The Youth Lab


It’s now officially spooky season folks and more than half the globe is set to celebrate Halloween. It’s the western world’s 2nd favourite annual holiday, with many Gen Z’s and Millennials ranking it as their no. 1 celebration of the year. It’s not that surprising perhaps to learn that many younger people like to embrace the darker side of life everyday. Welcome to the world of modern noir where celebration and enjoyment of horror, scares and spookery peaks in October but lives on all year round...Read on if you dare!


Whether it’s once a year, or every weekend research has shown that people tend to watch or engage in horror themed activities/movies to embrace the scare. Real-life can feel too scary to process at times, and therefore retreating into the ‘safe’ scare world of horror movies (and scare houses, horror video games and horror soundscapes) allows us to release feel-good endorphins in a secure way. The best horror experiences are rooted in a form of reality, but allow us enough diversion from what truly scares us in the real world - survival, existential dread, and personal failure.

Society as a whole has experienced some of the most truly terrifying real-life happenings imaginable in just the last 2 years (from COVID to climate disaster to multilateral economic uncertainty). The more scary real-life is, the more outrageous our fantasy scares need to be in order to satisfy the true escape we need. Enter the 2021 phenomenon of Squid Game. The Korean Netflix title exploded all over the world just 3 weeks ago and with over 111 million socially-engaged fans worldwide it is estimated to be worth over $900 million US. Its success lies in a potent mix of outlandish gore, dystopian challenges and relatable, human stories - all wrapped up in an iconic visual language. The games featured in the show naturally lend themselves to social-first conversations, memes and TikTok challenges. It’s enough like real-life to engage us, but more outlandish than we could ever imagine (thankfully!)
“We watched Contagion at the start of COVID-19, and now we’re bookending the pandemic (we hope) with Squid Game. It captures the emotions of powerlessness and mistrust in a world struggling to survive. That anyone is still standing, in the end, is reassuring.” Pam Rutledge, PhD, Fielding Graduate University, US


Noir is an umbrella term which encompasses many sub-categories within - but is not limited by them and is constantly evolving. A truly breakthrough 2021 ‘trend’, many in the mainstream will be familiar with elements of noir from content that’s trended this year on TikTok and Instagram. For noir advocates it’s both a mindset and a lifestyle that appeals to those who naturally gravitate to the darker, scarier and morbid side of life.

Noir is an expansive spectrum; from gothic, maximalist and vintage lifestyles through to futuristic, minimalist black aesthetics. Noir fans express their individual personalities through how they dress, how they style their hair, home, makeup and body art and of course, what music, art, media and communities they engage with. A dark sense of humour usually runs throughout noir fanbases, alongside generous sprinklings of horror, supernatural, gore, morbid esoterica and murder/mystery themes. Whether you’re drawn to the thoughtful melancholia of Goth or Dark Academia - the mystical world of Nu Witches, Dark Romance or Southern Gothic- or the fun, colourful but bloody aesthetic of the Y2K screamfest, for many young people the appeal of these dark aesthetics, cultures and communities come as a welcome contrast to the perceived ‘toxic’ positivity of fast, mainstream popular culture today.

As Cinzia Bacilieri, lecturer at the University of York and lifelong Goth describes, “It’s just my taste. I’m drawn to darkness...I think it’s a positive thing to think about death. You think about the end to remind yourself to make the most of life each day.”

I got some pretty black roses Bailey Sarian, Youtuber and host of Murder, Mystery and Makeup


Savvy brands are living and loving the dark vibes and it shows. The modern noir mindset is one of inclusivity, where space and value is put on being your unique self and helping others to do the same. Noir fans gravitate to brands who are fiercely kind and unique in how they show up in the world. LA brand Fox Blood are a modern noir online boutique who specialise in minimalist, inclusively-sized, vegan and cruelty-free black garments. Burke and Hare are a similarly vegan, conscious brand, who create and promote hand-made scents, fragrances and candles. For them, the Halloween rush is fully-on, but they’re not worried about delivery deadlines “because Halloween is everyday” afterall…!

More mainstream brands are tapping the potential too. ASOS has been sporting Halloween trending edits, accessories and seasonal drops since the Summer. The Starbucks now iconic spooky cup sets sell out consistently every year as soon as they are released, quicker than you can say spiced-pumpkin-chai-latte.


“For a genre that is often filled with extreme gore, scares and screams, the horror movie fandoms and communities are usually the most kind and full of love on the internet. Online forums offer fans the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, where they can uniquely put forward theories where fellow fans offer support and praise.” Dave Byrne, Head of Creative Studio, THINKHOUSE.

Online dark/horror fandoms and communities are where many young genre fans hang out all year round. It’s where new memes/trends often start and important conversations, news and cultural moments happen. And it’s definitely where you hear all the insider news first. Just last week the marketing team behind Scream 5 tapped into the explosion of online fandoms and created the Woodsboro Film Group (if you’re a Scream fan, you’ll get the significance of the name!) This is an online Facebook group dedicated to fans and their shared love for the Scream film franchise. As well as film convo’s, fans are getting the personal perspective on each other too - even congratulating other members on personal news like weddings and births.


Appealing to a less mainstream but growing audience can bring big wins and much love from fans, embrace it!

Know your Noir:
Halloween as an event, is once a year but there’s a large audience out there for spooky, dark or horror-themed opportunities all year round. Channelling the dark aesthetic in comms is a great way for many brands to explore their darker side. In our work with eFlow (to promote their digital suite of apps and tolling services) we leaned on nordic noir film thrillers as inspo for our “The Forgotten Journey” ad

Make time for Halloween:
With another 10 days or so ‘til Oct 31st there’s still (just about!) time to celebrate the spooky season. Our big recommendation is to channel fun, dark humour and explore the opportunities that social media content and hashtags can open up for more proactive, topical moments.

Stan the Fandom:
For those longer term positioning, partnership and brand opportunities, seek out like-minded, credible dark brands, fandoms and communities to support and collaborate with.