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Send in the Clowns: Looking at the Creepy Clown Craze and its Impact on Halloween Retail

posted by Amanda Hallay, Assistant Clinical Professor, Fashion Merchandising

Prof. Amanda Hallay looks at the current "Creepy Clown" phenomenon and its impact on Halloween retail.

2016: Just when we thought that things couldn’t possibly get any weirder (and is there anything weirder than this Presidential Election?), America finds itself in the terrifying sway of (yup) Creepy Clowns.

Creepy Clown 2.jpgCreepy Clowns: The very phrase is pretty scary, isn’t it. We’ve all seen them on the news, popping up in the woods in the Deep South, milling around schools in Texas, and even in my own little Long Island town of Sea Cliff. (There was a "panic sighting" of a Creepy Clown in the village the other night, but it transpired to be a 10 year old boy out trick or treating a few days early.) And although we all sense that this strange new craze speaks to a deeper societal angst, nobody has as yet to figure out exactly what it is.

And I am not even going to hazard a guess, except to say that the reason we’re seeing so many copy cat Creepy Clowns (and how’s that for alliteration?) is that it is easy to become a Creepy Clown. We’re not talking about a slew of 20 foot animatronic aliens scaring the suburbs; that would take a lot of skill and an awful lot of money to pull off. Yet anyone can mock up a clown costume with a quick trip to CVS and a cheap Halloween costume, and one suspects that many of the unidentified Creepy Clowns are just teenagers out on a prank.

Creepy Clown 1.jpgSadly, however, there have been reports of more menacing Creepy Clown conduct. (A man dressed as a clown allegedly attempted to snatch a Bay Area toddler, and police in a town in South Carolina are warning parents of a clown who has been reported trying to lure children into the woods behind an apartment complex.) So, the phenomenon shouldn’t be laughed off as yet another internet-generated craze. Michigan police don’t think so; they recently arrested two men dressed as clowns at a McDonald’s because they were "scaring people."

Quite rightly, I say. While most of the Creepy Clown sightings are clearly benign, the fact is that you don’t have to suffer from coulrophobia (irrational fear of clowns) to be frightened by them. So it isn’t very heartening that USA Today reports that the sale of Creepy Clown costumes are up 300% in the lead up to Halloween!

Creepy Clown 3.jpgOf course, for those of us who analyze the influence of social media and pop culture on retail, this comes as no surprise. Whatever the year’s internet "sensation," you can be sure there will be a Halloween costumes to follow. Remember in 2010 when Antoine Dodson stole our hearts with his "Hide Yo Wives" viral video, and sales of red bandanas and black vests soared in the run up to Halloween?

Or when "The Walking Dead" was at its height, and suburban streets were filled with zombies on October 31st?  It follows that the Creepy Clown phenom’ was sure to be a Trick or Treating favorite. It checks all the boxes: it’s scary (and Halloween is supposed to be scary, right?), but moreover, it pays ironic homage to the latest social media phenomenon.  The wearer of the Creepy Clown costume is saying; "I’m hip to what’s happening; I get the joke."

But is this joke actually funny?  I think not. At worst, these Creepy Clowns are dangerous, and at best, they are simply mean-spirited. Why would we want to imitate them and add to the current climate of fear?

Well, according to sales figures, we do.

Topics: Halloween, retail, Creepy Clowns, pranks