and receive food in exchange for praying for the souls of the dead. In the 19th century, Irish immigrants brought this custom to the United States, where it became an opportunity for revellers to trick their neighbours. The practice of trick-or-treating emerged in an attempt to ward off any pranking with the opportunity of a treat for the would-be pranksters. Eventually confectionary replaced pumpkins as the treat of choice - and confectionery manufacturers have been smiling ever since.

So as we consider the rising popularity of Halloween among Australian children, maybe we should really be asking ourselves who's being tricked and who's being treated?