From haunted houses to classic monsters and provincial zombies, giffgaff’s Halloween campaigns have embraced all that’s great about this spooky time of year. Every October, the marketing team at the mobile network push themselves further in a bid to mark the festival out as a true giffgaff moment.
“There’s the expectation, isn’t there?” says Abi Pearl, giffgaff’s head of marketing. “Every year is so different: from Guts to Chain of Scares to House of Horrors to The Music Box. I love that, playing with it so people look forward to it. One of the comments we had last year – and it was my favourite comment on anything ever - said, ‘seeing the giffgaff Halloween teaser is like the Coca-Cola trucks ad’. I thought, ‘man we have made it!’. But because there’s that expectation you can’t be the same and there’s so much more competition in the market this year from other networks and youth brands that if we don’t stand out and do our research then we’ll fail because we don’t have the money to spend like everyone else.”
So, this year the team have ditched the dusty crypts, cobwebbed mansions and creaky zombies in favour of something much more contemporary and real. The film, 2am, follows a girl as she navigates a bouncing club in search for her friend, accompanied by a remixed version of the Rockwell banger “Somebody’s Watching Me”… and then things take a turn for the weird. It’s less funhouse and more festival – as seen through the lens of an episode of Black Mirror.
And, curiously, they’ve achieved a seeming paradox – something that feels completely real whilst being something that’s not really ever been portrayed on screen before; an actual, banging Halloween night out.
The campaign has been informed by a whole heap of research. According to a report by Mintel, Halloween is basically an excuse for young people to have a big night out with friends. By scouring Instagram make up tutorials, the team also picked up on a trend that has seen Halloween makeup move away from zombie gore and towards something brighter and with more of a festival vibe.
“It’s about being positively disruptive,” says Abi. “I’d be amazed if there’s content like it. It’s not like we always set out to be completely different but because we did so much research around the audience, what zeitgeists are out there now, all of those things come into it to make it fresh and modern. And Halloween doesn’t always feel like a ‘modern’ time of year, so it can be hard to imagine how you could re-invent it.”
According to Tom Rainsford, giffgaff’s Brand Director and the film’s director, it was also important to create something that was a more energetic, fresh and fun take on the horror genre.
“It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and why would it?” he asks. “As brilliant as The Walking Dead is, it does take itself very seriously. It’s very apocalyptic. With this campaign and the Big Swim, because there’s a lot of darkness in the world, actually having some fun is quite important. There are elements of this that are kind of scary because we still want to pay homage to what Halloween is all about, but it doesn’t all have to be about classic tropes.”
If this year’s campaign has any influences, they’re not so obviously ‘Halloweeny’. Tom and Abi mention the likes of Black Mirror and Blade Runner rather than, say, this year’s hit horror blockbuster, It.
“It’s almost like people are looking in the wrong places,” says Abi. “Halloween has been done. Horror films have come out in September. Even when we were working on this in June, we spoke to Pearl & Dean and DCM to find out what horror films were coming out and when. A lot of these films come out early, if you link to them as a trend, they’re outdated by the time you come to Halloween. You end out revisiting something that’s already out there.”
“You’ve got to have your own identity too," agrees Tom. “Advertising is really good at stealing from pop culture. There are some brilliant examples and then there are some really bad ones. But particularly when it comes to something like Halloween you’ve got to have your own vibe and your own take on it… you can’t just copy Hollywood because they just do it better.”
Instead our heroine, Lucy, is experiencing the horror of being in a noisy club, surrounded by exuberant dancers while you’re separated from your crew and you’re not yet at the same headspace as everyone around you. In order to achieve that, Tom decided to shoot the film in a real club – Ministry of Sound – with 200 extras. The extras were invited to come just as they would on a real Halloween night out, which ended up lending an authentic diversity to the atmosphere. There are everything from tigers to drag queens to blokes in hoodies and masks and disco witches – and for Abi that inclusivity is a particularly important value for Generation Z. They used the Ministry of Sounds own lighting rig and to capture that thrumming base and wash of sound they sent out Wave’s Dugal MacDiarmid into the crowd with a microphone. The plan was to recreate the sound of the club in the sound design.
“Everyone’s been in a club where a really good night starts to turn bad and I wanted to get it right on that edge,” says Tom. “I guess the thing is the idea is different, bigger arguably more ambitious – it wasn’t meant to be but it ended up that way. I thought ‘let’s shoot it in a club it’ll be cool’ … turns out it’s really hard… We actually acted like it was a club to get that vibe, which was very important to me. Otherwise it’s like people just dancing in a room.”
The film lives online and is accompanied by 6-second clips for social media, a spooky Snapchat filter and some fun, ‘Glamoween’ events. giffgaff’s teaming up with WAH Nails in London to Halloween-ify our fingertips and at the weekend, they’re putting on a taxi that offers a full makeover for partygoers en route to a huge party in the city. This year’s campaign is definitely beyond the rave…