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Kiss and sell

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.