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Trick or Treat: how not to get your candy crushed

It’s that time of the year when brands slap pumpkins and ghosts on their products, partly in a bid to stay relevant, but mostly to boost sales around the Halloween holiday. However, that tactic doesn’t work in every market… We take a look at how Halloween, and similar traditions, differ around the world, and where they are and aren’t a viable selling point.

Western Europe and the USA: Happy Halloween

Halloween is a contraction of All Hallow’s Eve, the 31st of October, the night before All Soul’s Day. A time when the dead were thought to roam the earth. The traditions are believed to come from a Gaelic pagan festival dating from ancient times known as Samhain. Centuries later, they were brought to the US by Irish immigrants who popularized pastimes like ‘trick or treating’ that started to become popular in the early 1900s. Since then, dressing up as ghosts and witches and knocking on doors asking for sweets has become a widespread pastime for children across Western Europe on the 31st October every year.

While this means that thousands of people dress up as supernatural beings, play games, and embrace all things spooky on an annual basis, there is also a core group of people who do not partake in these festivities, even finding them distasteful or offensive…

All Soul’s Day, the day after All Hallow’s Eve, is a public holiday in several Catholic countries such as France and Poland. Families traditionally visit graveyards and cemeteries and pay their respects to deceased family and friends.

When a particular holiday is associated with paying your respects to the dead, certain demographics might be less receptive to marketing focused on the idea of ghosts, restless souls and creatures borrowed from Hollywood horror movies.

Mexico and Latin America: Día de los Muertos

In Mexico and Latin America, Día de los Muertos is celebrated over three days, from the 31st of October to the 2nd of November. There are similarities with the North American Halloween festivities: decorated and dressed-up skulls and skeletons feature heavily. It is a joyful occasion, and there are often carnivals and parades. 

However, the focus is on community: friends and families gather together for picnics and dinners to reminisce about the deceased. Some people create altars to the dead in their homes, and graves are cleaned up and decorated in cemeteries and graveyards.

It has an altogether different feel to the supernatural festival that celebrates witches and zombies in the Western world. 

The Philippines: Pangangaluluwa

Children and teenagers in the Philippines go from house to house in much the same way as children in the States, but for a very different purpose. On Pangangaluluwa (All Hallow’s Eve), children sing All Hallow’s and All Soul’s songs in exchange for alms and prayers for the souls of the departed who are still in purgatory. 

However, these traditions are slipping in favour of heavily marketed western trends, as recent years have seen the custom superseded in the Philippines’ urban centres by the North American tradition of ‘trick-or-treating’.

East Asia: Zhongyuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival)

This is at a slightly different time of year to the other Halloween festivities, but along the same lines.  Zhongyuan Jie is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival celebrated in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam. 

Celebrated in the seventh month of the year (in 2020 the festival fell on the 2nd of September), it is based on the belief that the dead become restless and visit the earth at this time of year. The aim of the festival is to feed the dead the food and money they need in order to leave this world and return to the afterlife. Food is offered at altars, and elaborate meals are eaten among family and friends, with places laid and food set out for the dead as well. 

In contrast to the Western tradition of Halloween, there is less emphasis on dressing up and the focus, much like in Mexico and Latin America, is on the dead and remembering them when they were living.

It is important that the wide variety of Halloween-esque traditions around the world aren’t viewed as a generic trope by marketers and social media content creators. These different festivities and cultures which surround them have to be borne in mind in your global localization strategy. 

While it might be fun to use zombie imagery in branded marketing material towards the end of October, that kind of content will be more likely to offend an audience in China that believes in venerating ancestors and the dead. Though it might be tempting to think of this kind of mistake as simply a slip-up, a worst-case scenario is that your brand image is tarnished by an error easily avoided by some savvy localization. 

Hard and fast posting across social media channels with every trending topic, every seasonal holiday on a global scale is great for volume but taking the time to invest in some localization of the material will ensure you engage all of your existing followers, as well as gaining new ones.  When it comes to social media, no matter which channel you favour, the number one rule is the same: if in doubt – don’t post! If you’d like to talk to us about how to adapt your marketing strategy for international territories, email us!