How to Create a Campaign That Scares Your Audience

Data tells us that the macabre is in. Embrace the trend with these tips from artificial intelligence—and keep those customers clicking.

What scares you? What keeps you up at night? Are there things—in the real world or in fiction—that grip your soul, whiten your knuckles, and keep you on the edge of your seat? 

Psychological studies have shown that some people love to be scared. Consuming horrific stories by way of movies, books, or podcasts, stimulates our creativity and satisfies our curiosity. In fact, people have been consuming scary movies alone for over a hundred years, and they’ve been reading terrifying novels for much longer.

Decades of dread tells us one thing: The macabre is timeless. And, according to artificial intelligence, it’s trending, too.

Shutterstock.AI analyzed billions of digital advertising data points from over a decade’s worth of creative campaigns. Throughout this analysis, it determined that macabre trends are so big that in 2022 they make the year’s Creative Trends short list

Let’s take an in-depth look at which macabre creative decisions increase click-through rates (CTRs) in ad campaigns. Below, AI will tell us more about: 

  • Color palettes: Which dark, dreary, and macabre colors are most-clickable? 
  • Spooky settings: Are there specific, spooky settings that increase campaign CTR?
  • Creepy casting: Who are the monsters, villains, and creatures that cause audiences to click? 
  • Macabre details: Which props and photographic elements capture the most engagement?

Do you dare to be scared? Images via Moviestore/Shutterstock, Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock, Warner Bros/Hoya Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock, and Palmstar Media/Kobal/Shutterstock.

With all this in mind, we have to ask: Do you like scary movies? Do you indulge in horrifying novels? Are your audiences wanting something that will give them a fright? 

If so, read on at your own risk. 

Collage of a person's mouth screaming on neon yellow background
Image via Master1305.

Clickable Macabre Colors

While serene shades are taking 2022 by storm, there are a few less comforting, super-clickable colors out there.

In fact, a handful of dark-and-spooky colors rank among today’s top twenty-five most-clickable list. Dark Purple, specifically, is today’s third most-clickable color. 

Purple is on the rise. Images via Raland, Robsonphoto, Kokhan O, MDV Edwards, Gligoric, Zhuravleva Katia, and andysavchenko.

Sinister shades of dark blue also make the short list. These engaging colors include Electric Blue, Kentucky Blue, foggy Eggshell Blue, and Chambray Blue.

Blue-gray Caviar also makes the cut. Even a murky blue-green, like Celadon Green, makes the top twenty-five. 

Cool, creepy colors make the most-clickable list. Images via Grenar, Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock, Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock, Moviestore/Shutterstock, Maxx-Studio, breakermaximus, Sarah Lake, Joeprachatree, ElenaPhotoKatasonova, and 80’s Child.

Although Shutterstock.AI doesn’t track blood and gore, it has observed that several spooky red shades make today’s top colors list.

Cayenne, Cabernet, and Rosewood are creepy reds that are driving up CTRs right now. 

Red might be the scariest color of all, if used in a macabre setting. Images via Grenar, IMG Stock Studio, MR. KHATAWUT, Embrace of Beauty, Darya Lavinskaya, and Moviestore/Shutterstock.

Images via Oleksii_T, zef art, and Klochkov SCS.

Don’t Skip Macabre Detail

When it comes to storytelling, horrifying and macabre tales are usually full of symbolism. In regards to photography, some highly-recognizable horror symbols are trending up today.

In fact, AI tells us that symbols themselves have seen their CTRs rise 31% over the last year. If your brand just so happens to be looking to hop on to the tarot trend, now’s the right time.

Audiences love scary symbols. Images via Derek R. Audette, Vera Petruk, budibubee, Zolotarevs, Eileen Tweedy/Shutterstock, Historia/Shutterstock, Peter Iovino/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock, and Moviestore/Shutterstock.

Beyond literal symbols, popular props within the horror genre are also increasing in clickability. Over the last two years, AI has observed knives go up 69% in clickability.

Silhouettes have seen their CTR rise 76% over the same time period. 

The symbolic shadow of a knife can be scarier than the real thing. Images via Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock, Toma Stepunina, Daniel M. Nagy, Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock, and DedMityay.

Across a shorter period of time—within the last year—we’ve observed the clickability of sheets rise 77%. The clickability of nails have gone up 180%, too. 

Perhaps now’s the time to pull the covers over your head. Images via, KanphotoSS, Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB, Moviestore/Shutterstock, and Franziska Ritter/imageBROKER/Shutterstock.

Closeup illustration of a person placing their hands on their face from the Czeck film Little Otik
Image via Athanor/Kobal/Shutterstock.

Select Spooktacular Settings

Think of wherever your favorite scary movies or Stephen King novels take place. Odds are that those settings are performing well when used in digital ads. Data tells us that, over the last two years specifically, we’ve seen some eerie places trend up in clickability.  

First, let’s look at outdoor photo settings, which are generally more clickable than photos taken indoors. Graves have seen their CTR rise 38% since this time last year, and fog’s CTR has risen 144% over the same time period. 

Fog is scientifically proven to be horrifying. Images via Odette Villarreal, Moviestore/Shutterstock, Julija Sh, and Deliris.

If haunted cemeteries aren’t your thing, you still have options. Ruins have seen their clickability rise 88% over the last two years.

Castles have seen their CTR rise 264% over the same time frame. Mansions have even seen a spike in clickability, going up 368% since this time a year ago. 

Images via Foto Club, Special View, Vladimir Mulder, Sergio Foto, and T-Pix.

If an indoor setting is still preferable, data indicates that hallways are highly clickable, with a CTR that’s risen 145% since last year.

How can hallways be horrifying? Just think about how there are few things as terrifying as a long, dark, or even well-lit hallway (shout-out to Stanley Kubrick) . . . and what might be waiting for you at the end of it. 

Long shots of hallways (and scary twins) build tension and a state of unease. Images via Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock, Joshua Davenport, and Snaps by Clare.

Images via Mr Doomits and United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock.

Cast Clickable, Macabre Characters

Whoever seems to be showing up in your nightmares might need to show up in your ads. If you’re looking to cast some terrifying characters, here’s a rundown of the most clickable ones.

Over the last year, AI has seen witches’ CTR rise 51% and clowns’ CTR rise 250%. 

One . . . two . . . clowns are coming for you. Images via Anneka, Zhuravleva Katia, Stasia04, Lorimar Tv/Wb Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock, Raccoon Tom, Jakub Krechowicz, Fer Gregory, and Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock.

When it comes to animals, there are a few creepy critters trending up, too. Wolves have gone up 109% in clickability over the last two years.

Cats have also seen their CTR rise, going up 50% since 2020. Just behind clickable cats rank bats and snakes.

All this proves that creepy crawlers and high-flying beasts are super-popular with audiences, even when it’s not Halloween.

While not as scary as their human counterparts, creepy animals still make the macabre-clickable short list. Images via Eduardo Arranz, Murilo Mazzo, Mendesbio, Olinchuk, Ondrej Prosicky, Kurit afshen, and F_N.

Human skull among dried dead flowers
Image via Thomas Morris.

Cover image via zef art.

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