A 12-foot skeleton has taken Halloween decorations to a whole new (ahem) height. It’s the latest craze that has people searching stores and websites for a Skelly (yes, it has a name) of their own but also has achieved a kind of cult status, with several dedicated Facebook pages, including one with 50,000 members.
But Skelly’s popularity isn’t totally by chance. It’s a lesson in super smart marketing from Home Depot. The company used timing, social media and demand to make Americans think they must have a Skelly in their front yard — or else.
Go big … and then bigger
The product is the brain child of the marketing team at Home Depot. “Our team does extensive research for future products, and while we were at a trade show, we saw a giant skeleton torso,” Lance Allen, the company’s senior merchant of decorative holiday, wrote in an email.
Allen said his team thought, “We can do better! Why not make it a full giant skeleton!” When they got back to their offices, they drew up diagrams for a 10-foot skeleton but wanted to go even bigger. “After hours of development and discussion, our 12 ft Skeleton, or Skelly as we call him, became a reality,” he wrote.
Never underestimate the power of “big,” said Charles Lindsey, an associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo State University of New York. “It’s such an attention-grabbing item because of how immense it is and how big it is.” In marketing, he said, people talk about points of differentiation, and it’s just so darn unique — the size of that skeleton. That, as far as Lindsey knows, separates Skelly out within the Halloween space.
Timing is everything
The skeleton, which requires assembly so you can have your own Frankenstein moment, was initially put on the shelves during the first year of the pandemic, when consumers were really focused on home décor, said Lindsey. “The rollout was just perfect timing.”
The world was kind of a mess, to put it mildly, said Jennifer Corcoran, a Nashville-based admin of the Facebook group 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club, which boasts nearly 50,000 members and continues to grow. It has spawned a number of other holiday-forward groups comprising a quarter-million members, she said. She initially created the group as a joke after buying the lumbering giant herself: “It was something new and interesting to get excited about.”
Give a product a cute name, and send it on its social media way
Naming the product also helped Skelly flourish online. The nickname makes the skeleton more personable and increases the likelihood someone might share a post about the product on social media, which can help with making something go viral, Lindsey said.
A steady price point in a time of inflation
The skeleton hasn’t seen a price hike — holding steady at $299 — since its launch. Consumers are price-sensitive when their dollars are really stretched, which is currently the case given that inflation is reaching record highs, Lindsey said.
About 26 percent of shoppers say they’re cutting back on holiday spending because of higher costs, Deloitte’s 2022 holiday retail survey data shows. A smaller subset of shoppers, at 22 percent, say they plan on spending even more because of inflation.
The skeleton’s unwavering price is especially appealing to consumers during an inflationary environment, Lindsey said.
Make it scary that it’s scarce!
There’s nothing like not being able to have something to make people want something. That’s the principle of scarcity in action.
The product flew off shelves almost immediately and continues to be popular. And it’s often out of stock. During the annual “Halloween in July” promotion, the giant skeleton sold out quickly, if not within hours, Forbes reported. That success contributed to the home improvement store’s highest quarterly revenue yet. As of Oct. 12, it’s been sold out online.
When an item is scarce in the marketplace, and all other things equal, the product’s value goes up in terms of consumers seeking it out and wanting to buy one for themselves, Lindsey said. The product can also become a sort of social status symbol, adding fuel to the social media craze.
A primary function of Corcoran’s Facebook group is to help consumers locate a skeleton for themselves — but no scalpers allowed. By the time people post on the group, they’ve often been looking for one for years, she said. “We even do a list by state to help people find them locally in stores,” she said. “We’ve got a good track record of getting people the skeletons.”
More, more, more!
Other brands have taken note. “Depending on the level of demand when it comes to consumers, very often there’s 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 just is really hard to get ahold of, and as soon as stores get it in, it’s out of stock again,” he added. “Because of that, knockoffs do well.” When there’s a lot of popularity and demand, there’s often room for five to 10 versions of the product.
Corcoran — who owns the werewolf, witch and a 15-foot phantom — says these products are popular, from what she’s observed. Of course, the original will always be the original: The skeleton is the classic one that started it all and still the most popular one to have, she said. Skelly will likely remain the leader of the market share since he’s the most established, Lindsey added.
Marketing aside, the skeleton has fostered a flourishing community — that then helps to market it.
In 2019, Corcoran had maybe 100 or so trick-or-treaters. The following year, after she bought the skeleton, she had upward of 500.
At the time, she was only person giving out candy on the street — both sides of the street were lined with cars. It was unexpected mayhem. She said she remembers handing her brother her credit card and saying, “Go buy as much candy as you can find.” And last year? She saw closer to 700 trick-or-treaters, amounting to roughly $1,000 in candy — it’s gotten to the point where her neighbors have started donating candy to her efforts.
Part of the allure is her elaborate displays, where the skeleton is featured, which now spill onto her neighbor’s yards. It’s been a great way to meet her neighbors, she said. But earlier this year, she had back surgery. After posting in the Facebook group, some group members said they would help her get her skeletons up.
Beyond that the members share 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 like doing it, we’re not annoying our friends talking about decorations all the time,” she said. “It’s become a neat community.”
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.