I talk a lot about this idea that I have about branding and how one can transmute the miasma of corporate products and logos that clogs our everyday existence into something useful.   All of this packaging, product placements, all these mascots, and these slogans are really just glyphs on a Rosetta stone.   It’s an obscure dialect that contains a key to our memories.   If we’re going to live in a manufactured world we have to learn to use it to our best advantage.

Similarly there’s an odd rift that develops in the level of acceptance for this monster of commercialistic branding.  The further away we get from something, or if we have a window into which we can see the process of business entropy, the fonder our memories become.  As a for instance, who absolutely, 100% adores the corporate branding of McDonald’s?  My guess is that most people would say "Not me."  Of the various demographics that would respond to the corporate branding and products offered, I’d be willing to bet a good percentage wouldn’t hate McDonald’s, would even admit that they eat there from time to time, but would also admit that they either don’t like being sold food through the various cartoon characters or special promotions or they just plain wouldn’t care.  At the same time though, I wonder who out there misses McRib sandwiches, Shamrock shakes, Officer Big Mac, the Professor or Captain Crook?  My guess is that most of the people who would recognize these things would probably admit to a fondness for these products and characters.  It’s still the same type of low quality food and shilly mascots, but through the haze of memory they seem so much cooler.

So why am I bringing this up today in a post about some pre-Halloween excitement?  Well, I can’t help but love Target around this time of year.  In fact, of all the Halloween traditions I’ve been adopting over the past decade, exploring the new spooky displays each year at the mega department store chain is fast becoming the start to my seasonal fun.  I know there’s something a little unhealthy about getting so excited about new store displays, seasonal branding, corporate themes, and intellectual property partnerships, but I do.  

In fact, for once I can feel the future nostalgia building as all of this stuff, the characters, products, and signage starts seeping into my consciousness.   I can already see the day when the company will switch gears to follow a new, cheaper, pared down trend, and I can already feel myself missing the current one.  It’s sort of like that cliché wish where one imagines utilizing time travel to go back and grab all the stuff that you miss from your childhood, except I’m already there.  The future me is sending back messages via brainwave wifi technologies, begging me to scoop up every piece of flat scan-able branding, or else…

Honestly, this isn’t even a reaction to the undeniable awesomeness of this year’s crop of Target Halloween goodies.  Some of it is pretty darn cool, but it’s nothing all that special.   I just know I’ll miss it when it’s gone. 

So what exactly is it that I’ll miss?   For one, Target finally hit the nail on the head in terms of finding the perfect pre-existing property to partner themselves with.   In years past they’ve featured unique branding like the Edgar and Ellen characters, which, though appropriately seasonal, were a little bit too spindly in design, and maybe a little too specific in character as they have a well-defined back story in the book series.  Last year the theme was Domo, which though neat in and of itself, was sort of a misfire in terms of Halloween branding.  Dressing Domo up like Frankenstein doesn’t make him seasonal (that’s a trick Disney has been attempting to much greater success with much more recognizable branding and characters for years.) 

This year though the partnership is with Skelanimals, a line of gothy, stuffed animals and clothing.  The basic premise revolves around a spooky design for what I assume are dead animals that makes each character look like a living x-ray where the skull and bones are visible.  It has the taste of Johnny and his gang of Cobra Kai during the Halloween dance scene in Karate Kid.  Personally I think this is a genius licensing agreement.  Not only are the Skelanimals cute and iconic, but they’ve got a head of steam developed via stores like Hot Topic where they’ve been featured prominently for a few years.  For the uninitiated they don’t necessarily carry any anti-goth resentment baggage either.  They’re at the perfect buoyant level between under and over exposed, and they just feel like something that Target would have come up with on their own.  Oh and my wife loves them to death.

Along with some neat exclusive glow-in-the dark plush variants, the Target Halloween section also features a million other Skelanimal branded products like pillows, key chains, hats, gloves, t-shirts, hoodies, candies (M&M exclusives and little tins of mints), as well as a trifecta of brand merging with the release of Target specific Skelanimal Bounty paper towels & napkins and Puffs tissues.  There’s also a line of hard plastic figurines that could easily be mistaken for vinyl toys (because we did)…

One of the aspects of the Target Halloween section that I love is that they don’t put all their eggs in one basket.  In addition to the main theme each year there are also mini ones directed at different demographics.   Where as Skelanimals are there to target the tween, teen and twenty-something’s, there is also a more generic house branding that aims at the 30-something’s and older crowd.  For the past few years this section has been devoted to El Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday.  This year this is being morphed into a more tattoo centric crowned skull and dragon theme…

Personally I think it’s a little weird and trendy, but then I tend to stray away from most generic iconography when it doesn’t have a particular story to tell.   I love skulls in general, but they’re so simple and relatable (we’ve all got ’em.)  When you throw a crown on them, then it becomes pointlessly specific and enters into that realm of punk/biker clip-art that just makes my stomach queasy (like the ace of spaces, a set of snake eyes dice, barbed wire, an eyeball in a ball of flame, or a burlesque girl lounging in a martini glass.)  I just don’t get the appeal, especially considering that this subculture tends towards individuality, but these symbols just become a uniform.

Along with this theme Target is offering a new version of their over-sized skull candy dish greeter that I fell so hard for last year, though it’s less Day of the Dead and more brushed metal…

The last demographic that Target has been attempting to capture is the more obvious youth market which is the bread and butter of Halloween.  In the last couple of years they’ve been doing this a little awkwardly with the Edgar and Ellen and Domo branded products, but there’s always been an in-house branding that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention featuring cute child-like versions of Frankenstein, Dracula, a witch and some creepy animals like cats and spiders.  Mainly these characters have ended up on the various paper products (plates, one-use table cloths, paper towels, etc.) and in my opinion they weren’t pimped quite enough.  This year Target has introduced seven new characters, three of which are being heavily featured on a lot of different products ranging from candy to candy bowls.  There’s a neat blue witch (that looks like a cross between Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas and Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother), a little kid dressed up as a devil (that’s reminiscent of Lock, also from A Nightmare Before Christmas), a ghost, a weird one-eyed bat, and three monsters.  These three monster characters are what really impressed me with the new spread in the store..

They’ve even gone so far as to name them, giving them a little bit more individual identities.   First up we’ve got Trex, the green Godzilla-esque lizard monster…

Next up is Schmorg, the furry, orange, one-eyed, Cousin It, chocoholic of the gang…

And last, Zen, the three-eyed, happy, blue gangly monster…

On the one hand I love the character designs, even on Zen who is straying from the typical Halloween color-scheme.  These are a weird cross between the work of comic writer/artist Evan Dorkin (of Milk & Cheese, Hectic Planet, and Dork fame) and the tone and feel of the monstrous characters on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.  In fact Dorkin has been doing a series of monster drawings on his blog that are so close to these Target characters that if they didn’t hire him to design them, then the folks who did must have been fans and heavily influenced.  My favorite bit of branding with these monsters are the ceramic candy dishes

Unfortunately, as far as the actual candy and goodies go, besides the new additions to the Dots family, there wasn’t much to speak about this year at Target.  The Jones Soda offerings are the same from last year and I haven’t found any interesting candy that wasn’t available before.  I was hoping to find a new series of the Nerds test tubes or some other obnoxiously giant gummies, but there really wasn’t anything exciting.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to make due with the new branding.

Again, since I’m invoking Halloween, I thought I should point to the Countdown to Halloween site.   It’s a resource for finding excellent Halloween blogging content during this coming season.  As I’ve mentioned, it’s the home for a list of blogs participating in the ghoulish fun of the holiday.   I’ve also created a couple badge/buttons you can use to show your creepy pride and participation in the event if you’d like.  I plan on posting every day during October, and I’ve chosen a wicked theme that I hope everyone digs.  The festivities start in 13 short days!