The Long Tail of Trick-or-Treaters: 2006

Trick-or-treating in West Chester, PA starts precisely at six PM. If you are outside, you can hear the kids counting down. It ends at eight, and in about two hours we hand out about eight bags of candy. From six to seven, the little ones toddle up the stairs and peer shyly into the candy pail; from seven to eight, the tweens and college students bound up the stairs and… well, they peer shyly into the pail, too; it’s a pretty sedate crowd. Since I am a huge fan of Meaningless Statistical Analysis, I take a census:

  • Total trick-or-treaters at our house: 116
  • Number of distinct costumes: 71
  • Highest representations: football player and princess, at six sightings each.
  • Also popular: ghost (five), witch (five), and cowgirl (four)
  • Pareto Distribution balances at about 3 people per costume. That is to say, the number of people who arrived in a costume worn by at least two other people was about equal to the number of people who arrived in a costume worn by only one or no other people.

So as a marketer, this means that I should immediately start a tiny store selling only football helmets, pointy princess hats and low-cut glittery tops. That latter because West Chester University students also go door to door, accounting for seventeen visits, or about fifteen percent of the trick-or-treater population. The most popular WCU costume, “Woman of Loose Virtue”, accounted for six visits. Seven if you include Marilyn Monroe (Male, 1 visit) in that category. Marilyn wore a pink ballgown, though, so she doesn’t fit in my business model.

I’m quite sure the distribution curve of Halloween costume spending has been done to a nicety by marketers with backgrounds both in statistical analysis and real estate; witness the efficiency with which preda-tailer Halloween Adventure takes over entire continents’ worth of failed big-box stores around this time of year. Halloween Adventure has been doing long-tail marketing long before it was a buzzword: selling small unit volumes of a deep inventory at high margins on items with a low opportunity cost (I wonder if the entire store’s worth of inventory packs into the panel truck parked outside; I bet it does.) It’s a good business model, and they serve an important evolutionary purpose, just like cheetahs do on herds of zebras. I’m sure that when your giant Jo-Ann Craft Super Megastore Just Opened starts getting visits from the HA panel truck, it’s a sign that the end is near, like when the undertaker in a western starts measuring the hero for a coffin: “Ahh yes, we’ll put the Six Foot Robotic Butlers over HERE when you lose your lease. Did you know that last year, this was all farmland?”

Given my feelings when I see a new Halloween Adventure seize on an empty big-box retail store, it was nice to see how MOST of the costumes that we counted actually were not commercial– MOST of the costumes on both sides of the Pareto point were roll-your-own homemades. Hurrah for homemade costumes!

MY favorites were “piece of paper”, which consisted of notebook lines painted on a smock, and a family from the next block that came dressed as Santa Claus, two elves, a Christmas tree — and a pale-faced, non-Marley ghost. That middle-child boy must be the rebel in the family, and he is going to achieve Great Things.

Lydia was a ballerina in a practice skirt. Kate looped satin ribbons around her sneakers and laced them around her calves; I held them up with scotch tape. This was her first time trick-or-treating, and she had a great time.

Here’s the list of all the costumes I saw, since I assume that four hundred years from now my yearly trick-or-treat census will turn out to be an incredibly important historical record:

2006 Halloween Census
COSTUME: # of visits
Football Player: 6
Princess: 6
Woman of loose virtue: 6
Ghost: 5
Witch: 5
Cowgirl: 4
Elf: 3
Geisha: 3
Ghoul: 3
Hobo: 3
Ninja: 3
Bumblebee: 2
Buzz Lightyear: 2
Dorothy: 2
Dragon: 2
Grim Reaper: 2
Jason: 2
Pirate: 2 (1 generic, 1 Jack Sparrow)
Skeleton: 2
Slumber party-goer: 2
50s poodle-skirt dancer: 1
Alien: 1
Angel: 1
Army officer: 1
Baby: 1
Ballerina: 1
Baseball player: 1
Cat: 1
Clown: 1
Cowboy: 1
Darth Vader: 1
Doctor: 1
Dracula: 1
Equestrienne: 1
Fairy: 1
Frat boy: 1
Gorilla: 1
Gypsy: 1
Hippie: 1
Hockey player: 1
Huck Finn: 1
Hulk: 1
Incrediboy: 1
Indian Princess: 1
Ladybug: 1
Marilyn (Male): 1
Monkey: 1
Olympian: 1
Paper: 1
Penguin: 1
Pig: 1
Pimp: 1
Power Ranger: 1
Raver: 1
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: 1
Santa: 1
Scarecrow: 1
Scary jester: 1
Scooby Doo: 1
Sheep: 1
Spiderman: 1
Stormtrooper: 1
Superman: 1
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: 1 (Donatello; I asked)
Tigger: 1
Tin Man: 1
Top Gun: 1
Tree: 1
Troll: 1
Tuxedo-wearing smooth customer: 1
Woody (from Toy Story): 1

5 responses to “The Long Tail of Trick-or-Treaters: 2006”

  1. I love your historical data rundown of costumed kids! And it’s nice to see how creative your town is. As a kid we would easily spend 2-3 weeks “rolling our own” costumes. Good times.
    If you haven’t already, you might share this at the Long Tail blog–I bet they’d enjoy it.


  2. Ahh, the “too much time on your hands” tease. To that, I will throw the book at you — specifically, Thorstein Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class”:
    “As seen from the economic point of view, leisure, considered as an employment, is closely allied in kind with the life of exploit; and the achievements which characterise a life of leisure, and which remain as its decorous criteria, have much in common with the trophies of exploit. But leisure in the narrower sense, as distinct from exploit and from any ostensibly productive employment of effort on objects which are of no intrinsic use, does not commonly leave a material product. The criteria of a past performance of leisure therefore commonly take the form of “immaterial” goods. Such immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. So, for instance, in our time there is the knowledge of the dead languages and the occult sciences; of correct spelling; of syntax and prosody; of the various forms of domestic music and other household art; of the latest properties of dress, furniture, and equipage; of games, sports, and fancy-bred animals, such as dogs and race-horses. In all these branches of knowledge the initial motive from which their acquisition proceeded at the outset, and through which they first came into vogue, may have been something quite different from the wish to show that one’s time had not been spent in industrial employment; but unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class.”
    So my spending the evening doing a long-tail analysis of costumes is not only evidence of leisure, it’s something worse; the intellectual equivalent of doing doughnuts on the lawn in a Hummer. And it’s very much done with malice aforethought! If 99% of marketing analysis doesn’t qualify as “quasi-scholarly”, I don’t know WHAT does.


  3. I think I love you, or I’m scared by you. One of those. This post is PRICELESS!
    I thought my post about Halloween was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself: then I read yours, and I bow to the master….
    : )
    Thanks for the fun read!


  4. ZERO. I had ZERO trick or treaters for the SIXTH YEAR IN A ROW. I am fiercely jealous that you had enough trick or treaters to perform statistical analysis. Hmph!


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