Some likely ‘haunts’ for college kids this Halloween

2009 Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis - Photo Source: Jessica Brummer
2009 Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis - Photo Source: Jessica Brummer

Last Halloween, at about 10 p.m., some “trick-or-treaters” rang my doorbell. When my wife and I answered with our bowl of candy, I was dumbstruck by four teenagers standing on my stoop with pillow cases, none of whom made any real attempt to dress up (I think one wore a clown nose). One of the kids standing at the back of the group uttered the words “trick or treat” as a lit cigarette hung from his mouth.  Assuming, my house would get egged or my pumpkins smashed if I didn’t comply, I handed over the remaining candy, turned out the lights and shut ‘er down for the night.

The experience had me wondering about how today’s youth celebrate Halloween. The more I looked into it, the more I realized how much fun there is to be had out there. Youth marketers should know that Halloween for college students is always a bull market, and for a very small amount of time each year, they need look no further than the local haunts if they want to reach students.

College Parties – College kids don’t need a reason to party.  Halloween on campus means house parties with crappy cover bands, kegs of cheap beer, and dressing up like a character from a Will Ferrell movie. Just off campus, you’ll find local watering holes with costume contests, dancing, and drink specials at ghoulish prices. Cities like Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Chicago also have Zombie pub crawls where participants dress up like zombies, meet at a local park, and then proceed to shuffle from bar to bar. If I owned a taxi company, my drivers would be dressed up in rented hearses offering zombie discounts and a safe drive home.

LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) – Remember those dudes in college who would rather go out to the woods to play D&D than watch Saturday’s big game? Well, maybe they were onto something. Role playing is gaining ground in a big way, and it isn’t just for dorks anymore. College students are participating and, if you ask me, providing a great opportunity for companies to join in the fun. Just check out the immense popularity of Zombies vs. Humans. This is an elaborate game of tag created by students at Goucher College, where one group of students (zombies) tries to tag other non-infected students (humans) who defend themselves with rolled-up pairs of socks or NERF dart guns. I can think of a dozen brands right now that could supply some swag for this game.

Seasonal Attractions – Halloween brings out the kid in all of us, and teens today are in search of something fun they can do with a group of friends. Companies should look at partnering up with hayride operations, local ghost tours, and kitchy haunted houses. These seasonal businesses count on teens to get the through the month, so I’d bet most would be very excited to have a corporate sponsor supply the hot cider or glow sticks.

Nevada Student Paranormal Investigation (NSPI) Photo Source: NSPI
Nevada Student Paranormal Investigation (NSPI) Photo Source: NSPI

Paranormal Investigating – Playing ghost buster is not just for the hardcore haunting enthusiast anymore. Television shows like A&E’s “Paranormal State” and “Ghost Hunters” on SyFy have helped fuel the interest of paranormal investigating among the general public and today’s youth. Ghost Hunting 101? Don’t count it out. Although many don’t advertise it, some colleges like Duke, Princeton, and the University of Arizona offer courses that focus on parapsychology and paranormal studies. Don’t expect to see gaussmeters or thermal scanners in college bookstores anytime soon, though. Local paranormal investigation groups are popping up in cities all over the U.S. , including schools like Columbia College. Hoosier State Paranormal is an Indiana-based research group made of college students that investigates paranormal activity for people all over.

Movie Watching – Looking for teenagers on a Friday or Saturday night this fall? Try the movies. The Halloween season is when the dark side of Hollywood gets to shine.  Movie theaters across the U.S. will entertain millions of college students looking for a cheap thrill. This years’ surprise film is “Paranormal Activity,” and it’s seeing “Blair Witch” – like success. Colleges kids are flocking to see it, and the massive online buzz it has achieved has marketers taking notes. There’s a hot horror flick just about every year, so plan ahead for next year and think about getting your brand behind one of these films with hosted campus screenings, sponsored movie-watching parties, or some cinema advertising.

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About Jason Bakker

Jason Bakker is a native Minnesotan and has been working in the area of youth marketing for nearly a decade. He currently works with Minneapolis based Campus Media Group as the Director of Marketing and is responsible for following trends in the ever-changing landscape of youth culture and media usage, and for consulting advertising agency and national brand professionals on how to develop integrated marketing programs that reach college youth.