Mars Wrigley Debuts Virtual Trick-or-Treat App—to Help Save Halloween

The holiday is the confectionery industry’s Super Bowl

Total candy sales amounted to $4.6 billion during Halloween 2019. Mars Wrigley

Halloween is supposed to inspire fear—but not among the candy-makers who supply the treats.

With the nation still in the midst of a pandemic, Mars Wrigley plans to take one of the season’s most beloved traditions online this year. Today, the company behind M&M’s, Snickers and Skittles unveiled an app called Treat Town, which lets users across the country virtually trick or treat with each other throughout October.

After downloading the app to iOS or Android devices, users can select their Halloween-themed avatar, such as a vampire or monster, and design a custom door using cobwebs, caution tape and jack-o’-lanterns before setting out to knock on other doors. Handing out treats on the platform equates to receiving credit that participants can exchange for Mars Wrigley items at select retailers, either online or in-store.

“We’re trying to simulate trick-or-treating as much as possible and tap into some of the fun rituals,” said Chris Brody, brand content and communications architect at Mars. “So choosing your monster avatar is kind of like choosing your costume in real life. The candy credits we put into virtual fun-size form, so it looks like a Skittles fun size or an M&M’s fun-size pack that you will collect and track in your inventory just as you would trick-or-treating throughout the night.”

Special venues, such as Disney’s Haunted Mansion and M&M’S World in New York’s Times Square, will also appear within the app’s universe.

To prevent abuse on the platform, users can set limits on how much virtual candy they plan to give out and restrict their digital experience to just friends and family members. Adults over 18 are allowed to set up an account to hand out candy, while only those under 18 are allowed to go door to door collecting candy.

Halloween is a critical time for the industry. In the eight-week period leading up to Halloween 2019, total candy sales amounted to $4.6 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association, whose members include Mars, Hershey’s and Ferrara.

“It’s huge. It’s definitely our largest season by far,” said Brody of what Halloween means to Mars Wrigley. “You could look at it as the Super Bowl for the confectionery category.”

Surveys suggest Americans are apprehensive about going out for Halloween. A recent poll from Morning Consult, for example, found that 42% of all U.S. adults plan to celebrate this year, down from 57% last year.  

Brody said Mars Wrigley’s planning for Halloween typically begins two years out. But when the White House declared the novel coronavirus a national emergency in March, the company was forced to pivot and began working on building the Treat Town app in April. Given that people were trying to socially distance from others while increasingly shopping online, along with the fact that holidays provide a sense of normalcy, the team decided making a new app was the best strategy.

“We set out a mission to try to ensure that people could still get as much enjoyment as possible out of this Halloween and out of trick-or-treating—the most important ritual of the season—no matter how things played out,” said Brody.

He added that Treat Town isn’t supposed to be a replacement for Halloween, but rather a complementary option.

“It does provide that safe and fun enjoyment in a year in which, obviously, there’s a lot that is different than years past,” Brody said.

@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.