Happy Halloween! (An excruciatingly self-aware case study on themed content)
I never thought it would happen to me…
Oh, Halloween. Of all the holidays, your impact on media and consumer products is the one I love most of all. Weird outfits are suddenly broadly acceptable on a whole ‘nother scale; people write earnest op-eds questioning whether ‘pumpkin spice mania’ has gone too far; the cheap tacky accessories that I love get even cooler and weirder motifs; even the movies they show on TV get, for a short while, abruptly kinda awesome. Spooky little flourishes proliferate in everything!
Halloween is pretty much a marriage of trashy pop culture and spooky stuff, and it just so happens that those two things? They’re indisputably *my jam*. It goes almost without saying that every prominent US holiday and observance comes with an accompanying cavalcade of intentionally disposable fluff consumers are exhorted to to read, watch, and buy. Halloween is special because shameless consumption, unapologetic frivolity, and an uptick in overall sleeziness is, to an extent *allowed, expected and encouraged* — meaning that it is arguably the only holiday on which celebrants are explicitly permitted to revel in behaviors that are otherwise tacitly encouraged but officially disclaimed by most every other holiday.
Valentines Day and the cluster of assorted occasions that make up the ‘Winter Holiday Period’ constellation can feel frustratingly like mechanisms through which sentimentality about one’s closest relationships gets leveraged in constant bids to get you buy stuff to prove your love. Halloween lets you know straight-up to your face that it wants to creep you out and make you run around, eat sugar, and/or drink until you puke. It will not hide its shady underbelly, because having a dark side is Halloween’s *entire deal*.
It can be extremely tempting to take advantage of holidays and general trends and incorporate an element of popular interest in an otherwise unrelated topic. An overwhelming amount of click bait fluff entertainment proliferates around the theme of Halloween with the sole aim of seizing on trends and running with them. The impulse to copy techniques used to generate interest in popular but insubstantial articles to snaz up a subject that might be commonly characterized as a bit stuffy and dull with some fun Halloween touches is completely understandable! But if a topic is important enough to ‘sex-up’ to make people pay attention to it, then once you’ve gained that attention, it’s probably essential to make certain that you go ahead and actually, you know, convey information.
With an unfortunate frequency content ostensibly about substantive and complex specialized subject areas struggles to distinguish itself by attempting to awkwardly force novelty elements and random trends into topic configurations where they absolutely should not be.
The end result? Articles upon articles that manage to say nothing of substance about the original topic while coming across as about as hip and relatable as a suburban Dad delivering a lecture about traffic safety via a homemade rap.
The particular example I use, which actually served as the inspiration and impetus for my post, is admittedly extreme — but when you start looking out for it, it’s everywhere
Say, just as an example, that your focus is on generating quality content on the topic of ‘personal finance and money management advice.. You want to make things fun and work in some ‘ween! So you write, in essence (to loosely paraphrase but accurately summarize a **real actual article I am not making up**):
“The exorcist is a horror movie with kids in it. There are lots of other horror movies also with kids. In real life having kids can be pretty darn expensive, so if you want to have them you should plan for that some in advance if possible. Know what is also expensive in real life? Buying things. Houses especially. For sure make certain you don’t go doing that all off the cuff willy-nilly. There are horror movies about those too — houses I mean, but haunted ones, not just like regular ones. That one movie Poltergeist? That was a haunted house movie. #HappyFinancialPlanningween!"
(There were a handful of other tenuous free association links made between other horror film tropes and incredibly broad, general personal finance tips, and I am obviously taking some considerable liberties with the original style this was written in, but you get the idea.)
Do you know what a Turducken is? It’s when you stuff a chicken into a duck, and then go ahead and stuff that stuffed duck into a turkey. Above is an example of someone trying to make a Content Turducken and making the mistake of foregoing any overarching cohesive theme (despite some notable differences, chickens, ducks and turkeys are united under the overall heading of ‘fowl varietals.’ So when you smoosh all three together, the resulting three-bird hybrid might be overkill, but it isn’t completely incoherent). Taking individually coherent but completely unrelated ideas, like ‘here is a timely reference to some classic horror films’ and ‘here are some areas of personal money management you should consider’ is less like taking related things and uniting them into a delicious poultry Megazord and more like taking, I’m going to go ahead and say, a jar of green olives, a half-tablespoon of baking soda, and a live bee, and cramming them desperately together while hoping for the best. What are you making?! I think maybe you should stop because it looks weird and I am pretty sure it isn’t working out. It’s just turning into… some sort of… monstrous, unnatural Frankencontent …(<— see! How annoying and forced is that?! Don’t do let youself do it).
Start off firmly grounded in your broad central topic, and have something of relevance to say. This really is the most important thing! Getting so enamoured with your goofy novelty material that you make it a centerpoint and your actual substantive topic becomes a weird tacked-on afterthought in its orbit defeats the point of writing about that central topic at all. If you have something — anything — relevant or interesting or informative to say about your primary subject, then you can add in pop culture asides and fun horror references that work with the substance of your text and be spooky as all get out.