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Column: Why Valentine's Day is a marketing dream

You can’t put a price on love – really? As long as there’s consumer interest in Valentine’s Day, the commercial opportunities will follow, writes Dr Margaret-Anne Lawlor.

Dr Margaret-Anne Lawlor

VALENTINE’S DAY – an enjoyable occasion to celebrate love and romance or a marketer’s dream? There is no denying that 14 February continues to attract intense interest and responses from consumers eager to celebrate (or indeed, ignore!) this day of l’amour, whilst businesses and retailers enthusiastically embrace and seek to expand the accompanying commercial opportunities.

In terms of the origins of St Valentine’s Day, there is as much colour and variation when it comes to its history as there is in the range and diversity of gift ideas offered to smitten purchasers. One Roman legend suggests that the original Valentine was a third century priest who incurred the wrath of Claudius II, Emperor of Rome. Claudius had apparently decreed that young men should not be allowed to marry, and instead should be encouraged to join his army.

Valentine

Valentine railed against the perceived injustice of this ban and performed marriage ceremonies in secret until this came to the attention of an angry Claudius. Whilst Valentine was imprisoned, it is suggested that he befriended his jailer’s blind daughter and wrote her a farewell letter, signed “from your Valentine”, before being executed on the 14 February 269 AD.

Today, Valentine’s Day is a key commercial event planned for by many retailers in the traditionally slow-moving months of January and February. Recent figures from Visa Europe relating to the occasion, suggest that in the Irish market, holders of their cards will spend approximately €10 million in florist shops this year, and that 40 per cent of Irish people will buy flowers especially to mark the day.

So too, greeting cards, chocolates, jewellery and lingerie continue to be staple purchases whilst other gifts include champagne, dinner reservations, hotel breaks, spa treatments, flying lessons and hot air balloon flights. Not surprisingly, the most popular gift of all is the greeting card. Valentine’s Day is the second-most popular day of the year to exchange cards, the first being Christmas.

For example, Hallmark, who first sold Valentine’s Day cards in 1913, offer a choice of over 1,400 cards, which cater for different price points, ranging from a value line of cards to a premium signature collection. For the more technologically-minded consumer seeking an alternative to the traditional card, there is a plethora of apps for iPhones and iPads – one such greeting app being the imaginatively named Luv Bytes for the iPad.

Hallmark

What is interesting is how the card and gift market has now grown to include and acknowledge all forms of relationships such as parents, siblings, school-teachers and children. For example, Hallmark offers a range of cards that can be given to children that feature small collectable characters such as Spider-Man and Minnie Mouse, as well as a specific line of cards for Justin Bieber fans. Remaining with the child market, Amazon offer a line of Valentine’s Day gifts especially for young consumers, ranging from arts and crafts including  stickers, beads and crayons, to teddy bears bearing messages such as “I wuff you”.

But the market for Valentine’s Day gifts continues to grow as marketers cannily identify other recipients of the gift-giver’s fondness and affection. One such example is the dog and cat sector. For example, PetSmart, a major speciality pet retailer, operating over 1,290 stores in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico have developed a line of gifts for pets called Luv-A-Pet, featuring over 40 Valentine-themed products for ‘pet parents’ seeking to treat their dogs or cats. Seasonal products that can be bought in-store or online for one’s pet include a Paw Dress, Bow Tie and Cupid Socks.

Marketing love and romance

Whilst the day is associated with love and romance, marketers are careful to target consumers in a positive way. For example, humour is a prevalent appeal used in Valentine’s Day cards whilst PetSmart appeals to one’s sense of altruism by allocating ten per cent of the purchase price of the Luv-A-Pet line, to chosen pet charities.

So too, marketers use positive references in targeting consumers who may not be giving or receiving Valentine’s Day cards and gifts this year, but would like to be. For example, one approach used by advertisers is to use positive and affirmative phrases such as “new year, new love”, “celebrate you”, or encouraging single consumers to enjoy their independent status.

Finally, in response to the economic situation, retailers are attuned to the value-seeking, Valentine’s Day consumer with Wal-Mart offering detailed advice on how to do “romance on a budget”. Tips on Wal-Mart’s website range from how to replicate a restaurant dining experience at home, with suitable décor and lighting, to organising an indoor picnic.

On the other hand, for those consumers on a quest for more unique gift ideas this year, Harrods of London Valentine’s offerings include a platinum-plated pencil sharpener for £270 or a sterling silver money clip for £259. A seven piece set of copper cookware costs £1,499 while a 50 year old bottle of malt whiskey is retailing at just under £11,000.

It would seem that as long as consumer interest in Valentine’s Day continues to blossom, so too do the commercial opportunities that come with it.

Dr Margaret-Anne Lawlor is a lecturer in Marketing Communications at the Dublin Institute of Technology, College of Business, Aungier Street.

Pictures: 5 alternative Valentine’s Day cards… Irish style>

Read: 7 very Irish Valentine’s Day presents>

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Dr Margaret-Anne Lawlor

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