Marketers have historically loved Valentine’s Day even more than consumers do — because we know, there’s nothing like social pressure to trigger buying impulses. Love by the dollars? That’s the goal. However, selling romance has become very tricky in recent years.
Turns out, Valentine’s is polarizing, even amongst the people who celebrate it. We’ve been conditioned to anticipate and dread it from childhood, when the annual giving of candy/cards would quantify exactly how popular each child was. (If it isn’t a rule by now that all children receive the same gifts, it darn well should be.)
Cue the grownup version, where casually coupled folks use a Valentine’s date as a benchmark for commitment. Meanwhile, married couples grumble about the ritual dressed-up dinner date at a restaurant where prices are doubled for the day. And yet. As much as people complain, they continue to spend money: whether it’s on jewelry, flowers, drinks or cards/candy for the classroom. Either Cupid or brand marketing teams are doing a good job.
While advertisers these days need to be a lot more careful about how they craft their ads, Valentine’s marketing used to be a cheerful barrage of gender stereotyping and shameless consumerism. Taking a swift swoosh (the sound of Cupid’s arrow) through notable Valentine’s campaigns, we’re laughing and crying and definitely hearkening back to the ‘Mad Men’ era. Also, we suddenly feel like having a Coca-Cola.
Notable Valentine’s Day campaigns (for better or worse)
Coca-Cola — Classic sweetness
Why did this mega-brand get first mention? Because, while most brands — and agencies and entire industries — have released Valentine’s campaigns that age so badly as to be cringe-worthy, Coca-Cola has always understood the appeal of simple, delicious sweetness. One glass, two straws. A bicycle built for two. A heart-shaped bottle cap. Free cans of Coca-Cola to couples strolling in the streets. Before “Love is love is love is love,” Coca-Cola saw that love was satisfying, simple and ideally everyone should be invited to the party.
IKEA — Cupboard (cabinet and crib) love
Social media went into a minor moment of fury-slash-amusement-slash “That’s so gross it’s genius,” when IKEA recently announced its promo for expecting mums — a giveaway that could be redeemed by peeing on a pregnancy test embedded into the printed ad itself. But nobody seems to recall that, five years ago, the quirky Swedish retailer ran a very similar campaign sans soggy magazine pages. This one just asks people to tear out the ad and redeem it 9 months after Valentine’s with proof of November 14th birthday. The fact that nobody remembers it is probably exactly why IKEA marketers decided to push the envelope way past the point of good hygiene this year.
Netflix — Suddenly everyone’s favorite plan
Did Netflix come up with the ubiquitous catch phrase “Netflix and Chill” to describe a dating stage, and/or state of happiness? Nope, that came from an anonymous Twitter user. Netflix paid millions to come up with other, less catchy taglines, like “Binge for Love” in 2016, and a “Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special” starring Michael Bolton in 2017 that we have to love. So, even though Netflix didn’t engineer its place in modern American relationships, the brand is definitely doing plenty to make sure it stays top-of-mind amongst people who don’t want to leave the couch on Valentine’s Day… or any other day.
OKCupid — Attempting a 180
Before apps pushed the entire concept of dating into an endless series of questionable hookups, OKCupid was the site where searching for “dates” meant sidestepping countless sketchy hookups. And now, the OG of hookup sites is looking to change everything. Launched in January, their new campaign boldly reclaims the infamous DTF acronym, and repurposing its letters into much more pleasant possibilities. Like Down to Farmers Market, and Down to… Fall Head Over Heels. Hearkening to Valentine’s traditions of the past, there’s Down to… Foot the Bill.
Is a swipe-addicted singles world ready to ride this wave? It remains to be seen. But we agree wholeheartedly with the real tagline, which is “Dating deserves better.” So do the people who date. Especially on Valentine’s Day.