Today is Valentine’s Day, and it seems that the marketing of the day, and of many occasions throughout the year, has stepped up substantially over the past couple of years. Many believe that Valentine’s Day (or VD for short), is now simply feeding our consumerist culture. But there is probably more to it than simply marketing gone mad – although marketers are pretty good at tapping into our very human vulnerabilities.
The need to love, to be loved and to belong is central to our idea of happiness. Being in love, and loving someone, is bound up with perception, imagination and a desired reality.
Much marketing is based on exploiting both our imagination and our desired reality.
So, Valentines Day, and romance generally, is about the fantasy – Valentine’s Day is one of those days where we can put aside the complex, real nature of relationships and act out a fantasy idea of love.
That said, marketing and marketers play perfectly on the fantasy, showing us what love could be like if we buy this “product” for our loved one. Marketing and Valentine’s Day are a Perfect Match (Dexter says 76 per cent), because both play on an imagined and desired reality.
From a psychological perspective, the most pressure to buy expensive gifts is going to be on new couples, or potential couples to do something. It is also young people, teenagers, and young adults, will feel that they can only express their devotion through gifts. To some degree, people in these early stages of their relationships are least likely to be creative, and they are most likely to go for the old favourites such as flowers, chocolates, teddy bears, etc. People who are concerned about the state of their current relationships are also somewhat vulnerable to the “promise” contained within Valentine’s Day marketing.
It takes quite a risk for someone in a new relationship to go out on a limb, and buy something a bit different. At early stages in our relationships, we are trying to establish, in the mind of our potential partner, a person who is likeable, even lovable, so you need to find the balance between spending too much (and scaring them off), and spending too little (and perhaps signalling that they are not very important to you). It’s a scary time…
It’s part of the human condition to want to respond to days like Valentine’s Day, so the marketing plays upon the human psychology. People like occasions to help guide them on how to behave, so Valentines Day provides what psychologists call “social proof”. To help work out how to behave, people will use cues to work out what to do, so they look to advertising and marketing to help guide them.
Combine this with the fact that most Australians, in general, are in a relatively good financial state, and people are comfortable looking for spending opportunities.
People in more stable and long-term relationships, feel more comfortable challenging boundaries, and are less likely to fall for the marketing campaigns – they’re the ones who are more likely to do quirky things, like going for a row on the river, or more personal activities, if at all. This is mainly because they know each other, and know what boundaries they can push.
I don’t want to sound like a boring, old(ish) guy, so I’ll say that I think it’s important to mark occasions – it is a natural part of being human, but the best approach when it comes to relationships and even love, is to make it personal, and maybe a little bit different from the norm.
If you do want to increase your chances of some lerve, and it’s a newish relationship, do something different – don’t conform. Research has shown that you are more likely to be liked and considered attractive if you are confident, and memorable. But, don’t overemphasise the day – just like New Year’s Eve, for most people, it is likely to be a bit of an anti-climax.
Some advice to newly courting couples: If you want to increase your chances, do something that increases levels of adrenalin, such as something scary or risky. Research shows that our brain makes a link between the increase of adrenalin and the euphoria associated with “surviving” the scare and the person we are with, so that we link the excitement as much with the person, as we do with the activity. So, maybe head off to a rickety bridge, and hand over some lovely, personal and sincere gift. You’ll certainly be remembered.
And if you want to have a bit of a laugh, check out the Valentines Day classifieds, and see the crazy names that people call each other. This is the only time in the year when it’s (mostly) acceptable to publically broadcast our private language to the rest of the world. So expect a little bit of baby talk with lots of “Huns”, “Babes” and maybe even a bit of “Hunny Bunny Wunny Chunny”.
Gene Kelly gets all existentialist on us
This post is an update from an earlier post originally published in 2010.