Economics of…Halloween

I know it’s Halloween when I can openly admit that cats are a little bit sexy. But it’s not just cats that become more alluring to me; devils look hot, as do ghosts and zombies. In an attempt to bring nightmares to life, students have managed to make Halloween into a ‘wet dream’, glamorising the ghoulish and grim, making it not just a fake, entirely pointless holiday devoid of any meaning, but a commercially poignant one as well.

So poignant, in fact, that it is now the UK’s third largest holiday in terms of spending with a spooky £310 million heading into the economy in 2011. For retailers, it is the unexpected gift that keeps on giving; in less than a decade spending has mushroomed from £12m in 2001, to the levels we see today or – roughly – a 2500% increase. As a nation, just over half of Brits (57%) will celebrate in some form or another, spending an average of £11.50 each.

Naturally, supermarkets and certain industries see the holiday as the perfect chance to cash in on our zombie-like acceptance of the event. Asda had 50% of the market-share in 2012, and Cadbury’s shocked no one by briefly rebranding the Easter favourite Crème Egg with the delicately crafted Scream Egg. Asda expects over one million pumpkins sales over the next few weeks.

p.17 halloweenBut if the myriad of Halloween club nights (I hear Origins are having a house cat theme) and needy children knocking on doors sickens you to your stomach, the statistics are even more haunting on the other side of the Atlantic.

With 74% of Americans planning to dish out ‘candy’, as they annoyingly call it, a single night of ‘trick or treating’ will represent 8% of the entire year’s sweet sales. All in all, $8 billion is spent on the holiday in the US. In the spirit of American exceptionalism, it might not surprise you to hear that in 2012, $370 million was spent on cute costumes for cats and dogs. The most popular one? Pumpkins.

As a system, capitalism froths at the mouth for such ventures. There are very few people who can with any clarity recite the origins of Halloween, put simply a 2000 year-old Pagan festival based on the conjuring of long-gone spirits. It is a perfect example of how American ‘cultural imperialism’ and basic economics overlap, as a a group of companies exploit an almost culturally irrelevant holiday: marketing a ‘demand’ whilst carefully producing a supply.

It is because of this overwhelming commercialisation that Venezuela called for a ban on the holiday across Latin America, where the day has strong, genuinely historic roots.

And so we return to sexy cats. Around 60% of costumes bought will be purchased by adults. If Halloween presents the best of capitalisms potential to create markets no one thought would ever exist, it also presents one of the worst; due to its routes in ‘nothingness’, it is entirely unregulated by cultural norms. People do whatever.

On sale from a variety of stores are: sexy Olaf from Frozen (creepy), ‘mental patient’ (offensive to those with genuine disorders), Jimmy Saville (he touched kids), Arab tea towels (a little racist) and skimpy kitten (overly sexualised, but oddly hot).

Halloween is a pointless holiday, one which we’ve all been suckered into. But it is also really quite fun as we eat ‘candy’, dress in ridiculous costumes and throw eggs at people who don’t give us what we want. But it is also a lesson in capitalism and its hauntingly large ability to loom over and manipulate us like a spectre.

Photo credited to Cindy 

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