Some of my earliest memories are ghost stories, scary movies, fairy tales, and folklore–the type of subjects that terrace the edges of the darker side of the human psyche. Even when I was scared, that feeling of perhaps stumbling upon something seen as forbidden, or unusual always held some amount of comfort, and familiarity that I couldn’t quite reconcile with until I matured, and of course found solace in those who shared similar interests.

Perhaps it was the need for balance, taking in both good and bad, and learning more about yourself in the process. Maybe just being able to cope with stress, knowing that both sides reside within us all, is why some people find these subjects appealing.

Call it a more-than-healthy love of Halloween, or even a fascination with subjects that fall outside of the societal norm, whatever you decide to label it, there is a growing movement that some see as a commercialization of the occult and darker-themed subjects. For those who find themselves drawn to what some might call gothic entertainment and design, it goes beyond a seasonal appeal. Why do we find such material to be alluring and why are these themes, including witchcraft, becoming so mainstream?

In our CultureWaves quarterly report for Q3-2018, we identified this as a category and found behavior-based information surrounding the topic. Our statement around the branding of counterculture is “Entertainment is beginning to reflect consumer interest in themes typically considered counterculture, such as the occult. The shift is occurring as topics that have previously been ‘sanitized’ are now coming out into the open for both discussion and practice, often with what have been considered ‘dark’ themes. Brands are now picking up on the ability to reach counterculture on a mass scale, normalizing the themes and broaching subjects that used to be taboo.”
Here are some of the evidence examples cited in our report.

Pinrose, a fragrance company was marketing a “witch starter kit” to retailer Sephora, including some materials used in ceremonial rituals, including a sage smudge stick, a Tarot card deck, crystals, and essential oils. The company experienced such consumer backlash from practicing witches that the entire product launch was discontinued, followed by a public apology.

Netflix revival of ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’, based on a character found in the Archie comic book series, comes at a time when the fascination for all things dark is seemingly at a peak. The release date may fall in line with Halloween, but the fictional journey into the darker side of the human psyche is one that’s universal in theme.

Sanrio, the parent company of Hello Kitty, developed an animated series around a new character named Aggretsuko, played by a red panda who copes with her boring, often frustrating day job and finds singing dark-themed death metal to be a coping mechanism. The cartoon showcases adult-themed work situations through the lens of whimsical animated characters.

Dark and even macabre themes are not new to entertainment, but these programs are becoming more accessible to anyone within reach of a device. Netflix original series Dark Tourist explores a more macabre side of life itself through the lens of travel. Viewers are exposed to some of the world’s most morbid locations some historical, some cultural, and attempts to offer a unique lens of the globe.

This enchantment with the unknown and even the unexplored is one that touches the human landscape on many levels and is leading big-name companies to tap into the obscure—further feeding our curiosity, and even opening our wallets. As this interest in mystical subjects continues to grow, we will be watching as brands try new ways of intersecting our lives.
Counterculture: The Brand is a topic in our current quarterly report, which you can download here.

Counterculture: The Brand is a topic in our current quarterly report, which you can download here.

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