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The Marketing History Behind Halloween Costumes
Tomorrow night, Barbies will roam the streets of neighborhoods and towns across the country.
These days, pop culture trends dominate Halloween costume inspiration.
That wasn’t always the case. It took a smart marketing push to bring topical Halloween costumes to life.
Halloween costumes date back centuries to pagan rituals when people would light bonfires and dress up to ward off ghosts around harvesttime.
The phrase “trick or treat” first spread to the U.S. in the 1930s. Back then, most costumers were your traditional (if unbranded) scary creatures – witches, goblins, ghosts, etc.
Then, a man named Ben Cooper changed the game for Halloween costumes and companies forever. (No, not that Ben Cooper.)
Opportunity in Disguises
As TV shows were rapidly gaining popularity throughout the U.S., Ben Cooper saw costume potential. He started buying up licenses for popular shows and mass-producing inexpensive costumes based on characters.
Ben Cooper wasn’t the first to license and sell pop culture costumes. But he was the fastest.
His company focused less on the quality of the costume and more on securing the rights and quickly putting out costumes in time for Halloween. Whatever the most popular character was that year, from Spiderman to Star Wars, Ben Cooper had a rigid plastic mask and accompanying costume for sale.
By the 1960s, more than 70 of the Halloween costume market belonged to Ben Cooper.
The company eventually went out of business as higher-quality and still inexpensive costumes became the norm. And there remains a robust (and often hilarious) market for off-brand costumes to this day.
But his success shows that there’s more than one way to be hauntingly effective at connecting with customers.