ONS doing the Monster (data)Mash…five facts about Halloween

From Hannah Thomas, Editorial and Lauren Bradford, Social Media

Every now and then it is good to have a bit of fun with statistics – and as everyone knows, data nerds do, in general, love a bit of nerdy “humour”.

Baby names in the summer gives our annual break from the norm, but sometimes that is just not enough! So one afternoon in early October I was looking for a break from my usual work and I was talking to one of my social media colleagues about upcoming events.

Obviously Halloween came up (this particular social media colleague is something of a Halloween disciple and had even begun purchasing the component parts of her Halloween costume) but I was wary. What data might we have relating to Halloween? Would it be too tenuous?

Well, my usual first port of call for random data is baby names (and in particular the tool created by anna.ps) but after searches for “Ghost” (fingers crossed for a Game of Thrones pick up) “Pumpkin”, “Witch” and “Wizard” all returned nothing I was out of ideas. Then I tried cat (hopi for a shortening of Catherine) this also returned nothing. Then I had a breakthrough! I tried the name of possibly the best cat character of all time – Salem – and . . . jackpot! Salem has been on the baby names list for both boys and girls between 1996 and 2015.

Naturally, this lead to searches for Sabrina and Harvey and then other witch names – like Hermione, Piper and Ravenna. (I also then remembered that Melissa Joan Hart, the actress who plays Sabrina is randomly one of our Twitter followers, so we had our fingers crossed for a celebrity retweet – but sadly none came 🙁 )

Next I was onto religion data from the Census – another data source that I love. That threw up religions with links to witchcraft and wizardry. Then onto data on births and weddings – as these two datasets have been visualised already and so the data is easy to look up.

Then I thought I had better look at some more stats reflecting the impact Halloween has had on the economy (good to mix the social and economic stats, you know). I tried to look for sales of pumpkins and fancy dress but we just don’t have that data. I did dig through the PRODCOM dataset – which gives information on the sales of goods made by UK manufacturers (as an aside I seriously love this dataset – I can while away a good few hours looking at the classification names alone) but the best thing I could find was sales of “capes, cloaks and other similar outerwear” and this did seem a bit too tenuous.

I settled on retail sales information which shows that Halloween has not increased the overall amount spent in shops in the month of October since 1986, which was rather surprising seeing as Halloween seems to be much more prominent these days than when I was younger – ahh you might say, the continuing Americanisation of our culture strikes again!

So it got done, dusted and published.

Over to the aforementioned social media colleague/Halloween disciple for feedback

Hannah is being kind when she says I had started purchasing Halloween bits in early October … it was long before then! The idea to publish something for Halloween started with us batting ideas across the desk one Friday afternoon, and it really grew legs when we realised that we did actually have a lot of relevant data we could use across a range of areas. We do look at optimising opportunities to tie in with events on social media but it’s picking the right ones, not chasing trends for the sake of it or trying to force a link that is completely tenuous or off-brand and to focus on simple messages that connect.

Halloween campaigns have become more and more common on social and hugely popular as it appeals across a wide age range with a nostalgia element for a lot of people. We knew social media content planning should start early as the build-up is often the more exciting part of Halloween as people plan costumes, parties, etc. (speaking from experience!) In a similar vein to our Star Wars piece, our followers enjoy when we revel in our geekery so following on from that success, we ran with it.


Our Design team created some brilliant visuals for us and we set out a plan to stagger publishing across the weekend before and day of Halloween. This was ideal Friday afternoon fun content and immediately after posting it was picked up, with lots of people lifting and sharing the visuals, with comments along the lines of “Well done ONS”, “nice work ONS”, “love this”.

Part of the charm of this series was it reached across a range of subject areas with a variety of visualisations so people could pick up and choose the areas that interest them most, and pull out different elements to share.

The piece had some regional media pick-up and the campaign reached above average engagement, and worked well with both our Twitter and our Facebook audience.


Opportunities like these are a great way in for people to access our data, and quite often pick up on data that they didn’t know we even collected, so it’s been nice to showcase the wide range of stats we produce and shine the light on different areas across a common theme. This particular campaign resonated with people on a personal level for lots of reasons that we were lucky to be able to see as people shared their experiences with us. Whether it’s being born on Halloween, married on Halloween or nostalgia relating to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, we got to see it all. Here’s just a sample of some of the feedback, with pick-up from journalists to statisticians to academics to property care companies!