Hashtag Halloween: How to Run a Spooky Instagram Contest

Halloween is a big business. Over 179m Americans will take part in activities, spending over $9bn, and dressing up – this is the important bit – 10% of American pets!

But Halloween is also a big feeling: those 179m Americans, and others around the world, aren’t thinking about dollars and cents. They’re thinking about having fun, and about enjoying that feeling of excitement from being both scared and entertained.

It’s the most creative time of the year for a lot of regular people, and your Twitter feed probably started to fill up with spoopy Halloweenized names since the beginning of September! But Instagram is where it really happens. It’s the place where your audience’s real-life experiences meet their need to show-off and express themselves. And Instagram is the perfect place for a Halloween photo contest.

Let’s take a look at six very different Instagram competitions and how these techniques might benefit your business.

1. Dunkin (Donuts) #DresseDD

Dunkin’ Donuts take the biscuit with their regular coffee cup fancy dress photo contest. Customers decorate or dress up their DD takeout cups with Halloween costumes and put them on Instagram with the easily remembered #DresseDD hashtag. The coffeehouse marketing team gives a $100 mobile gift card to the best one (the contest was originally a discreet way of spreading the word about the company’s new mobile payment and gifting app).

It’s a stroke of marketing genius. Every picture carries the DD logo on the cup, but it doesn’t feel obtrusive since the costume is the focus of the photo. The contest requires customers to buy a cup of coffee, but decorating the cup doesn’t take much effort or investment. In fact, most people probably do it at their desk as a distraction from work.

And it’s funny and visual, which creates shareability and good will. Who doesn’t want a warm takeout coffee at the end of October?

2. Petco #HalloweenTogetherContest

People love dressing up, and they love cute pictures of dogs. Put them together, and what have you got? In the case of Petco’s 2016 “Make a Scene” contest, the answer is: over 1500 entries and a lot of fun.

Of course, a $10,000 prize doesn’t hurt. But Petco’s secret was to keep it simple and to tie their Instagram contest to the theme of their brand. Their #HalloweenTogetherContest tag emphasizes the ‘quality time’ entrants will spend dressing up their pets for the camera. You might borrow a similar sentiment of togetherness for your contest, whether that means encouraging parents to dress up their kids (or vice versa) or office workers to compete for the spookiest dress-down Friday.

And if in doubt, go with dogs.

3. MAC Cosmetics #SeniorArtistsSlayHalloween

MAC’s approach is a bit more specific. The cosmetic brand sought expert artists to demonstrate what is possible with MAC’s type of product. Of course, in the short run, they probably made a handful of sales as entrants bought up materials for their photos, but the important thing is that the company got a ton of professionally-produced marketing images for free – all while associating their name with quality and inspiration.

In a way, MAC’s type of contest was not so different from Dunkin’ Donuts, since both encouraged entrants to use their product in the photo. But the distinct difference here is that the entrants to MAC’s contest were themselves other businesses. Some were make-up studios, and some were freelance artists, all of whom have a professional stake in creating impressive work and sharing their images far and wide.

Of course, if you’re selling coffee and donuts, this professional tone isn’t appropriate. But it does raise an important consideration: who do you want to enter your contest? And how can you leverage their influence in the promotion of your brand?

4. GoodCook @goodcookcom

Kitchenware retailers GoodCook use a focused content marketing strategy of recipes and tutorials to cultivate their audience. They decided to keep things simple for their Halloween giveaway. The company produced a very professional ‘call for entries’ video that effectively functions as a commercial since it featured GoodCook’s wares and a handful of seasonal suggestions as to what customers might create with them. All that was required for entry was to follow their Instagram account and tag three friends in the comments of the video.

An approach like this requires less creativity from consumers, who may be busy, kitchen-oriented parents with less time or social media savvy to spare. And the tag-three-friends clause gives the contest the potential to snowball since, ideally, each tagged friend will watch the video and then tag three more friends to complete their own entry.

5. World Market #TrickorTreatWorldMarket

World Market sells a wide range of household items and food sourced from all over the world, and they have a very image-friendly Instagram profile with over 600,000 followers. They encourage their audience to share exotic images all year round, and incentivize this at Halloween with a hashtag contest for which entrants are asked to tag pictures of themselves on the way out to a Halloween party. The winner is chosen at random.

It’s lower maintenance on both sides. Entrants aren’t expected to dress up in a way that they weren’t planning anyway and, unlike the people at Dunkin’ Donuts, the folk at World Market aren’t obliged to sift through potentially thousands of entries to choose the “best” one.

World Market’s followers are a wholesome bunch, so the business ends up with a portfolio of tagged images that are closely aligned to their aesthetic.

6. PurseBop #pursebophalloweenpicks

The odd thing about PurseBop’s annual contest is that many of the most prominent entrants appear to be the luxury bag website’s competitors: retailers with direct links to their sales pages. But this being e-commerce, the reality is a bit more complicated.

In fact, PurseBop is more of a luxury bag ‘culture’ site who earn a commission through affiliate links. When they set up a contest for Instagram users to share spooky images of their prized handbags, other vendors and labels saw the opportunity for a bit of self-promotion and submitted their own images with the hashtag #pursebophalloweenpicks.

PurseBop and their entrants each benefit from reaching the other influencer’s audience, and if PurseBop misses out on this sale, they’re sure to recoup in the long-term through all the new followers they make. Plus, association with all of these brands and labels makes PurseBop’s own bag culture website seem more authoritative.

Running your own Instagram Halloween contest

As you see, half the challenge when setting up your Halloween contest is choosing the most effective format. Hopefully, the ideas above will give you a clearer idea of what type of Instagram contest will be most beneficial for your business. When it comes to the administration of the competition, Woobox has all the tools you need to collect submissions from Instagram and pick a winner. All that’s left is the feel-good part – distributing the prizes!

If you are on a paid Woobox subscription, you can access the Instagram posts section. Instagram no longer shares “like” data, so you’ll need to pick winners from comments on your posts. You can also complete a hashtag search and export or choose winners from the results in Woobox’s posts section.

That leaves the imaginative part to you. Choose a unique hashtag or combination of hashtags for your contest to give it a strong identity and ensure you don’t end up with accidental entries from random Instagram users. #Halloween or #Evil alone won’t cut it! Look at the Dunkin’ Donuts #DresseDD tag. Nobody is going to type that unless they’ve heard about the contest.

A good way of expanding your reach is to request that entrants use two hashtags at once: a unique one that references your brand, and a second more common one that will tie entries into general Halloween traffic and place your brand in front of casual Instagram users who search for or subscribe to that more common hashtag.

Time to cast your spell

Once your contest is up and running, don’t just sit back and enjoy all that creativity you’ve inspired. Be sure to share word of your contest with the press and bloggers, who will appreciate the chance to write about such a visual story.

Ready to get spooky? Remember:

  • A unique, memorable hashtag (or two) will help your contest to stand out.
  • Be smart with how your specific Halloween theme fits your brand, and try to get your products into entrants’ images if appropriate.
  • Encouraging your followers to be creative is a great way to boost engagement with your brand.
  • A simpler approach can be to create your own quality Instagram content and ask entrants to comment on it.
  • Either way, you can lighten your workload by using Woobox’s contest management tools.

Time to get snapping. Let’s hope your Halloween contest is a scream!