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Halloween can teach you a lot about brand popularity and loyalty

Watching what trick or treaters pick out of a bowl of mixed candy can tell you a lot about brand popularity.
Watching what trick or treaters pick out of a bowl of mixed candy can tell you a lot about brand popularity. TNS

Here is some stuff I know, the “scavenging the last of the semi-edible candy from the kids’ trick-or-treat” bag edition.

▪ Tracking Halloween costumes provides some anecdotal, unscientific insights into what’s popular with the younger set these days, as well as the enduring power of certain brands with those who weren’t around when they first hit the pop-culture scene.

So here is a report on the most popular costumes, as observed and sort-of tabulated by one who manned the candy bowl at a retail business participating in a downtown-business-district daylight trick-or-treating, with a sample size of hundreds of kids ranging in age from infant to “aren’t you a little old for this?”

The most popular: Ninjas. Followed closely by the “Frozen” tag team of Anna and Elsa.

Exactly how ninjas became the go-to costume for so many is an interesting phenomenon, since it doesn’t appear to be predicated on any single movie or star.

That’s in contrast to the Disney branding machine; if you added the “Frozen” duo to all the other random princesses (one or two Moanas, although Polynesian dress isn’t exactly compatible with cold-weather trick-or-treating) and long-established characters, including several Peter Pans, Disney has the largest share of Halloween.

But not the overwhelming share. This year’s spectrum of costumes was much more diverse than a few years ago when it was an Anna-and-Elsa stampede.

What did we see? Tons of firefighters and police officers. Lots of horror-movie victims and zombies. Animals. Dinosaurs.

Speaking of enduring pop-culture brands, Harry Potter et al made a surprisingly strong showing, given that the last movie in the series came out in 2011. Of even older vintage, Super Mario Brothers characters were out in force.

There were even a few cowboys, showing that some of the costume mainstays of generations past are holding on.

There were a few Seattle Seahawks football player costumes, but not as many as in past years (emblematic of the hierarchy of local sports teams, no one came dressed as a Mariner).

And while they might be a big deal in the adult Halloween set, political themes are not big with the junior set. There were no Trump costumes.

▪ Watching what kids will pick out of a bowl of mixed candy (they’re not at all shy about sifting through the pile in hopes of finding buried treasure) is also instructive about brand popularity.

Smarties, which Wikipedia tells us has been around since 1949, went fast. Surprisingly, so was Bit-o-Honey, which dates to 1924 and to many falls in the “Do they still make that?” category.

Tootsie Rolls and Laffy Taffy did well. Butterscotch candies, on the other hand, were pushed aside in search of something better. The grown-ups seemed to like them, though.

▪ How recently was everyone complaining about the heat? A succession of somewhat snowy days not a week into November and the sound of the furnace firing up in the middle of the night are jolting reminders that it’s time to pay attention to natural gas prices again.

The shale-gas revolution — made possible by technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling — opened vast supplies for domestic consumption.

In fact, the revolution was a little too successful, because the surplus drove down prices for those producing natural gas. Consumers and businesses, though, have reaped the benefit, in the form of lower heating bills for both and lower costs for industries using gas as a feedstock.

The fuel also influences electric bills, since it’s become a significant generation source.

The Northwest Gas Association recently issued an update to its annual forecast, and the news is decent. Prices are likely to increase modestly over the next decade, with those huge supplies dampening the pace of increases.

Prices won’t be anywhere near what was feared before the arrival of huge volumes of shale gas.

In 2008, the federal Energy Information Administration predicted prices of $7 per dekatherm (a measurement of gas volumes) by 2017, and increasing from there. Current prices are more on the order of $3 (even lower at the gateway in Sumas, Washington, where Canadian gas, about half of the state’s supply, enters the United States.)

Yes, there can be disruptions to demand that influence prices, either short-term (cold weather across the continent) or long-term (more gas to replace coal, large industrial projects like liquid methanol production, LNG exports.)

But every increase in price brings more supply back to the market, shaving the peaks off potential spikes.

That’s a source of comfort for consumers and businesses, who have plenty else to worry about in terms of costs — health care, taxes, housing — but it should not be a source of complacency. The history of energy prices is an ongoing saga of supply and demand spikes and slumps, and considerable volatility.

Sometimes, like now, that volatility plays in our favor (unless you own an oil or gas well.) But even revolutionary moves can be reversed or fizzle out.

Like a volcano, energy price volatility is, for the moment dormant, not extinct. Should either awaken, the consequences are not pleasant.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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