For Halloween 2020, old traditions get a new look to accommodate the pandemic

Like most big events this year, Halloween 2020 is going to look different from years past. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, traditional activities like trick-or-treating are on hold and parties are strongly discouraged. One study even found more than 75% of consumers say the pandemic has impacted their celebrations, leaving some people asking, “Is Halloween 2020 cancelled?”

As it turns out, the answer is no. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this year, it’s that people are willing and able to adapt to make the best of the situation. In Chicago, a bar is launching a drive-thru haunted house while streaming service Hulu is hosting a similar entertainment experience in Los Angeles. And to make up for trick-or-treating, the Mars Wrigley company created a virtual trick-or-treating app for consumers all over the country to use.

In other words, Halloween activities may look unusual this year, but the spirit of Halloween remains strong. Using Sprout’s Social Listening Platform, we looked at recent conversations around Halloween to learn how people are pivoting and adjusting their traditional spooky activities. We analyzed over 13 million messages across Twitter from October 1 to 27 to learn more about how people are entertaining themselves for Halloween in 2020.

Surprise! It’s spooky season all month long

Whether because of the impending election or the ongoing pandemic, the weeks leading up to the October holiday appear to have caught some people off guard. The word “realize,” for example, showed up in over 41,000 messages about Halloween activities as people took to social to share they hadn’t indulged in as many spooky activities this year.

Historically, Halloween is a popular topic of conversation all throughout September and October. In 2016, there were over 19 million mentions of Halloween or #Halloween on Twitter and that number jumped to over 23 million in 2019. This year, from September 1 to October 27, we’ve recorded more than 16 million mentions of Halloween or #Halloween—a 27% increase compared to the same time last year.

Halloween 2016 2019.001

The volume of Halloween conversations varies from location to location. When we compare the volume of messages to the region’s population, Washington D.C. had the highest volume rate followed by Nevada and New Jersey. To find this data, we broke down the volume of Halloween mentions by state and divided that number by the state population based on estimates from the U.S. Census.

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Nevada
  3. New Jersey
  4. Oregon
  5. California

Interestingly, the highest volume of Halloween conversation occurs in regions where COVID cases are steadily increasing but are not experiencing unchecked community spread (more than 25 daily new cases per 100,000 people). As the holiday nears, officials like governors and mayors are taking to Twitter to share advice on how to celebrate accordingly. As social chatter around activities began picking up, more than 213,000 messages referenced safety, COVID and related terms as people asked for recommendations on how to celebrate safely.

Other annual traditions are receiving a makeover to accommodate the pandemic. In D.C., for example, the National Air and Space Museum pivoted away from their signature in-person event to an at-home pumpkin carving contest. In Portland, Oregon, drive-in horror experiences are a safe and socially distant option for thrill seekers.

On the other hand, the annual trick-or-treating festivities at the Nevada governor’s mansion were canceled as cases began to spike in the state. And universities, like San Diego State University, are issuing warnings to students to stay home during Halloween weekend to prevent the spread.

Classic traditions with a socially-distant twist

As far as 2020 Halloween ideas go, people are still thinking of ways to make trick-or-treating a reality. Nearly 429,000 messages about Halloween referenced trick-or-treating as people flex their creativity over how they get their candy fix this year. James Breakwell, author of Exploding Unicorns, shared how his kids hosted their own at-home Halloween 2020 complete with trick-or-treating.

Conversations about virtual activities and parties are also increasing steadily online, with over 8,400 messages referencing virtual or Zoom activities. Of those, over 7,500 messages reference virtual parties or Zoom parties specifically. Author R.L. Stine, for example, is hosting a virtual Halloween party for children on the 31st while the “Top Gun” movie account shared GIPHY backdrops to complete any Zoom party.

Finally, movies play a big role in keeping the Halloween spirit alive. In addition to virtual watch parties and drive-in screenings, Halloween fans can expect exclusive new content based on their favorite October classics. The New York Restoration Project, for example, is hosting a one-time broadcast featuring the Sanderson sisters from “Hocus Pocus,” a move sure to delight fans of the cult classic film.

Gaming is all-in on Halloween

One industry that was ready to tackle all the challenges posed by the pandemic? Gaming. A closer look at the Halloween 2020 social conversation revealed a healthy amount of chatter around gaming and the exclusive content offered in October.

Surprisingly, the most talked about video game isn’t available in North America at all. Disney’s Twisted Wonderland, a Japanese mobile game, dominated a good portion of the gaming conversation with more than 304,000 messages. Taking full advantage of the Halloween season, the mobile game launched a series of days-long campaigns, or ‘missions,’ to keep gamers engaged all October long.

Additionally, Overwatch fans were treated to new Halloween-themed challenges, skins and loot boxes to help celebrate the October holiday from the comforts of their home. Listening data shows a spike in conversations around this event following the initial announcement on October 10, and currently there are more than 70,000 messages mentioning Overwatch’s Halloween activities.

Not to be outdone, the ever-popular Call of Duty also joined in on the spooky celebration. The video game dropped its own Halloween event, the Haunting of Verdansk, on October 20 to the delight of Warzone fans all over the world. From October 1-27, conversations around Call of Duty, Warzone and other related terms increased 1,732%, garnering more than 29,000 messages.

The haunting must go on

Rather than let the pandemic suck all the fun out of October, people and brands are finding new ways to keep the spirit of Halloween alive. From Zoom parties to month-long virtual events to drive-in screenings, there are a number of creative and safe ways to celebrate the spooky season. And while some festivities may only be temporary, like virtual trick-or-treating, don’t be surprised if we see some new traditions stick around for the long run.

Social listening can help you uncover how people are pivoting in times of pandemic and what activities they’re turning to during the holiday season. If you’re interested in learning what other insights can come from social listening, check out our article on listening for consumer brands or contact us for a free Sprout listening demo today.


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