In the same way trick-or-treaters never know exactly what will be dropped into their bags on Halloween, there's no predicting when major candy brands will suddenly drop a marketing campaign that lets them try out an entirely new look.
This summer, for example, Spangler Candy launched the first major ads for its Dum Dums lollipops in 30 years. In September, Godiva unveiled a campaign called "Wonder Awaits" that evoked its founder's origin story. Just a few weeks ago, Russell Stover paired its first creative in two decades, which included an original song, with a major change in its packaging. Other candy brands, such as Trolli and Werther's, have stepped up the visibility of their marketing as well.
Although these marketing initiatives all arrive close to Halloween, they reflect an urgency to snag consumer attention that goes far beyond a single occasion, said Ed Rzasa, chief client service officer at Colorado-based agency Sterling-Rice Group.
"There is a little bit of a retro trend going on with confection, a bit of nostalgia," said Rzasa, whose firm has worked with Hershey and other candy and confectionary brands. "Brands people grew up on are being resurrected. The competition is fierce. The thing with confection is everything tastes delicious. How do you stand out in that stand of marketplace?"
A message that's more than 'indulge'
According to Mark Riegel, VP of marketing at Russell Stover, it starts with tapping into emotions and experiences that transcend simply indulging in something sweet. The brand's new "Make Happy" TV spot, for example, eschews dialogue for a series of scenes in which its trademark chocolates are used to communicate gratitude, love or friendship.
"Chocolate, as a category, is a highly attractive vehicle for gifting and generosity — to remind and remember," Riegel told Marketing Dive. "It's not about buying a bag of chocolate and eating it for personal consumption."
Another approach is creating a storyline that's accessible but inventive, with characters that will stick in consumers' heads. That was the thinking behind Mars-owned Skittles first Halloween TV spot in five years, which featured a witch who captures a teenager so annoying she wants him to leave.
While the brand aims to get people to think about Skittles all year long, Halloween remains a relevant marketing opportunity, said Rebecca Duke, Skittles senior brand manager at Mars Wrigley U.S.
"It's an event where Skittles can organically join in the conversation," Duke said via email. "We also know real-time moments are important to our fans, especially with how prevalent social media is in their everyday life."
M&Ms has taken a similar tack with its animated characters, Sterling-Rice's Rzasa pointed out, while Russel Stover's campaign aligns with Snickers' "You're Not You When You're Hungry" work. Either strategy can pay off if it's executed consistently over time and marketing channels.
"When you're going down that aisle, if you are not predisposed and already craving a brand, it's going to be difficult to be selected," Rzasa said. "What's not happening is continuing that story in-store."
Brands could be doing more to bring their creative to life at the point-of-sale, for example, or take greater risks with their packaging, Rzasa said. The latter doesn't happen often given the strong association many candy firms' packaging has with their brands, but Russell Stover did a refresh as part of "Make Happy" by updating to a copper box that evokes the kettles in its kitchen.
Giving permission to enjoy candy
Some candy brands may also be reviving their marketing efforts partly due to industry consolidation such as the acquisition of Ferrera by Ferrero, said Randy Hofberger, president of Wisconsin-based R&D Candy Consultants. He pointed to data from the National Confectionary Association that found the industry generates $35 billion at retail each year.
Many confectionary companies have been opening up new factories and manufacturing facilities, he said, which may signal that marketing teams need to generate greater demand for their products. This isn't as easy today given an arguably greater emphasis on health and wellness, he added.
"A lot of people like to demonize anything that's not quote-unquote good for you," Hofberger said. "[These brands] are trying to make [candy] a permissionable treat."
In the past, some brands had tried to market the high level of antioxidants in certain chocolates or releasing smaller portion sizes, Rzasa said. While such steps can have a short-term positive impact for a company's bottom line, the balance is difficult for brands to strike over time.
"You can't push too much indulgence, but you also can't push health," he said. "If you become too health-focused, you've taken away all of the fun. It's no longer an escape."
Candy brands may also have to make big bets if they've been out of the spotlight for some time. While Hershey has doubled down on mobile media integrations, for instance, and Reese's has taken a more interactive route on social with Facebook, TV is still the best vehicle, according to Riegel.
"We'll also do a lot to tailor 'Make Happy' for a social or video context," he said. "Ultimately it's about having an engaging message that people see and it's a part of their day."
Duke agreed, adding that Skittles is focused on reaching viewers through "culturally relevant platforms where they're expecting to be delighted and entertained." That's why its TV spot is also currently running on YouTube, Hulu, Amazon and Meredith channels.
Once a campaign launches, brands should also consider emerging channels, Rzasa advised, including nascent social platforms like TikTok. The marketing mix may not be as important as creativity, however, given the challenges in the candy and confectionary segment, he said.
"How do you create a story and have the consumer really feel that experience so that they're going to purchase — and let's face it, these are often impulse purchases, really," he said. "With Halloween, everything is orange and black — there's nothing really distinctive out there. That's why these brands have to work harder to stand out."