Why humour spells romance for brands this Valentine’s Day

By Ally Waring | Senior Strategist

February 14, 2019 | 5 min read

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is a serious business; UK consumers spent £1.8bn wooing loved ones on 14 February last year. Flick through some of the pages of any newspaper or magazine around this time of year and you’ll see an array of ads from retail and luxury brands, promoting an ‘idea’ of love that is usually reserved for the silver screen.

It’s a strategy that works. But is it the only one?

Work harder

Brands need to work harder than ever to woo their customers and more importantly – keep them interested. Not just demanding honesty, integrity and innovation from brands, young customers today also want to be entertained, informed, and excited by a brand’s experience. There is simply too much competition to keep doing what has worked in the past and hope it continues to deliver in future.

All industries are at risk of being ‘uber-ised’ – and luxury is no exception.

People are prioritizing experiences over possessions. Last year, according to Mintel, 32% of Valentine’s Day spend went on experiences, up from 18% the year before. What does this mean for luxury brands, who, to date, have focused on the product element of their offering?

It means that glossy stylised shoots and depictions of glamour might not keep cutting it for a new generation of customers with disposable incomes but with ever higher standards for the brands they choose to interact with. Furthermore – advertising in this space still overwhelmingly depicts male-to-female gifting – when they could (and should) be celebrating all relationship dynamics. Trends like ‘Galentine’s Day’ on Feb 13 are growing in popularity – this particular one was toutedas a day for "ladies celebrating ladies."

As Valentine’s Day becomes more about sharing moments than exchanging gifts – it’s time to think about alternate strategies, rather than rely on the fail-safe package of romance tied up in a satin bow to win people over.

Comedy factor

Making someone laugh is an unforgettable experience – especially in advertising, where genuine laughs are hard to come by.

Mass-market brands use humour to appeal to the mainstream… and if executed correctly, they can enjoy great success. Take Cadbury’s “Gorilla” (garnered 10% increase in sales and triple the ROI), or Dollar Shave Club’s “Our Blades are F***ing Great” (scored a cool 12,000 signed up in 48 hours). Campaigns that tickle our sense of humour are attention-grabbing, highly shareable and when executed in the right way – can be extremely effective. Yet, it’s not a traditional route for luxury brands who are more likely to lean on heritage, prestige and provenance.

That said, there are a couple of shining lights in luxury that are adopting a different approach to romance at this time of year (and beyond). Gucci is a brilliant example of a brand appealing to a young, affluent, high-spending, impulse-led buyer who make up 56% of the Valentine’s Day market and will make up 40% of the whole luxury good market by 2025 (Deloitte).

Its watches campaign, which included playful #TFW (that feeling when) memes, created with well-known meme artists, boosted e-commerce sales by 86% last year. The campaign itself worked because it displayed a sense of humour that reflected the brand’s tone – tongue-in-cheek, superior, intellectual and witty – while embracing social media culture.

Harvey Nichols also showed that humour can work in the luxury field with the irreverent “Sorry, I spent it on myself,” and “Shoplifters” ads. The retailer actually sold the cheaper presents featured in its ‘I spent it on myself’ ad — which sold out in just under three days.

Raising a smile

To make people laugh and smile in times like these is difficult. And it’s important to stress that not everyone is going to respond to the same ad in the same way. People do still respond well to traditional ads that play on romance or high glamour over giggles. Which is why it’s essential for marketers to understand not just how their market adapts and changes, or how the demographic they are targeting adapts and changes, but how each person reacts to the situation they are in.

When you really know your customers, you can subtly adapt your communications to suit them, wherever they are, whatever mood they are in.

We have technology available today that can do that. We’ve worked with Ralph Lauren and Mont Blanc on ‘adaptive persuasion’ strategies that show customers as individuals, not just ‘clusters’. We know who will respond to humour on a day like Valentine’s Day, and we know who will respond to romance.

We can adapt a brand’s tone of voice to speak to and engage new audiences, each with different drivers and personality traits, in real time. This takes a nuanced understanding of their data and the ability to learn, target and serve these customers in the space of milliseconds.

It is difficult but when you get it right, it can cultivate a deeper type of brand love that extends far beyond just the one day.

Take a risk – especially as a luxury brand. It’s hard to make friends out of your consumers; the alternative to taking a risk could be total alienation from them instead.

Ally Waring is a strategist at Rapp

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