Rekindling our love affair with Valentine's Day

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It’s official: Brits have fallen out of love with Valentine’s Day. New research from Walnut Unlimited shows that 58% of the GB population, and even 47% of British couples, do not plan to mark the occasion this year. When asked why they were giving the day the cold shoulder, the main response from couples with no plans was that Valentine’s Day is “a commercialised money-maker”. For the 58% of Brits choosing not to mark the occasion, 37% agreed the day has become too commercialised.

Why should we care?

Despite the high number of Brits choosing not to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, it remains a major economic opportunity; according to Statista sales related to the day rose from £620m in 2017 to £650m in 2018. Given the lukewarm feelings that many couples have around Valentine’s Day, it may not be reasonable to expect these figures to continue to rise year on year. The 'romance industry' needs to up its game if it’s to continue to capitalise on the opportunity.

There are several reasons why Valentine’s Day is no longer what it used to be.

First and foremost, the challenging economic climate is a major contributor. Today’s consumers are savvy shoppers. They know where to go for a good deal. They know which voucher codes to use to make their night out as cost effective as possible. Romance is not dead. It just has a healthy dose of new decade pragmatism and common-sense mixed in.

However, it’s not just the economy. Participation in Valentine’s Day has been impacted by the fact that the way we feel about relationships, about celebrations and traditions, and about health and eating out has changed markedly over recent years:

  • Relationships: relationships today originate, are maintained, and end, within a much more fluid context than they did in the past, so there’s less pressure to mark romantic milestones in quite the same way that previous generations have.
  • Celebrations and traditions: millennials and Gen Z care very little for automatically perpetuating the traditions of their parents and grandparents.
  • Eating out: signifiers of quality in the eating out space are in flux. What passed as “indulgent” or “romantic” in the past may not do so nowadays, where the Instagrammability of the venue and food, and the theatricality of the evening, may be as important as the quality of the food or the vintage of the wine, if not more so.
  • Health: the go-to Valentine’s gift of a big box of chocs or an indulgent blowout meal may be less well received nowadays, with our heightened sense of healthy eating and mindful consumption and following on so closely from Veganuary, Dry January or those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions.

How should marketers respond?

Google 'Future of Valentine’s Day' and you’ll find a raft of thought-pieces speculating on the long-term future of Valentine’s Day. They often feature the likes of augmented reality products, virtual reality devices and apps, and even robotic companions. In truth, though, most of these perspectives focus on the future of sex, emotional intimacy and relationships as much as Valentine’s Day itself.

When it comes to Valentine’s Day in particular, here are some light-hearted ideas for more short-term (and less high-tech focused) ways to revive interest:

  • Valentine’s Day comparison app: fear of overpaying for an average experience just in order to be part of the day underpins much of the rejection of Valentine’s Day. In the same way that price comparison apps allow consumers to compare the offers of various supermarkets, utilities or financial services providers, it seems likely that they’d also like to see the figures behind Valentine’s Day offerings. Just how much of a premium is that restaurant charging on Feb 14th as opposed to Feb 15th? How much do its service ratings take a dip on the busiest night of the year?
  • Themed Valentine’s Day experiences: with the appetite for experiences, surely there is scope for romantic, immersive experiences? How about an escape room themed around romantic movie couples, featuring the likes of Titanic’s Jack and Rose, Dirty Dancing’s Baby and Johnny or Brokeback Mountains Ennis and Jack? If not an escape room, then look to add a romantic component to whatever events you run – like South Africa’s Epic Hikes who are inviting people to “bring your +1 to our upcoming Valentine’s Day Hike. We’ll be having scintillating conversations and creating new memories”.
  • Anti-Valentine’s Day: in the same way that we’ve seen anti-Black Friday movements, brands could take a stand against the excess, the contrivance, the artificiality and the exploitation of the day. Participating brands could undertake to offer an upgraded experience but without the upgraded price.
  • Apply human understanding to your campaigns: whatever you land on, think of the ways your Valentine’s Day marketing can tap into your customers’ emotions. Our Human Understanding Lab at Unlimited does just this; we apply neuroscience techniques so you can truly understand emotional reactions to your messaging and drive action.

A large proportion of the population are not celebrating Valentine’s Day because they feel it’s too commercial, but also because it seems less relevant to today’s concerns and preferences. Our advice to marketers is to throw out the old playbook and start from scratch. Treat Valentine’s Day as a new product launch and ask, not what you can provide, but what your customers might actually want.

Nick Chiarelli, head of trends, Unlimited Group

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