A 12-foot skeleton has taken Halloween decorations to a whole new (ahem) height. It’s the latest craze, making people scour stores and websites for their own Skelly (yes, it has a name), but has also achieved something of a cult following, with several dedicated Facebook pages including one with 50,000 members.
But Skelly’s popularity is no accident. It’s a lesson in super smart marketing from Home Depot. The company used timing, social media, and demand to fool Americans into believing they need to have a skelly in their front yard — or else.
Go big… and bigger
The product is the brainchild of the Home Depot marketing team. “Our team is doing extensive research for future products, and while we were at a trade show we saw a giant skeletal torso,” wrote Lance Allen, the company’s senior merchant for decorative holidays, in an email.
Allen said his team thought, ‘We can do better! Why not make a full giant skeleton out of it!” When they returned to their offices, they drew diagrams for a 10-foot skeleton, but wanted to go even bigger. “After hours of development and discussion, our 12-foot skeleton, or skelly as we call it, became a reality,” he wrote.
Never underestimate the power of “big,” said Charles Lindsey, associate professor of marketing at Buffalo State University of New York. “It’s such an attention-grabbing object because it’s so immense and big.” In marketing, he said, people talk about differentiators, and that’s just so damn unique — the size of this skeleton. This, as far as Lindsey knows, delineates Skelly within the Halloween space.
timing is everything
The skeleton, which requires assembly so you can have your own Frankenstein moment, originally hit shelves in the first year of the pandemic, when consumers were really focused on home decor, Lindsey said. “The rollout was just perfect timing.”
The world has been in quite a mess, to say the least, said Jennifer Corcoran, a Nashville-based admin of the 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club Facebook group, which has nearly 50,000 members and is still growing. It has spawned a number of other holiday-forward groups with a quarter-million members, she said. She initially created the group for fun, having bought the lumbering giant herself: “It was something new and interesting to be excited about.”
Give a product a cute name and share it on social media
The naming of the product also helped Skelly flourish online. The moniker makes the skeleton more personable and increases the likelihood that someone will share a post about the product on social media, which can help things go viral, Lindsey said.
A stable price point in times of inflation
The skeleton hasn’t seen a price increase since its launch – it’s stable at $299. Consumers are price conscious when money is really tight, which is currently the case with inflation at record levels, Lindsey said.
About 26 percent of shoppers say they are cutting back on holiday spending due to higher costs, data from Deloitte’s Holiday 2022 survey shows. A smaller subset of shoppers, 22 percent, say they plan to spend even more because of inflation.
The skeleton’s unshakable price is particularly appealing to consumers in an inflationary environment, Lindsey said.
Make it scary that it’s close!
There’s nothing like not being able to have something to make people want something. This is the principle of scarcity in action.
The product almost immediately flew off the shelves and continues to enjoy great popularity. And it’s often out of stock. During the annual “Halloween in July” sale, the giant skeleton sold out quickly, if not within hours, Forbes reported. This success contributed to the DIY store’s highest quarterly sales to date. It has been sold out online since October 12th.
When an item is scarce in the marketplace, all other things being equal, the value of the product increases in terms of consumers looking for it and wanting to buy one for themselves, Lindsey said. The product can also become a kind of social status symbol and fuel the social media craze.
A primary function of Corcoran’s Facebook group is to help consumers find a skeleton for themselves – but no scalpers allowed. When people post to the group, they’ve often been looking for one for years, she said. “We’re even making a state-by-state list so people can find them in stores locally,” she said. “We have a good track record of getting people’s skeletons.”
More more more!
Other brands have taken notice. “Depending on consumer demand, very often there is room for multiple versions of the same product,” Lindsey said. (Hence the army of giant witches and mummies and werewolves.)
“It could be that the original is very hard to come by and as soon as stores get it, it’s sold out again,” he added. “For this reason, imitations do well.” When popular and in demand, there is often room for five to ten versions of the product.
Corcoran – who owns the werewolf, the witch and a 15-foot phantom – says these products are popular, which she’s observed. Of course, the original is always the original: the skeleton is the classic that started it all and is still the most popular, she said. Skelly will likely remain the leader as it’s the most established, Lindsey added.
Marketing aside, the skeleton has nurtured a thriving community – which then helps market it.
In 2019, Corcoran had maybe 100 trick-or-treaters. The following year, after purchasing the skeleton, she had over 500.
At the time, she was the only person handing out candy on the street – both sides of the street were lined with cars. It was an unexpected mess. She said she remembered giving her credit card to her brother and saying, “Go and buy as many candies as you can find.” And last year? She saw nearly 700 trick-or-treats worth about $1,000 in candy — it’s gotten to the point where her neighbors have started donating candy to her effort.
Part of the appeal is their elaborate displays featuring the skeleton, which now spill over into their neighbors’ yards. It was a great way to meet her neighbors, she said. But earlier this year she had back surgery. After posting to the Facebook group, some group members said they would help her straighten her skeletons.
In addition, the members exchange ideas on how to modify the skeleton costumes. They even have shirts. “It brings some joy to the community, and for those of us who enjoy doing it, we don’t mind that our friends talk about decorations all the time,” she said. “It’s become a nice community.”
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for editing this article.