October 15, 2007


2003 will go down in history as a legendary year for vintage Halloween-loving folk like myself. That was the year when my all-time favorite design house created the visual identity for Target Store's Halloween campaign. The brilliant geniuses at Charles Spencer Anderson's Minneapolis offices spent two years culling imagery from Hallow's Eves past (most notably, the iconic vacuform masks from the 60s and 70s) and weaving them into masterworks of contemporary eye candy.

I'll never forget the day I walked into Target and beheld the five-foot, three-dimensional Frankenstein mask hanging from the ceiling; the very same one I wore in 1981. I could see a trail of gorgeous signage and more masks leading the way back to the Halloween department. My face responded with a classic jaw drop. Being an artistic type I felt the ache that occurs when I see something that I dearly wish I could have had a creative part in. It's a bittersweet feeling to appreciate something so profoundly, while somehow growing angry that it even exists. Yes, I'm aware that I'm talking about signs in a discount store.

My first inclination was: get... giant... mask. I strolled up to the service desk and played it real cool-like.
"Say, there miss. Can you tell me what's to become of these decorations?"
"Yes, they will be donated to local schools."
"Liar!" I thought to myself.

As someone with extensive knowledge of elementary schools (I attended one for more than 6 years) I can confidently say that no school is cool enough to hang up giant masks such as these. Well, I left the service desk that afternoon figuring that I would never own these masks, and that the very notion was simply too good to be true. But guess what? I was correct! I never got my hands on even one. Meanwhile, some middle school janitor is using a giant black cat mask for a hammock.

Eventually, I returned to the store with my camera and proceeded to take pictures until I was asked not to. Now I have taken these photos, the "we prefer that you don't take photos" photos, and I have displayed them for the entire world to see! Well, well. Looks like I am the victor this time Target!

And here are a bunch more painfully beautiful promotional images from CSA design..

Note: In another of Target's devious schemes, the awesome Frankenstein shirt seen above only came in kids sizes. To Target's delight, many grown men currently own a shirt that was made for children. Maybe I am one of them.
(EDIT: Rozum proved that adult sizes do indeed exist. So I guess I've been wearing around a boys XL for nothing. Sigh.)

Cheers to CSA design. Jeers to Target and the public school system.

And if you liked the visuals in this post then you will likely "freak out" when you see this CSA designed book...

UPDATE: You can also check out some pics of their 2005 campaign here. (thanks to Dan Goodsell)
And you can see a 2001 "Halloveen" commercial here. (thanks to Fred Neck)


Shawn Robare said...

Great post Kirk. My wife lives in perpetual fear of the "Please stop taking pictures and leave sir..." encounter, particularly during this fine season.

Target = 0
Kirk = 1

Jason said...

Fantastic! I was also blown away by the job CSA did that year (& though there have been some good after-shocks, I've still never seen a better Halloween campaign at Target). As my memory has faded I've wished several times over the years that I'd taken pictures, and now I don't have to (and yes! "Goth-Icky" is a complete treasure trove of amazingness -- in fact I bought two copies just so that I could break the spine scanning pages).

As an aside, following your post link over to the Wuxtry spread made me even more sorry to've ultimately blown off the HOW conference last year, just one more reason why few blogs dazzle as consistently & on as many levels for me as Secret Fun Spot. Thanks!

Rozum said...

You'll get no argument from me. That was a beautiful campaign.

I did get the "We must ask you to stop taking pictures" talk this year. I keep meaning to go back and finish what I started, but this year's campaign is so lackluster, I haven't bothered yet.

Not to crush your spirits further, but I'm going to anyway. The Frankenstein shirt? It came in men's sizes. A friend of mine has one, as do I. I've only worn it once out of fear of what multiple trips through the wash will do to it.

The Renzntzman said...

Love the CSA stuff! I have a copy of Goth-Icky and treasure it. As for taking pics in retail stores, I've been busted many a time although when I was in college, I just told them what I was doing (taking pics for class assignments) and they let me continue. Lucky me!

Sparkle Plenty said...

WOW--this stuff is amazing!!!! A thousand curses 'ponst Target and their discourtesy booth personnel.

Question: Why did they ask you to stop taking pictures? Did they get all jittery and Don Knottsy and think that you were a Walmart super-spy bent on stealing their retail mojo? shrug

The CDP. said...

Goth-Icky features commentary by Michael J. Nelson, the head writer and eventual host of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Greatest TV Show Of All-Time!

I got my copy!

Dan Goodsell said...

I was a big fan of the Target 2005 Halloween campaign - in addition to incredible displays they made ceramic figures of some of the characters.

I love that Target still does themed holiday stuff - I think last year for Easter they did Naughty Naughty Pets - too wonderful


Flashfink! said...

If I had seen this as a kid I would have never recovered.
One of the great unsung heroes of graphic design is whoever designed Famous Monsters magazines logo, which still keeps turning up (altered, but still recognizable) in different places - including here!
That wasn't meant as a criticism. These guys borrowed from the best.

Steven A. said...

I'm just glad that Target had yet to make it to my corner of the world back in 2003... I know and embrace all of my foibles and 'petty larceny of cool retail displays' is one of them. I can't really break myself of the notion that it isn't really stealing if they never intended to sell the thing in the first place. A nifty Burger King table talker is easy enough to get to your car, but I think I'd have gotten myself busted if I'd tried to make a move on one of these. The last thing I need to go down for is attempted theft of a giant cardboard kitty face.

Monster-Maniac said...

Rock on, m'dear! I'm so tempted to take photos of Halloween displays but I figure on people being grouchy. Just look at that! Target had a great opportunity to be praised and now we know they're really party poopers. BLAH! So love that bat pattern. Need it as a year round house wallpaper...

Devlin Thompson said...

You know, I looked forward to those CSA books, but in the end I didn't wind up hanging on to either of them...even though I would have gotten them at wholesale. The "Mystery Science etc." guy's commentary certainly factors into my disappointment, but I can't throw all the blame onto him. I just felt like a good portion of each book could be summed up in the question "What if Frank Kozik had access to Photoshop CS2 in 1987?" And as it turns out, I didn't need an answer to that one.

Of course, I might feel differently if I weren't sitting three feet away from those giant masks right now.

Kirk D. said...

shawn- well, judging by some of your recent posts, your wife must be some kind of photo ninja.
Robare Family- 1

jason- If I ever need a blurb for this blog I'm quoting your comment. Thanks so much. It means a ton coming from the freakin' king of all Spooky blogs.
If you go to HOW next year drop me a line and maybe we can hunt down a good used record shop there in Boston.

rozum- my spirit is officially crushed. I actually can fit into the kids XL though, and I'm not scrawny or anything. I guess XL kids are really XL. (I corrected the post BTW)
I should also give you props for beating me to this topic too last year.

rentzntzman- Good line, I'll have to remember that. Hey, guys in their thirties go to college sometimes.

cdp- Yeah, I was surprised to find several laugh out loud moments in a book like that.

sparkle- I don't know. Something about store policy. Maybe they fear that I will build a duplicate Target of my own and run them out of business. But I've experienced 'no photos' policies in a number of retail shops, even grocery stores.

dan- thanks for the link, good stuff. I put it in the post. Target really has lead the pack in holiday point of purchase stuff. Even Wal-Mart is finally getting into the game this year. I sure wish Target would let CSA have another go at it. But you know, Mr. Toast would make a great Halloween mascot.

flashfink- I noticed that too. If the masks weren't there hogging my attention I still would have been thrilled just by that type treatment.

steven- Stealing those would have made for a good challenge. One idea would be to wear a giant Mardi Gras head into the store. Then you simply put the mask on the head and walk right out!

devlin- You are really asking for it. Coming in here and trash talking the MST guy and CSA, all the while gloating about your giant masks. Well, no need to apologize, just send the masks to me and we'll be even.

Anonymous said...

I've got a couple of the in-store displays from Target and didn't get that line from them before. The secret may be that you skip asking the sevice desk people; And ask the manager directly. I was told different things at different Target stores, from that you have to ask early on so that they save them for you, and also to come to the store the morning after halloween when they open, and it's first come, first served. I think it's best to ask the manager as soon as the signage is first seen in the store; I've scored some signage from the csa campaign and the 2001 campaign, including one of the the giant vac-u-form masks (the clown). Ask before the holiday- from what I gather, they destroy the signage the day after halloween in a box crusher. I have my eyes on one of the bat-mobiles they have hanging this year...

Devlin Thompson said...

"Anonymous" is telling it like it is...I originally had planned to write something similar, but decided on a litany of complaints, instead. I should add that having a friend that works at Target, even in an unrelated department never hurts. I've had multiple agents on the inside through the years, and while it's still no guarantee, having a co-worker inquire about stuff in the break room is certainly more likely to get their attention than the same question from some weirdo customer. The one caution I'll offer is this: it doesn't take long at all to amass more of this sort of thing than you can POSSIBLY need, it's difficult to sell or even give away, and you'll probably find yourself psychologically unable to just throw it out. There are a LOT of goofy cardboard displays crammed into the nooks and crannies of my home, storage space, and workplace, and I'm not sure my life is enriched by them all that much. On the other hand, I do have a near life-size Dave Barry looking at me as I type this, and that's a pretty good feeling.

Kirk D. said...

Anonymous- thanks for the tips. They make a lot of sense. In my case it's almost as though I had a defeatist attitude from the start. I had the feeling that it was a hopeless cause so I didn't put up a fight. But you and Devlin demonstrate how it's not impossible.

Devlin, your warning rings true. I completely understand the concept of your stuff owning you.

Mister D said...

It's coming on Autumn 2008, a full year after you posted this blog. I wish I had ran across this blog last year because no one will probably even see this post. Anyway, I am lucky enough to be the owner of 4 of the giant masks, as well as a giant chandelier, bats, and moon from some of the following years of Target Halloween displays. And let me tell you, it is a bitch to get your hands on this stuff. I have hounded them from day one and go in Target about every week putting in a request for the store displays for Halloween. And each time its the same story. They take down my name and phone number and even write down what I want. And if I'm not there the morning after Halloween, my wishlist is much diminished and incomplete. Not to mention the excuses and stories I get from the store management about the displays. They've told me they get thrown away, they go to schools, they go to orphanages, they go to hospitals, just about everything, but let's face it - they probably end up in their own homes and nowhere else. But I am thankful for having some of their stuff. I love the giant Black Cat! I have 2 of those. This stuff is so desirable that the photographer in town asks each year to use some of my stuff as backdrops for Halloween pictures.

Glad to know I'm not the only person out there trying desperately to get his/her hands on the goods from Target.

Happy Hallowe'en folks.

Kirk D. said...

mister d- thanks for sharing your success story; I'm glad to hear that your work paid off. It sounds like the secret to getting these lies in persistence and timing, which isn't surprising since it works in so many other areas of life as well.
Happy Halloween to you!

Mister D said...

Went into Target yesterday, unfortunately the Halloween store displays stink this year. However, they have a few nicely packaged candy items that I might pick up.

Have you even seen any of the Target store displays for sale on E-bay?

My wife started putting up the Halloween stuff today. It's looking good. I'm an antique Halloween collector. The Target stuff is new but it looked so good and fit right in.

You have a Happy Hallowe'en as well!

Kirk D. said...

Yeah, I've never been quite as excited by the stuff since '03, (not to say it hasn't been cool). Haven't been yet this year, but your report doesn't sound promising.

It's been a while but I have seen some of the masks on ebay. Unfortunately, I've completely forgotten what they went for. I actually just talked to somebody who said they were considering selling all four masks on ebay soon.

Fun to realize that another Halloween is upon us!

Amy W. said...

Ohmigod, I thought I was the only one that looks so fondly and wistfully back on that year that Target kicked me on my Halloween&CSA-loving ass. I also thought I was they only one that frantically tried and failed to snag some of the displays; I, too, got the runaround and was told different stuff at different locations. I still treasure the adorable ceramic Mummy lotion dispenser I got there that year. They've had some kinda cute Halloween themes in the years since, but how could anything come close to That Championship Season? Although I did like that theme they did a couple years ago where they had little signs in the candy aisles that had silhouettes of vampire squirrels and candy corn. And yes, that Naughty Naughty Pets Easter stuff was great. Halloween is coming and I'm getting excited!!

Kirk D. said...

Amy, you have found your people. Welcome my child.

Jami said...

This is a fantastic collection, I love it.

As for getting your hands on Target displays. It helps to know someone that works there because even though they say they donate the displays (they do with Christmas trees from what I remember) 90% of the actual displays end up in employees homes. Usually employees that have been there a long time and have enough tenure to be able to have their request heard by the team that takes the displays down.
I still wish the Halloween stuff was interesting the year that I worked there (2006) but it was still a fun experience to be surrounded by Halloween everyday.

Kirk D. said...

Thanks for the insight Jami. I guess it serves me right for treating Target employees like dirt during the rest of the year. Joking! Just joking.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a Frankenstein head for sale or for trade? I have a Black Cat head and the Bear I would be willing to trade. contact me at dallen@cmtengr.com

Anonymous said...

Great blog Kirk! I too coveted those damn elusive masks. I'm always looking out for them, but no luck. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Roger said...

I wish I has spotted this promotion back in '03. Somehow I completely missed it. As it stands I just learned about them in the last few days. My main question is, does anyone know if the Astronaut mask that shows up in some of the images was made as a full 4 foot vacuformed mask? If it does I MUST find one, if not, I'd like to know now so I don't waist my time.

I've collected certain types of store displays for a good decade now, and it's been my experience that most stores are pretty easy about it. But Target, and Toy's 'R Us are almost impossible to get a display from. It might be a regional thing, but in my area Target will not let them go.

I did work at Walmart for 3 years, and even then it was all about timing. If you were not there at the right time, they got crushed.To my surprise, I was one of the only employees taking anything home.

Kirk D. said...

Roger, For what it's worth I've never seen the giant Astronaut mask online or in real life, nor have I heard that it exists. But you never know...good luck.

Roger said...

Thanks for the info Kirk. I'll just keep my ear to the ground, but not get too hopeful. Might still have to track down one of those giant Trick or Treat bags with the astronaut's image though.

Unknown said...

Halloween is here once again buddy and of course i started the google image search / ebay search for any items from this amazing display. I have 2 glow sticks and a hand towel. i can't believe i didn't try and snag more. sigh... i wonder what they do with the unpurchased items... i mean they can't have sold all of it. or is it just buried in a landfill... sigh.

Kristy O said...

Ha, they do let people have those because I know of a girl who has the blond girl mask up there. My husband once asked for a giant domo after halloween and he was told he couldn't have it because if he ate some of it the Domo had toxins and he'd get sick. Yeah.

Jordan Fees said...

These masks have been popping up a lot on eBay as of late. I'm not sure how rare they are on the second hand market but figured I'd let you all know in case you're still interested. I didn't see them back in 2003 but I would've went bonkers. They are awesome! http://www.ebay.com/itm/3-X-Large-2003-Retro-Halloween-Hanging-Cardboard-Cut-Outs-Target-Store-Displays/171428122610?_trksid=p2047675.c100011.m1850&_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIC.MBE%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D24192%26meid%3Ddffa9b3f60c646e1ba09183103d87818%26pid%3D100011%26prg%3D10284%26rk%3D1%26rkt%3D10%26sd%3D171416162000

Kirk D. said...

Thanks Jordan. For some reason I've had several people contact me about these in the last few months. Maybe after ten years people want the space back.

Kim65 said...

This is a little off topic but it's my first time here (and I love it!). Has anyone ever seen a Kmart 5ft dancing frankenstein that sings "yakety yak, don't talk back"? An antique dealer in my relatively small mid west town has one she uses for display but won't sell ....I have offered higher and higher prices for it each year. I've seached the Internet but only lead was a link from many years ago that doesn't work anymore. And btw...CVS sometimes has really nice displays and the manager at my store is more than happy to get rid of them so she doesn't have to deal with them!

Kirk D. said...

Kim- Thanks for the CVS tip. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that Frank. That's a big one!
Glad you enjoyed your visit!

TheMadBlonde said...

No pictures of the wonderful serving plate designs! There were appetiser plates, a big serving bowl, & a 4-part appetiser serving tray. I have 3 of the plates & the bowl. My fave design was the "Creepy" Spiderweb--so subtle. https://www.facebook.com/themadblonde/posts/10204986052591239?pnref=story