Starry-​​eyed men and women will spend more than $15 bil­lion on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to a National Retail Fed­er­a­tion survey. Fleura Bardhi, asso­ciate pro­fessor of mar­keting at North­eastern University,assesses the ways in which com­pa­nies pro­mote the heart-​​shaped holiday.

 

How does mar­keting influ­ence the meaning of a holiday?

Mar­keters change the meaning of hol­i­days or the scripts for ritual cel­e­bra­tions. Some hol­i­days have been uprooted from their reli­gious or tra­di­tional ori­gins and are com­pletely com­mer­cial­ized, such as St. Patrick’s Day or Christmas. Valentine’s Day par­tic­u­larly is now con­sid­ered a global hol­iday cel­e­brated very sim­i­larly all around the world, even in places where it was not known, rec­og­nized or cel­e­brated before global con­sumer cul­ture. In my country of origin, Albania, we became aware of Valentine’s Day and its cel­e­bra­tions with the fall of com­mu­nism and the intro­duc­tion of a market economy in the early ’90s.

Addi­tion­ally, mar­keting uses neg­a­tive emo­tions such as envy and guilt to per­suade con­sumers to par­tic­i­pate in the com­mer­cial side of this hol­iday. Some studies on the ritual of Valentine’s Day show that men pre­dom­i­nantly under­stand the hol­iday as an oblig­a­tion to buy their part­ners expen­sive “romantic” gifts. Fur­ther, what is con­sid­ered as “romantic” and part of the ritual cel­e­bra­tion is also influ­enced and shaped by marketing.

Having said that, there is a lot of cyn­i­cism and con­sumer resis­tance to the cel­e­bra­tion of the hol­iday. As such, many con­sumers resist par­tic­i­pating in it or revolt against it with “I hate VDay!” par­ties, for example.

 

Why do con­sumers spend so much money on Valentine’s Day gifts that they wouldn’t oth­er­wise think about buying?

Hol­i­days are impor­tant rit­uals in our cul­ture, when we get a chance to step back from everyday life and cel­e­brate. Each hol­iday is acted out through a set of per­for­mances and requires ritual arti­facts. As con­sump­tion is an essen­tial ele­ment of ritual cel­e­bra­tions, hol­i­days con­sti­tute impor­tant market oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­pa­nies. Prod­ucts typ­i­cally asso­ci­ated with love and romance (such as greeting cards, flowers, choco­late, romantic get­aways, spa treat­ments, restau­rant events and so forth) have become cru­cial in the per­for­mance of this ritual. The U.S. Greeting Card Asso­ci­a­tion con­siders Valentine’s Day the second largest card-​​sending day after Christmas, with half of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion pur­chasing at least one greeting card.

Fur­ther, as rit­uals, hol­i­days are highly struc­tured events, with highly pre­dictable con­sumer behavior. Valentine’s Day fol­lows a ritual script that may include exchanging gifts, showing affec­tion, going out, preparing and con­suming food and drinks, and paying spe­cial atten­tion to grooming and clothing. This makes it easier for com­pa­nies to plan their mar­keting efforts and the timing of such efforts, as well as themes in their mar­keting com­mu­ni­ca­tion campaigns.

 

How could com­pa­nies uti­lize social net­working web­sites, such as Twitter and Face­book, to pro­mote their Valentine’s Day products?

Social media could be used effec­tively to increase con­sumer engage­ment through online photo, party, gift and event com­pe­ti­tions or announce­ments of Valentine’s Day events.

Twitter has been effec­tively used by small, local busi­nesses to remind con­sumers of the hol­iday and the var­ious pro­mo­tions that they pro­vide for it.