Thursday 21st March 2023
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Aleksandra Szczerba
How on-trend horror themes are helping brands slay
8 mins

Halloween may have come and gone and every day now brings us closer to “Mariah Carey season”, but this doesn’t mean that all things spooky and creepy are leaving us. Much to the satisfaction of horror-lovers around the world, “spooky season” is no longer contained to October; it is now becoming a year-round affair with a strong, newfound grip on the worlds of entertainment (and marketing). 

The root of our love for all things spooky is psychological. Experiencing fear in a safe, controlled environment gives us an adrenaline and dopamine boost. We are also more drawn to horror during turbulent times; when the real world around us looks bleak, we tend to look ‘beyond the material plane’ with more curiosity. Horror serves as escapism, comfort, catharsis - and itself can be a vehicle for political or social commentary.  

Unsurprisingly then, 2022 has been an incredibly strong year for horror film and TV. For the second year running, horror beat all other genres (bar action) at the US box office. Low budget movies attracted large cinema audiences week after week, like “Smile” or “Terrifier 2”. Specialist streamer Shudder is growing its slate of acclaimed releases, and Netflix is seeing success from its record-breaking fan-favourite Stranger Things, and new releases like “The Midnight Club” and “Cabinet of Curiosities”. 

Online creators are tapping into real-world paranormal fascination. Jack Wagner’s ‘Otherworld’ podcast has climbed charts thanks to dedicated Gen Z listeners. On YouTube, Watcher’s Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej released their long-awaited ‘Ghost Files’ series and went on a sold-out tour. The jackets they wear throughout the series have sold out too. Everyone wants to dress like the internet’s favourite ghost-hunting duo!

Horror themes are also a hit with young audiences. Roblox is home to numerous games featuring zombies, monsters and killers. Popular titles like “Piggy”, “Survive the Killer!” or “Apocalypse Rising'' have inspired official toys. Mattel, on the other hand, resurrected its Monster High doll line this year to much excitement, complete with a live-action movie on Paramount+. A sequel has already been greenlit. 

 

Marketers have been paying attention to this tendency towards the spooky. Although most campaigns happen around Halloween, like AR-facilitated costume shopping via Snapchat, or the annual themed burger from Burger King, 2022 has seen numerous takes on horror outside this period.   

Many brands go down the cinema-inspired route. Ford’s summer campaign for the “scary fast” F-150 Raptor R was heavily inspired by 70s and 80s horror. The final commercial, with striking grindhouse-style visuals and retro title cards, felt like a post-apocalyptic, psychedelic ride. KFC Spain instead opted for laughs with its B-movie teen slasher parody, creating a short movie for its ‘killer’ “Pollizza”.   

Horror can also be used for a good cause. ITV’s healthy eating campaign aimed at kids returned with the slogan “Eat Them to Defeat Them”; ‘them’ being zombified vegetables causing apocalyptic damage. Whereas the American Red Cross advised against ‘wasting blood’ in its partnership with actress Neve Campbell in a slasher-style spot promoting blood donation (paying homage to her role in “Scream”!)

This works to show the versatility of horror tropes, themes and aesthetics for a range of campaigns. Horror is evocative and unexpected, and there are many styles, subgenres, and eras to choose from. Nostalgia and humour work well in tandem with horror, and it is adaptable to different audiences and ages. 

Looking ahead to 2023, we will surely see even more horror in the media. And marketers shouldn’t be afraid (ha) to look to horror for inspiration; it is truly a broad and diverse genre with many elements we can draw from. 

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