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May 2, 2022

It’s Halfway to Halloween!

It’s Halfway to Halloween!

It’s Halfway to Halloween and we’re breaking down what you can learn from how other attractions are celebrating! Show notes:

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It’s Halfway to Halloween and we’re breaking down what you can learn from how other attractions are celebrating! Show notes:


"Stranger Things: The Experience Brings the Upside Down to New York City this Spring"


Philip: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Phillip and I'm joined by my co-host, Scott Swenson. Scott, do you know what day it is?

Scott: What day is it, Phillip?

Philip: It's halfway to Halloween!!

Scott: Happy Halfway to Halloween! Look I just happen to have a gargoyle, just waiting for Halfway to Halloween.

Philip: I like that Halloween prop you brought up. 

Scott: So, there we go. I don't know. It sits on my desk all the time. But yes, we are at Halfway to Halloween. I'll tell you, this year, unlike any other I think, or at least that I can remember, so many attractions, both large and small, are diving in with both feet. So, they're diving in fully to Halfway, if that makes any sense at all. But I think it kind of echoes what we have been saying about Halloween, that this is something that eventually will be very viable year-round. Scary stuff will be viable year-round. I think we're seeing that to smaller degrees in some of the larger parks around the world. So, there's been a lot of announcements. There's been a lot of independent haunts that have done sort of an opening. But, of course, who is the biggest theme park that we always usually kick off our show... Always usually? That we quite often kick off our show with? Disney. 

Philip: Yes, I was pleasantly surprised, like you mentioned, that so many places were taking advantage of the halfway to Halloween idea. It makes complete sense if you have, as we've talked about multiple times, we have these seasonal shows, and if your seasonal show is very popular on Halloween, especially this year if you anticipate it's going to be a big sell-out season, then this gives you that extra marketing push to start things early and to draw attention to it. That is one of those things where now we're seeing it done this way. It's like, "ah, hindsight 20/20." Though it could have always been that way, it could have always been really brought to the forefront. 

I'm sure, or hopefully, we'll see a Christmas in July type of thing as well, being mirrored, for the same places that do large Christmas shows, to give us more details about that. That would be equally smart.

So, Disney, I think in terms of the large attractions that I have seen, Disney seems to be the ones that have taken the reins in kind of in going from nothing last year for Halfway to Halloween, to this year a whole campaign that is centered around it. They have a full splash page they've set up on their blog for Halloween at Disney. It has all the announcements they rolled out this week, which they made a big deal for each one, but it also has photos and collections from the guests, and from little experiences at the park. So, also there's a campaign where they're curating content from people that are celebrating, so that's also very smart. 

Here in California, of course, I went for the beginning of Halfway to Halloween at Disneyland, of course. We saw people dressed up at the parks and taking photos, and they're kind of creating that content. But they rolled announcements out over all their properties. They're going to be bringing back Halloween everywhere. In Tokyo, they're bringing back Halloween from September 15th through October 31st, which is a very healthy run for Tokyo, a tiny bit longer than they usually do. They're bringing back their Halloween party at Disneyland Paris for two nights, that's pretty standard. They have a light sprinkling of Halloween there in Paris, but two nights is pretty standard for that.

They're bringing back on the cruise line. They're even bringing it out to their new ship, the Disney Wish with a magical pumpkin tree inspired by Cinderella. The Oogie Boogie Bash is also returning, although they have no dates for that yet, no information really, but just that it's coming back. That's actually a much smaller event.

Of course, I think to me what I really honed in on, the granddaddy announcement is that the Not So Scary Halloween Party is coming back to Magic Kingdom for 37 nights. 37 nights! From August 12th through October 31st. It will run from 7:00 PM to midnight. They're bringing back all of the old entertainment that they had when it was last a thing. So, they're bringing back the Hocus Pocus Stage Show, the parade, and the blah blah blah. This is very unusual for Disney, but they are adding things to the event, which is they're adding exclusive step-in photo opportunities. I'm not sure what that means, I guess we'll see more, and they're also going to give guests a 50th anniversary-themed commemorative print and a reusable tote bag, which I'm not sure if that's different from their regular treat bag. So, it's a lot. That's a lot, and what struck me when I read this is, it's not necessarily earlier than their previous times, but just the amount of event days is 37, and then Universal is doing 39. So, we're really, that's a lot. I think five years back, ten years back, we would have said, "37 nights for a separately ticketed after-hours Disney event. Are you crazy?" But, you know, here we are, it's kind of expanded.

Scott: Well, and if you think about it, the whole reason that theme parks got into Halloween was to help cover a shoulder season. What's interesting is, because of the popularity of theme park Halloween events the shoulder season is now the end of summer to the beginning of Halloween. So, what have they done? Instead of creating a whole new event, they've actually expanded, and this is true with Disney, this is true with Universal, this is true with Busch Gardens to a certain extent, this is true with SeaWorld to a certain extent, but they continue to expand and grow into that new shoulder season between kids going back to school, which now you know happens earlier and earlier, to the actual you know autumn when people kind of traditionally have started to think about Halloween.

So yeah, it's starting in August. It's starting in summer. In fact, it's not just starting in August, it's starting in early August. 

Philip: Yeah, that's pretty early.

Scott: Yeah, it's clear that they needed to bridge that shoulder season that they had actually created by bridging the shoulder season. You know what I'm saying? I mean, and it's happening everywhere. So, I think they're by using the halfway to Halloween to promote that. You know, back in the day we were, not just us at Busch Gardens, but parks were starting to drop hints over the summer about what was coming on Halloween. That just kept getting earlier and earlier and earlier driven by guest interests and guest demand. To your point, they need to continue to promote earlier and earlier to get a jump on it so that they can be the "first" talking about Halloween.

What's interesting is, I think we're finally starting to train the media. Now, not the mainstream media yet, but it's been very difficult to get media to talk about Halloween at Halfway. I think by creating Halfway to Halloween you're creating something that is media worthy, that does get the mass media out there, and not just fans of the industry like you and I. So, I'm hoping that this works for Disney. Because if it works for Disney with all of these announcements, if they can get some massive upfront mass media going, I think it will only benefit the other parks and the other attractions so that they can maybe get some local media as well.

Philip: Yes, yes, that's generally how it works. That's a great point. You're not just training your audience, but you're also training everybody else in the ecosystem, right? And so, where Disney goes, it's like the Titanic, they can pave the road for, then open opportunities to other people you know. And in even other cities, we did see this year a lot of other attractions release announcements, and I did see some mainstream media pick up stories in smaller cities where there is less news, right? 

The other thing I wanted to dig in before we move on to some of the other pieces of their celebration. I just think it is... I'm cautiously optimistic about this announcement, because the last time they did, you know we talked about last year they did their alternative Halloween event last year, which the name of which I forget because it was a terrible experience. I tried to block the memory.

Scott: I think you and every other person who experienced it try it's trying to forget it, at least if they haven't already.

Philip: So, it's just very interesting that they've actually taken this step in a completely different direction. Last year it's still sold, they still sold tickets, right? And it was more expensive than this version, but it was so much less than this version. I mean, it was tremendously less than this version. Now, they're bringing back the old version and we haven't seen ticket prices yet, but I can't imagine that they're going to... Well, maybe they will, maybe it'll just be more expensive overall, but it's just interesting they're taking a step back in that direction. Sp. I'm kind of cautiously optimistic that they might be also adjusting based on the feedback that everyone gave. 

Scott: Right, well and one can also hope that, since they are celebrating a nostalgic anniversary here in Florida, since they are looking at 50th, that they're looking at things like, they don't have to position it as we're going back to what we once were, they can position it in such a way that it is nostalgic. "We're going back to what everybody loved and what everybody remembers." That's been the key that's really been the keystone of Disney marketing and Disney branding forever is, you know, relive the magic over and over and over again with you and your kids and your grandkids and your great-grandkids. 

So, I think they have an excuse, but I also recognize that to charge more for less, that's what they had to do when attendance was down, that's what they had to do during the pandemic. They're they thought they could get it, and they could. But we've said it on this show before too, we didn't feel was sustainable to continue to charge more for less. We even talked about it, we said maybe this is just part of an ongoing plan with Disney that they will get us back in line when the world gets back in line when we discover what the new normal is. I think we're starting to get there, and I think that they are riding the cusp of the wave with this. As you say, cautiously optimistic. I hope that's the case. 

Now, even if you know even if they come back and say we're going to flatline ticket pricing from last year, but you're still getting more for the same amount of for the same amount of money. So, that's good. There's also the little thing about Hocus Pocus 2, you know they have to get that out front. I don't know whether they have to or not, but I think it's wise of them to reenergize that brand, because Hocus Pocus One was a long time ago. Now, a fan favorite of everybody, but as much as I love all of the actresses in Hocus Pocus, they are significantly older now. So, they have to make certain that they still appeal to the fan base that loved them the first time.

I don't know, we'll see how it all goes, but I think Disney is saying, "yeah we can invest a bit more in Halloween because it's going to help us with the return of Hocus Pocus."

Philip: Yeah, and of course, it comes on the heels of Universal's announcement about their season in that market. A few other things that they did that I think are good takeaways for attractions is, this wasn't just limited to releasing your press and making a big deal about the press release. There also was limited release of the food offerings at both Disneyland Resort and in the Walt Disney World Area.

I think here at Disneyland we had two items, we had like a pickled corn dog and a churro. But you know what? There were a lot of people going and getting that churro, and taking pictures, and it was all over social media. It was a thing, and I'm sure it was also a thing in Florida about they had more food items that we had. But those are real things, those were real expenditures. As you know, Scott, it may seem easy, but it's not entirely that easy to bring out a specialty food item. Some of these are only out for a few days, two or three days, and that's kind of a lot of work to bring out a specialty food item for a few days, even if it does sell out; it's not generally worth the cost, honestly. So, I mean, that's a tangible thing.

They also did shoutouts on their Disney Channel for Hocus Pocus 2 and for some of the other stuff they had, and they did a big merch preview thing online. They also did like live TikToks, they did live Twitter feeds, they did like they did programming, basically, both online and in the park, and they did some food purchases. So, it was a lot more than just announcements, there was actual money behind this.

Scott: What's very interesting to me is you know there was a time where we would say, "merch and culinary announcements? Wow, what the heck is that?"

Philip: Yeah, that's another good point.

Scott: But it's interesting. So, right now I'm putting the buttons on some creative work for multiple theme parks in the country and for their Halloween event. Some of them I can't necessarily visit, so I've been scouring the internet for fan videos and fan tours of the areas just to kind of see what's going on. I am shocked, and I also notice this because I also do some occasional reporting for Coaster Nation. The thing that fascinates me is how interested theme park fans are in merchandise, and culinary as well. I was watching one for a park, and it was a new area for a park, and they went through not only the area, but they spent about a third of their time in the gift shop looking at all of the new merchandise, and not only looking at it, but identifying it, showing the price tag to show how much it was. 

The merchandise has become far more of a fan person collectible than I think even the theme parks ever knew it was. I can remember being told, less than 20 years ago, "well, we can't do special merchandise for our seasonal events, nobody wants that." And three years later, we had 20 different styles for a seasonal event, and they were all selling out.

So, I think it's interesting that merchandise continues to be a very important factor, and I'm glad to see that culinary is right on its heels. 

Philip: Again, we're learning all these lessons, right? This is another hindsight type of thing.

Scott: Well, it goes back to, create things that people can do, not just look at. So, when you can purchase an interact, take home, continue your experience afterward, I know it sounds lame, but even specialty food items, that's an interactive element to your experience.

Philip: Well and look at the whole convention and collectible scene. You know there's whole conventions where people go just to buy limited-edition merchandise. It's just kind of that American culture, and big in Japan as well. Japan has a big scene about that. So, that's really what this is, just tapping into that. I will tell you, the THEA's for last week, you know, there's always a Disneyland excursion into after the THEAs before the gala for the evening. We were there and I was in the park, and I think by noon they sent out a notification to everybody in the park on their phones, saying that the new Main Street Electrical Parade Sipper was sold out and to not even bother getting in line for it. Just the fact they had to send it everybody, to push it out to let them know. Maybe that wasn't true, maybe it was just to create FOMO, right? It just shows you that now it's a thing to consider. 

So, all these are great learning moments, I think, for attractions. That are looking at this is, understanding that that food and beverage, and merchandise can help make the spend per person a little bit higher. The customer clearly likes it too.

Scott: It becomes a themed part of the entertainment experience.

Philip: Yes, exactly, it makes the experience better. Even if it's just one friend that buys the thing and then you all get to watch them eat it, that's fine, that helps the experience, that helps you increase your spend per person. Then also, the other big take away is, this whole idea of putting together a nice campaign to make your announcements, and to try and get that out to get the excitement up for it and do previews when you can. I mean, do the free previews, whatever other previews you can do to get that out. 

Speaking of that, previews are kind of our, maybe our next story. Going on right now as we are recording this, and yesterday, was the Spooky Swap Meet in Los Angeles at the Heritage Square Museum. I mentioned previews because what this is, it's essentially, the Heritage Square Museum is a kind of like time locked piece of land from the Victorian era, they have the Victorian era houses there, and the old roads. Haunted houses get together, and they decorate the facades of these Victorian houses, and then everybody that goes the event can trick-or-treat at the different houses. So, it's like you’re trick-or-treating down the street, except it's Halfway to Halloween, right? There are also vendors, and food, etc. 

It has all these markers we've been talking about. There are vendors there, they have specialty food like Monster Boo-rrito and they have the chocolate covered et cetera, et cetera. The idea, the preview is, haunts can, when they decorate their facade, they all can bring pieces to preview what they're going to be doing this year at their event. 

Several of the haunts we went to had tickets already for sale there, they had discount codes there, you could buy the tickets at the event itself, they had free ticket giveaways, they had photo OPs, they had all of this interaction, and kind of using this event also as a way to push the tickets and push the announcements, and then do that tangible preview.

I know a lot of attractions might be thinking, "I don't have Disney budget, right? I can't, you know, do all this stuff." Well, this is a good example of, some of these were home haunters doing a preview of their home display. The reason they're able to do it is because they come together, they participate in this event. If you don't have a halfway Halloween event in your area, you know there's parades, there's community festivals, there's a lot of other ways that you can get involved. You can bring this concept of Halfway to Halloween to your local area and just show them, other people do this in other areas, there's a little spooky summer treat that you can preview your experience.

Scott: It's interesting because I think this is something that, at least from my perspective, seems to happen more in California than anywhere else. I think about this, this is what Midsummer scream started, this is the next level of it. The ability to trick or treat at Halfway to Halloween is just, I think, a brilliant concept, just a brilliant concept. I'm kind of bummed I was on the road for another client so I couldn't be there. I would have thoroughly enjoyed this, I think this would have been so much fun.

You're right, it gives you the opportunity to get out in front of people. One of the things that was done by independent haunters for years was, they had a core group of their actors who would all come together, and local movie theaters would invite them to come to openings of horror films. Now, granted, the world has changed, so there aren't that many grand openings anymore, and you don't necessarily even want to drive huge numbers back into a confined space yet, in some places. But, in this case, it's the exact same thing. We all know that like the haunted attraction folks are chomping at the bit to do whatever they can to get back in costume, back in makeup, and get the fog fluid out. What I also think is really cool is it gives, from an operational standpoint, it gives them a chance to sort of shake out the cobwebs and test some new things. You know, if they had a character that they didn't know whether was going to work for them or not, if they attend a halfway to Halloween event, they can see how it works and then make revisions or refinements before the actual season itself. So, I think it's kind of a win-win, it gives the guests a little treat and it also gives the organizations a chance to shake out the cobwebs, so to speak, or shake in the cobwebs as the case may be.

Philip: I did hear several haunts actually mentioned that to me too, about how they were using it as a good opportunity to test items, and also as a way to engage their actors. We've talked about on the show, how can you make your core group of actors, how can you make more opportunities for them so you can give them a longer contract? This is one of those things where they can come out, they get paid for two days of acting, and it's a good way to get them thinking about the haunt and ready to get locked in. Again, if they're playing that character, it's more easy to get them then locked in for the December and the October and the September things.

Scott: It's interesting too, because did they have any halfway to Halloween merchandise? Because I know you attended.

Philip: Yeah, of course, some of the same producers that work with Midsummer Scream are also involved in this. They're not the same people, but they're related, and of course, they had a commemorative enamel pin, and they had a commemorative t-shirt with a local t-shirt company, and they had a like a photo op with the t-shirt. I mean all those elements were there, there was exclusive merchandise for that event.

Scott: Because I mean even Creepy Co does Halfway to Halloween stuff, and it's all limited and always sells out. I mean, if you're a skeptic or a bit sarcastic, you can say, "OK, look, it's another invented holiday." But at the same time, for me, it just gives you a six month earlier way to celebrate something you already care about. 

Philip: Yes, I agree. I also think it helps people get ready too.

Scott: Well, I mean Christmas in July has been happening forever. I mean Christmas in July has been going on since the dawn of time. Well, OK, not really, but there's been a lot of that going on. So, this is really no different from that, it just gives us an opportunity to go trick or treating in the spring.

Philip: Well, stepping away from halfway to Halloween but still keep you in the spooky realm. There was an announcement of this past week of Netflix bringing in all-new Stranger Things Immersive experience to Brooklyn. 

QUOTE: "Netflix and experience discovery platform Fever have teamed up to deliver a new immersive Stranger Things experience which launches at The Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on May 7. Here, fans are transported into the Stranger Things Universe - a world of supernatural mystery, enduring friendships, and 80s nostalgia in an atmospheric celebration of the beloved, award-winning show."

Philip: So, this was very interesting to me. There's a new storyline. 

QUOTE: This brand new storyline, developed exclusively with the show’s creators, propels guests into a parallel universe where they must unlock their secret powers to face the gauntlet of lurking terrors and help save the town. After their perilous escape from the Upside Down, fans will arrive at an immersive F&B and retail hub celebrating Stranger Things’ most visually iconic locations. Here, fans are free to explore (and take plenty of pictures of) every element of the Stranger Things world, such as grabbing a USS Butterscotch sundae at Scoops Ahoy, knocking off MADMAX’s high score at the Palace Arcade, and even avoiding encounters with the Demogorgons in the Upside Down. 

Philip: So, I think maybe literally everything we just talked about. 

Scott: Right there, yep. Now, let's see, you said May 7th?

Philip: Yes, this is kind of a halfway to Halloween experience that's coming in for the Halfway to Halloween town. Sorry, that's a movie. For the Halloween time, there we go. So, everything we talked about, exclusive merchandise, I also like how they're able to use the IP, but they're making it a parallel world so that you're not really messing up the thing. Of course, this is leading right into Stranger Things 4 coming out soon.

Scott: Of course, of course. Have they announced an end date for this, or do you know? Because I have not seen anything on it. It looks like they have a start date, but I haven't seen anything that announces an end date for this particular experience. Because it's quite possible that this, again, could be another one of those quirky, weird little shoulder seasons. Which is, you know, coming over spring, because so many attractions do spring events, especially ones who have seasonal style parks where things change. So, this makes so much sense.

Philip: I don't see an end date. Yep, you're right.

Scott: No end date? Interesting.

Philip: Funny.

Scott: So, if it's successful, kids, it could be there a while. You know, I can't see that if it's making money hand over fist that they would be getting rid of it anytime soon. It's interesting to me, because everything I've read about this is positioning it like it is a seasonal experience, but there's no fuse. Now, that may be coming, I don't know. It also could be their insurance policy. They may know when it's going to end, but they may not tell us, so that we think it's going to end sooner than it really is, so it drives attendance. I don't know.

Philip: Which is a good strategy. The Stranger Things pop-up store that came to my area, that was supposed to be not as long as it ended up staying for, and we had this Stranger Things drive-through experience as well, and that lasted a lot longer than it was supposed to as well. Remember, every month they were like, "extending, extending due to popular demand," and it was actually very popular. 

Scott: Well and again once you've got something like this set up, your fixed costs just become less and less based on... Your fixed costs are your fixed costs, so if you continue to make money off of what you've already set up. Yes, your labor continues, but there's no reason not to. 

Philip: Well, that's also a good segue. We may be our last story for this show. Combining the spooky with the idea of your fixed costs here, Epic Containment Group has partnered with the Crayola Idea Works for an immersive attraction. This story is a continuation of what we talked about last time, and that's the Idea Works that Epic Entertainment made with Crayola was first at the Franklin Institute, which Scott has worked with, and now it's basically just going on tour. So, they're taking that same thing they've created and just taking it on tour. Again, kind of proves that it was popular, and it was wildly popular and successful so they could take it on tour now. But, as listeners of our show might know, maybe, Scott and I know Epic Entertainment very well. They started, of course, in Halloween. So, they started first working for the Queen Mary, but then starting their own company and producing Dark Harbor. They've been able to go from Halloween to doing experiences like this that then they can scale and take around the country.

Scott: Yeah, it's very exciting. They're very, very intelligent people, they're good businesspeople, and they're ridiculously creative. So, they're going to succeed no matter what, I'm sure of it, there's no question in my mind. I do think it's interesting that they are taking on this particular brand because I think they're going to discover that it will be very freeing and palate-cleansing for them as creatives. Having experienced this particular Idea Works experience it's interesting, because there's not a single crayon in the entire experience, it's all about being creative, it's all about going from an inkling of an idea to the execution of a plan. It's a real neat experience which I think is both benefited and hindered by having the Crayola name attached to it, because I think some people expect crayons but it's not there. I'm very curious to see how our brilliant friends at Epic are going to continue to help this evolve with the brand folks at Crayola.

Well, look at that, we're done. So that was our last story, Philip was correct. We were just staring at each other blankly. Thank you again guys for being with us again this week, and we hope that you bring a bunch of friends next week so that we can hear what's going on in the attractions industry. Share this with everyone you know. On behalf of Phillip and myself, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, and we'll see you in a week.