“Daddy what did you used to do on Halloween?”
My honest answer would be: “Nothing”.
As a child if asked about Halloween I would have probably said: “What’s that?”
At the time there might have been a story feature on Blue Peter where maybe some nice middle class boys and girls would have done something creative with pumpkins and a washing up bottle – but beyond that absolutely zilch.
Not that I was objecting to the concept or idea of Halloween, with concerns over devil worship or other dark side concerns.
Rather, I had no idea what Halloween was, and more importantly, what I should do to engage with the idea.
You see, Halloween is a great example of a meme – an idea that has spread and replicated by itself.
So today’s children can choose from a menu of:
- Going out ‘Trick or Treating’
- Dressing up in scary costumes
- Watching a Halloween related/scary movie
- Having some other Halloween/scary themed sweet, food, or beverag
Ian Morris in his excellent analysis of the broad themes of history ‘Why the West rules for now’ claims that there are essentially just three motors for change: fear, greed and sloth.
The story of humankind has been fuelled by satisfying one or more of these core drivers.
Halloween, by playing off our fear of fear is drawing upon a key underlying emotion – and perhaps harnessing some reverse psychology: by making fun of what we deep down fear – we can lessen our underlying dissonance about these nasty things.
Halloween is evidently a good meme: it is instantly identifiable, memorable, and copy-able: it is easy to pass on, easy to engage with, and easy to create conversations around.
It has grown partly by commercial interests – from filmmakers to Cadburys offering ‘Trick or Treat’ sweets buckets.
More importantly, it has grown because significant numbers of us want it to: it provides the opportunity to party in some way, and connect with others: parents have a chance to connect with their children, and commercial interests, well…, there is a commercial opportunity.
Now if Halloween as a concept is able to replicate itself and operate as a meme, should most professional communicators understand more about how memes work and how they can apply to their work in promoting messages and greater understanding?
Luckily, help is at hand.
Memes, viral and word of mouth are just a few of the 101 different tips an ideas being offered to public relations and marketing professionals in the first ‘Word of Mouth and Viral Marketing course being run by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
The half day training course takes place in Londonon the afternoon of Friday November 11th. Places are limited, to book your place visit www.cipr.co.uk or ring 0207 631 6900.
The course has been devised and will be delivered by Andy GreenFCIPR. His book ‘Effective Personal Communication Sills for PR’, part of the Institute’s PR in Practice series, was one of the first PR texts to cover word of mouth and memes.
Sharing examples from the work of Edward Bernays to the latest cutting edge campaigns, you will go away telling your friends how you can manage your word-of-mouth, how to create positive messages about you, what you do and what you stand for.