With October officially upon us and with Halloween just a few weeks away, everyone is looking to get into the spooky spirit. Whether we're watching our favorite seasonal horror movies or enjoying TV shows that highlight the holiday's festivities, there are a lot of ways to celebrate the annual event, yet few experiences can ignite nostalgic feelings for the season quite like Halloween-themed commercials. Before the days of the internet served us bite-sized ads during virtually every online experience, countless companies would craft clever commercials that embraced the holiday, all of which would dominate the small screen during September and October to get you in the spirit.
Some brands had organic methods of incorporating Halloween, such as themed cereals or candy, with brands selling deodorant or batteries having to find unique ways to represent the event. What makes all of these commercials so special is that they remind us of a time when the only places we could see these commercials was by watching TV, giving viewers two months to get excited for October 31st. As we shift towards streaming services delivering us whatever content we want, often ad-free, we no longer get to experience two months of every network interrupting whatever we're watching with a campy reminder of the coming holiday.
No matter what decade you grew up in, these commercials will surely get you excited for Halloween!
In recent years, the first signs that Halloween is officially on the way are the arrivals of seasonal treats at the grocery store, many of which have embraced the "pumpkin spice" trend. Before pumpkin spice dominated shopping aisles, one of the most glorious sights was the return of Count Chocula, Boo Berry, and Franken Berry, signaling that General Mills was ready to deliver consumers the sugary cereals.
The above commercial is somewhat bittersweet, as the lack of a Halloween theme reminds us that these cereals used to be available year-round as opposed to just the weeks leading into October. Additionally, the above commercials remind us that the entire roster used to also contain Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy cereals, which have only rarely been revived.prevnext
A key component of a commercial is that, while it might be brief, they are meant to draw in a viewer long enough to get them excited for a product, with Halloween commercials rarely offering unsettling imagery. The above commercial for Snickers, however, offers an immensely bizarre experience that might be one of the most unintentionally disturbing Halloween commercials in history.
The promo depicts an inhumanly large figure using fake limbs to encourage a shopper to stock up on full-sized Snickers bars, all while reminding them how much kids love Snickers in a bizarre falsetto voice. The figure's mask makes it difficult to grasp what it is we're really witnessing, only for the final seconds to confirm that this is just two kids dressing up as an old woman. Even with this reveal, the image of this woman's mask and bizarre limbs will stick with you.prevnext
A strange marketing decision made by McDonald's in the '80s was to turn Chicken McNuggets into anthropomorphized mascots, depicting their entertaining adventures in their commercials and creating collectibles. Trying to endear customers with something they were meant to consume might seem strange in retrospect, but it gave us some entertaining commercials.
To celebrate Halloween, McDonald's sold Chicken McNugget toys that gave the mascots monster outfits, from Dracula to Frankenstein's Monster, despite the nuggets themselves being nothing more than a molded piece of orange plastic. This commercial reveals those toys and also highlights the seasonal trick-or-treat buckets adorned with a witch, ghost, or Jack-o'-lantern that were staples of some door-to-door candy collections.prevnext
Most people who celebrate Halloween likely don't automatically associate the holiday with body odor, potentially leading to a perplexing seasonal tie-in ad for Right Guard deodorant. As you witness the events of the commercial, with a young woman singing a song and delivering Right Guard to a Cyclops and a Mummy, only for them to turn into normal men, it does sort of make sense that monsters most likely smell bad, requiring them to use deodorant if they want a shot at dating the singer.
What makes this commercial especially appealing to horror fans is it features an appearance from Peter Jason, who starred in films like Trick or Treats, Prince of Darkness, and They Live.prevnext
As compared to many other products that are sold around Halloween that have a seasonal commercial creating a tenuous connection to the festivities, a commercial for batteries makes a lot more sense, given how many of us decorate our houses with all manner of electronic decorations that feature blinking lights or motion-activated sound effects.
The above commercial lets you know that, even if you insert a Duracell battery into something like a Dracula toy, its reliable battery will last multiple years, even if stowed away without use for long periods of time. Making the commercial even more effective is the ominous score that sounds like the opening scenes from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.prevnext
Rather than try to lean into the creepier components of the holiday, there are some of us out there who are happy to settle for celebrating Halloween by just wearing a sweater adorned with a Jack-o'-lantern or popping in some fake teeth to surprise a coworker. While many stores leaned into their extravagant offerings each season, Hallmark instead highlighted their various innocent accouterments that you'd most likely see an older family member or an elementary school teacher wearing.
Whether it's the goofy guy who surprises someone while wearing a mask and attempts to regain his composure or the man at the end proudly displaying his "This Is My Costume" t-shirt, we're reminded that not everything about the holiday needs to be gruesome. An added bonus is the offer in the commercial for a cassette tape of spooky sounds, which would likely be playing at any neighborhood haunted house.prevnext
Garfield's Halloween Adventure
Whether you've seen the special or not, Charlie Brown has a major connection to Halloween thanks to annual broadcasts of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The legacy of the TV special unfortunately overshadows Garfield's Halloween Adventure, a wholesome outing that gives the Peanuts gang a run for their money.
The above commercial might only be promoting a broadcast of the special, but it does serve as a reminder that the special exists and airs more sporadically. In it, Garfield and Odie go about their Halloween evening collecting candy, only to encounter pirate ghosts in an eerie adventure that's far more frightening than anything we've seen the Peanuts gang get up to. Despite the special not airing on TV, it's available in some of Garfield's home video collections.prevnext
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
When it comes to Halloween candy, it's hard to top a Reese's peanut butter cup. In addition to offering a delicious blend of peanut butter and chocolate, the company's packaging is already orange, yellow, and black, which are all signature colors of the season. Whether you get a miniature, full-size, or two-pack of the peanut butter cups, you can't go wrong with the confection.
A popular advertising campaign for the candy in the '90s was to depict the various ways in which one could eat a peanut butter cup, despite the reality of most people just, well, biting and chewing them. But when Halloween rolled around, audiences were given a glimpse of how a fanged vampire would consume the candy, sinking its teeth into it and sucking out the peanut butter. This might raise number of questions about the physiology of vampires and the implication that their fangs were akin to sharpened straws, but the brief commercial featuring a peanut butter cup with two punctures in it was subtle and effective.prevnext
Taco Bell went public in 1970, but it wasn't until being purchased by PepsiCo Inc. in 1978 that the franchise really gained steam, with its breakout opportunity coming from a movie tie-in partnership promoting Batman in 1989 that helped the chain became hugely popular. In the '90s, Taco Bell gave McDonald's and Burger King a run for their money, with their growth making them a major fast-food force of the decade.
Another dominating force of the '90s was R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books, which delivered young readers all manner of spooky stories. As if Taco Bell crafting a Halloween-themed commercial wasn't enough of a nostalgic sweet spot of the decade, the offer of Goosebumps tie-in toys makes for a memorable representation of everything we loved about the decade in all its cheesy glory.prevnext
Pepsi and Doritos
While some Universal Monsters fans might think they know about the Bride of Frankenstein, this commercial lets us know that Frankenstein's Monster actually had a wife who constantly nagged him.
Similar to the combination of Taco Bell and Goosebumps being a strong representation of the '90s, the above commercial from 1991 is also a good representation of Pepsi combining their powers with Doritos in hopes of stealing some popularity away from Coca-Cola and...snacks that weren't Doritos.
Not only do we get the combination of Pepsi and Doritos, but we're also offered a chance to win prizes, in addition to exploiting the popular marriage stereotype of a wife bossing around their lazy husband, which even Frankenstein's Monster can't escape, apparently.prevnext
Various forms of trick or treating date back hundreds of years, with the tradition becoming widespread in America in the '40s, as kids traveled door to door to receive candy and other consumable confectioneries. While candy might have been what children were most looking forward to, adults made various attempts to deviate from this tradition to varying degrees of success.
One of these unconventional offerings was a booklet from Easter Seals which, rather than being immediately exciting, offered the recipient discounts and complimentary rewards from participating sponsors, ultimately raising money for the charitable organization. While opening up your trick-or-treat bag to find booklets in lieu of candy might not be entirely exciting for a kid, having Vincent Price explain to you why they're actually better than candy almost convinces us that they were the better substitute.prevnext
Few figures in the horror genre were as well-known in the '80s as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, so it's no surprise that she would become even more popular every October. Among the many brands she associated with, Elvira teamed up with Coors Light every year, with the company claiming it was the "Official beer of Halloween," seemingly because they were the ones to pay Elvira enough for the sponsorship.
What made Coors Light commercials featuring Elvira so exciting is that they would usually deliver an all-new commercial every year, as opposed to recycling the content year after year. While the above commercial might not be the most Halloween-themed, given that it takes place on a beach, it features some of the Mistress of the Dark's best puns and innuendos, which is what earned her such a big following.prevnext
Freddy Krueger Hotline
Admittedly, a Freddy Krueger hotline might not tie directly into Halloween, but it's such an absurd idea, it's worth remembering a time when you could talk to the A Nightmare on Elm Street villain on the phone.
A major fad in the '80s were 1-900 numbers, many of which offered callers adult-oriented communications, yet many others delivered things like jokes or pre-recorded messages from a variety of celebrities. Between 1984 and 1991, fans were given six Nightmare on Elm Street films, in addition to a 1989 TV series, making Freddy Krueger a major pop culture figure. This resulted in the creation of Freddy Krueger's hotline, which delivered various terrifying tales that took place in the town of Springwood, with Krueger introducing and concluding each call.
The hotline is long gone, but when a new film or TV becomes a major success and people start claiming that horror is becoming more popular, it's worth remembering that it's always been popular, to the point that there was a time when you might witness a commercial featuring Freddy Krueger plugging his own hotline.prevnext
Toys "R" Us
Younger generations might not fully connect with Toys "R" Us commercials, but for audiences of a certain age, the above commercial is both a delightful and grim reminder of past Halloweens.
Recent years have seen the arrival of October result in Halloween stores popping up across the country, which only thrive for the weeks leading into the holiday and offer a wide variety of products. Formerly, department stores would have to order various outfits to offer to their customers, with the above ad also spotlighting just how awful Halloween costumes used to be. Rather than highly-sculpted rubber masks and screen-accurate outfits, kids were given vinyl smocks which loosely resembled a character, many of which were so horrendous that they would often require text to identify who the outfit was meant to represent.
Sadly, the above commercial also reminds us how Toys "R" Us are things of the past, though we can take comfort in the fact that many of their retail locations have become seasonally occupied by Halloween stores, keeping the spirit of costumes alive.prevnext
Elvira might have been the queen of Halloween, but she faces some fierce competition in the realm of seasonal beer commercials, as she has to go head to head with Spuds McKenzie, the mascot of Bud Light.
The above commercial really has everything you could hope for in a Halloween-themed commercial, from a parody of Psycho to a dog in costume to a contest offering the opportunity to win a party with Spuds himself. Add in the faux Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach narration and the collectible cup and the above commercial ticks virtually every box in the realm of retro Halloween commercials.prevnext
Honorable Mention - Local Ads
In the late '80s and '90s, producing commercials was no longer something that only large advertising agencies could create, with virtually anyone who had access to a video camera and rudimentary editing equipment at a local cable access studio being capable of crafting their own promo. Arguably even more exciting than a commercial for a major brand, local businesses' efforts low production value created some of the most magical moments on TV in the Halloween season.1comments
Whether these local businesses were promoting seasonal food stuffs, decorations, or costumes, these businesses knew that all you needed was footage of these products, some spooky sound effects, and an ominous voiceover to sell your goods. Even better were the local haunted houses or hayrides that would entice audiences to visit, often concluding with the graphic of a map and a description along the lines of "Just off of the highway between the Foods-4-Sale and Marty's Mattresses."
Do you have a favorite Halloween ad? Let us know in the comments below or hit up @TheWolfman on Twitter to talk all things horror and Star Wars!prev