Love is a Battlefield

Why Valentine’s Day changes mean some brands face an uphill fight

Drifts of snowdrops, shop windows thronged by roses, a rack of red cards in Wilko; it must be Valentine’s. Yet, while the fundamental things may still apply, the way we celebrate the event is changing. This blog explores the key trends and how companies must respond if they’re not to be left on the shelf.

By the time the fairy dust has settled and the last bunch of flowers has been thrown in the bin, UK consumers will have spent around £1.4bn on marking Valentine’s Day – up over 5% on 2017.Several factors are driving this. Firstly, it simply reflects a hunger for an antidote to a long, wet winter. Secondly, it’s about people seizing on a relatively cheap way to break the shackles of shrinking disposable income. Interestingly, the event is also becoming a focus for a deeper shift towards more varied declarations of affection.

Love is a many-splendored thing.

The clearest manifestation of this third trend is the rise of ‘Palentine’s Day’. Here friends treat their ‘besties’ and challenge the idea that the celebration is just for romantic couples. Paperchase’s recent email signals the craze is going mainstream. Topshop talks about great outfits, whether it’s a ‘date night or a mate night’. Not on the High Street is awash with ‘Galentine’s’ messages.

(Paperchase marketing email)

This feisty, predominantly female tone feels very in tune with an age when women’s fight for equality is headline news. This is translating into a cheekier approach; one that subverts the ‘man woos woman with roses’ archetype. Companies will need to be alive to this. We’ve recently seen how brand damaging it can be if you’re linked with dated notions of gender roles – think The Presidents Club or Formula 1 ‘grid girls’. A good case in point might be the lingerie sector, where it’s likely that retailers will need to emphasise messages around female empowerment rather than desirability.

(Topshop, Not On The High Street, Paperchase)

Meanwhile, Brits are finding plenty of other ways to ‘spread the love’, and some brands are helping them do so. Selfridges have been urging us to treat ourselves at Valentine’s Day.

Even children and animals are not exempt – as at H&M and NOTHS:

All you need is experiences

One big catalyst for this trend is the power of social media. This provides an arena where others can witness how loving you are. It doesn’t mean such gestures are insincere but there is inevitably some ‘virtue signalling’ going on.

Social media is one of the factors behind the move towards marking Valentine’s Day through experiences not products. After all, a night out at a great restaurant is bound to produce more Instagramable moments than a box of chocolates can. Recent research predicts eating out and romantic breaks will be two big beneficiaries of the upturn in spend. However, this is a competitive sector and, increasingly, a standard Valentine’s set menu won’t cut it. Offers of free prosecco are commonplace and some outlets are raising the bar far higher. The Crazy Bear Group’s Masquerade Balls, where guests enjoy an immersive entertainment experience far beyond a meal, have sold out.

Appealing to the right emotions

It looks like the drift towards experiences and the diversification of gift recipients may leave some traditionally strong Valentine’s players vulnerable. The efforts of big names like Superdrug, Boots and Sainsbury’s appear tired in comparison – able to attract the hurried or value conscious but few others.

The challenge for such brands will be to adapt to Valentine’s Day’s evolution without either deserting traditionalists or looking like bandwagon chasers. Naturally, we’re biased but it might help if they examine this challenge through the lens of ABA’s 5Drivers model! This shows how, although it will always be rooted in Desire, Valentine’s is increasingly going to be about Belonging and Immersion. These are the drivers of phenomena like Palentine’s Day and experiences, and players will have to leverage these if they’re to win hearts in Februarys to come.