Day 1 of the Halloween Countdown: This season’s store visits…

By Shawn Robare

So, for this first day of October, and for the first official post of the Halloween countdown this year I thought I’d go over some of my pre-season shopping experiences at the usual suspects like Target, Wal-Mart, the Spirit Store, Spencer’s, and Toys R Us.  To tell the truth, I was looking forward to the seasonal macabre sections in these consumer megaplexes even more than usual this year, if nothing else to get my mind off of work.  It didn’t help that I was super excited to see what the various stores came up with this year as most of the stores had some great stuff last year (from mascots to candy and décor.)  Unfortunately, it’s beginning to seem like a bust (at least for my tastes) as most places don’t really seem to be in the spirit and the one who are, seem to be a little bit lazy or schizophrenic about it.  I think I just wanted the shopping experience to be way to splendiferously awesome that I’ve harshed my own mellow with expectation.

The other aspect to perusing the Halloween-y store shelves this year that was sort of a downer was a weird crack down on inside-store photography.  Granted, it’s usually best to seek permission before walking into a place and snapping a bunch of pictures, but I’m more of the sneaky sneak when it comes to this sort of tradition.  Well, all of the Halloween specialty stores in the area have started posting "No Photography" signs everywhere.  As silly as this sounds, I can’t help but think I contributed to this as I was "caught" in a couple places last year and almost but not quite grilled about my spooky store shutterbug hobby.  Granted, I’m sure my antics don’t hit on the radar of the big wigs at these places, but at the same time I know that a lot of these places are owned by the same companies (The Spirit stores are a Halloween liquidation front for Spencer’s), so many a memo went around.  Heck maybe a lot of bloggers have been caught snapping pictures of these fine institutions and it’s becoming a concern.  Who knows.  At the end of the day it was sort of a bummer, though to be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot to photograph.

Basically the only two places that seemed to merit a little bit of photo archiving are Target and Toys R Us, and the latter isn’t all that interesting as far as the in-store stuff.  So practically all my photos this year are from Target, though I did go ahead and snap a picture of a new seasonal store called Halloween USA…

Inside it was basically an exact replica of the Spirit store, though a little more spacious as it was housed in an old department store location.  This place did have an advantage over the Spirit store in that they had a larger selection of props, general Halloween goofery, and décor, though this is a segment of holiday shopping that seems to be shrinking across the board.  The Spirit store has almost entirely scaled back to pre-packaged costume sets, though they still have a decent (though somewhat stagnating) selection of costume props.  I’m missing the lack of plastic/wood/ceramic skulls, fake torn-off limbs, little monster shaped baubles and the like though.  Maybe stores like this require you take a break for a couple of years so as to not burn yourself out.  I’m sticking to that thought…

By far, and as in most years, my favorite showing was at the local area Targets.  This year (like the previous) Target has decided to base their basic seasonal design around an already established property, Domo, which according to wiki is the mascot of the Japanese NHK television station.  The character is apparently a "strange creature who hatched from an egg" (according to the official site), lives in a cave, passes gas when he’s nervous or upset and doesn’t like apples.  Besides the fact that he looks like an adorable monster, I have no idea why Target decided to co-opt Domo for their Halloween advertising as there’s noting spooky or really Halloween related about the lug.  There are a ghost and a couple of bat characters in the Domo universe (you can visit all the characters here), but none of them are used in any of the Target marketing as far as I can see.  Color me old and out of touch, but I just don’t get it.  He is cute though…




What’s kind of weird about the Domo Halloween branding is that besides all of the signage and there is only a small endcap of Domo Halloween products.   Everything else is covered in what I assume is Target specific Halloween branding, an evolution of their cute monster characters from years past.  This is sort of what I was referring to as schizophrenic branding.  Why go to all the trouble of securing the rights to Domo when the majority of your store branded merchandise features a completely different design campaign?

They’ve also seemed to scale back on the Mexican Day of the Dead theme to a lot of past years products (like my beloved mariachi skeleton), focusing instead on the black laser cut metal baubles and faux statuary…


They do have one heck of an awesome Day of the Dead skull Bucket, though it’s so large that I have no earthly idea what I’d do with it.

As far as their own character branding, it’s pretty prevalent though out the department, and it even shows up on a bunch of name brand products like Bounty paper towels, Zip Loc sandwich bags, and Softsoap hand soaps.  Again, it’s kind of weird and unfocused.  I assume if you aren’t as anal about useless pop culture non-sense, you know, a normie, you wouldn’t even realize there were a set of Target branded characters floating around out there…


Most of the candy from previous years has shown back up on the shelves in new packaging like the large gummy tongue/vampire fang sets, the finger lollipops, and test tubes full of powdered or Halloween themed Runts-like candy…


I was surprised to see a new section crammed in next to the candy though.  Apparently Target is taking another shot at pushing the idea of a more personal family oriented Halloween celebration in the form of themed party games (in the past couple years they’ve been featuring more and more candy products that stray from the traditional fun-size neighborhood trick-or-treating fare, going for a more celebrate by yourself giant gummy frog type of deal.)


As is now tradition, there was a whole new crop of Jones Soda products in a bevy of odd flavors to wet one’s gullet.  They’ve nixed the Gruesome Grape and Spiced Cider from the mini can line-up and added Spookiwi, and Buried Pomegranate.  They’ve also dropped the jack-o-lantern theme to the can design and ushered in a awesome line of classic monster mugs.  I’m especially fond of the werewolf design, though I can’t stand their candy Corn flavored soda…



As I mentioned above I was also very impressed with Toys R Us this year, though not for any great products or branding in the store.  I’m surprised that they took their design aesthetic from last year with the super deformed, almost vinyl toy-looking, mascots and put it to a broader use.  There was a ton of cheap toys and games with the fun looking trick-or-treat monster mascots.  Here are scans of the main characters (there’s also a cat and a Princess that aren’t quite as cool):



I was hoping to find the same sort of brand building at Wal-Mart this year after I fell in love with their Frankenstein’s monster branding from last year, but instead they went in the total opposite direction packaging all over their stuff in horribly boring plain orange packaging.  You couldn’t make it look more generic and cheap.   I didn’t even bother dragging the camera into the joint as it was just too boring.  Oh well.

Hopefully I’ve gotten the ranting side of things out of the way for the rest of the month and now I can concentrate on looking back a couple decades into the Halloween-y stuff of the 80s.  Tomorrow’s post will echo a puppety one from last year that I enjoyed.  See you in 24 hours or so…

  • Todd

    Yeah, I don’t get the no photos thing. I guess they’re worried people are going to break in and steal stuff. Instead, most people that are taking photos are giving them free advertising when they upload their pics. I noticed this year is kind of weak for cool Halloween decorations. I don’t get the whole Domo thing either. By the way I dig your countdown banner!

  • Clay Atlas

    Taking pictures is the best part! How else can you tell if a costume is appropriate? Evidence is key.

  • John Rozum

    Thanks for this lengthy analysis. I agree, the offerings are realy lackluster this year, as are the displays. It doesn’t seem like anyone involved really had their heart in it, and there are too many decorations we’ve seen again and again for a few years now. I only bought a couple of things this year, though I’m eyeing that giant black day of the dead skull. Like you, my main concern is where I’d put it.

  • Azathoth

    They are no doubt promoting the english language 26 episodes of 2-minute stop-motion animated shorts that Big Tent Entertainment co-produced with the Japanese series creators that are to air this fall on Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons Network and worldwide on Nickelodeon International (I am not a regular Nick watcher so whether any of them have aired yet I cannot say) because they want in on the insane merchandising tsunami that is Domo. It seems like latley almost every month’s issue of previews magazine lists anywhere from several to a ton of new Domo products coming out for collectors to go broke over. Even Dark Horse Comics has a line of vinyl Domo figures… You can find Domo on everything from plushie toys, action figures, models, and school supplies to apparel, furniture, food and even a Domo usb flashdrive. I think I read somewhere there are over 600 different Domo products in the world today. Not quite on the scale of Hello Kitty or KISS merchandising, but getting there ;) If you follow this Target website link you can see their Domo Halloween advertisement which includes an exclusive stop-motion animated short and a “”making-of”” video that shows the painstaking stop-motion process that results in 5 seconds of footage a day. Once the flash window loads at top of page click on the “”Domo Show”” option along the top of the flash window. They also have PDF files of Domo Halloween paper cutouts you can print out that can be used to play dress up with the Domo gift cards they are selling: and here:

  • Belle Dee

    I bought that big black skull. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I was able to carry it out of Target, with all my purchases in it! I was thinking planter too.

  • Ben

    Those 6″” Domo plushes that Target is selling are actually really nice. I highly recommend picking up at least the plain one. They have little discs sewn into the base of their feet so that they can stand up like action figures.

  • Paxton Holley

    ove your site, read it every day. I too have noticed that the Halloween decor is lackluster this year. Target’s Domo is the best of the bunch so far. Very disappointing. I too was doing a Halloween countdown on my blog and am having trouble coming up with stuff because there’s nothing out there. I too used the Crestwood House logo and design for the Halloween decorations on my blog.

  • Kirk D.

    Great coverage, as always. As usual, I’ve yet to make it out this year, so you are my eyes. Those large stone busts at Target are pretty interesting. I’ve noticed less of the giant inflatable stuff in my little neck of the woods. I wonder if that has to do with expectations of more conservative spending.