With many of us celebrating Valentine’s Day over the weekend, Simi Dhawan explains how, like all successful marketing, this event tries to tap into people’s fundamental needs and desires.
Across the globe, February 14th marks a special unity between individuals on numerous levels. For some, cards, flowers, chocolates and various other adornments are offered to partners and spouses as a gesture signifying their unwavering love for one another. For others, this national ‘holiday’ (which isn’t actually a holiday, let’s be honest) unites a sub-culture of individuals who would gladly take up watching paint dry as sport over entertaining this commercial frippery. So where on Earth (let’s remain within familiar parameters) was this tradition born?
Legend has it that St. Valentine (our customarily crowned patron saint of love) reacted to Roman Emperor Claudius II ruling that soldiers were to remain unmarried in a bid to keep them better focused. Our now hailed St. Valentine nobly (and romantically) defied Claudius’ demands by marrying some of the aforementioned young soldiers in secret, only to be later discovered by the emperor and imprisoned as a consequence. Whilst in prison (and clearly without much else to think about in the way of daily activity), St. Valentine fell deeply in love with his jailor’s blind daughter who often visited him there and in doing so, helped soften the ill-fate which was soon to meet him – his tragic death sentence. Shortly before this ominous moment, history was forever-changed when he sent a letter to his secret love signed ‘from your Valentine’ – the letter which would thereon be remembered as the first ‘Valentine’ in history all the way back in….wait for it….. A.D. 270….!
Today, centuries later, greetings cards have now replaced the traditional love letter, with an estimated 1 billion cards being sent each year (ranking in at second place after Christmas). Valentine’s Day is a universal event which is certainly not exclusive to one part of the world. It transcends ages and cultures. It is global consumer populations who buy into this profit-making love affair year in and year out. Country masses of devoted followers (possibly deluded under Cupid’s spell) loosen their purse-strings/wallet-chains much to the delectation of multiple industry beneficiaries. We’re not simply talking about florists, card and confectionary shops, but also restaurants, bars, cinemas, jewellers, producers and sellers of romantic goods, love songs and movies, beauty salons who pamper and preen many hopefuls (both in love and looking for love), various hotel chains and airlines who benefit from increased bookings of romantic trips away and………….well ok, you get the idea. The point is, there’s money in this and as much as the cynics (erm..us singletons) try to bury our heads in the sand and talk about ANYTHING BUT our ‘Valentine’s Plans’ (thank you colleagues, friends and family – oh and my hairdresser), it is nothing short of remarkable that love helps keep the economy going (at least momentarily)….or put another way, we ‘buy into love’.
Love it or hate it (and the theory is that there is a thin line between the two for those claiming the latter), Valentine’s Day is every marketer’s playpen. Its success is founded upon the very fact that it sells to the ultimate in people’s needs and vulnerabilities….the need for love and all the security it brings. Aptly described as a ‘Humanistic Psychologist’, Abraham Maslow knew only too well the multi-faceted emotional and physical desires that collectively make up the human condition. He clearly defined these within his ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ as shown below:
Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs
For Maslow, our basic (or intrinsic) needs at the bottom of the pyramid are the physical needs we require for survival from birth, whilst rising up his model, our needs become more emotional and sophisticated where we must successfully meet all of those listed at each level to ultimately progress to the top and reach an eventual state of happiness and fulfillment known as ‘self-actualization’.
In the same way, businesses everywhere (in fundamentally appreciating the fact that they are selling to humans not robots) do vigorously attempt to tap into the needs of both their market and the individuals which make up that market. In fact, just thinking about the nature of any business or personal relationship, there is always a rudimentary transaction which takes place – financial or emotional, and each is reliant on understanding your recipients’ needs. Taken further, we could even argue that in introducing and thus ‘selling’ us his theory, Maslow himself was a chief marketer!
Following this lesson, there is rarely a week that passes in our UK office when a colleague does not openly share a new marketing item or ‘gimmick’ that they have received from a company which seeks to promote its products or services – be it the white chocolate plaques with elegantly printed company images marked on the front (they did make for a divine mid-morning snack!) or a kick-off-2010 diary book planner (that was wasted on me – I’m personally a bigger fan of my ‘Office Outlook’, thanks very much), companies will try every which angle – the quirkier the better, to grab people’s attention. If there was a surefire way to increase profits through such ploys, then we would all be doing it. However, quite like Maslow’s slightly ambiguous pyramid journey, people’s needs and consequently market needs are always changing, and so this is a game where precise rules do not exist and cannot be learned, but one where you throw the dice and then make calculated, strategic moves based on the options available to you at any given time, in any given place (of work).
Pleasingly, this year was no exception, and whilst February 14th is usually solely ‘owned’ by the madness that is ‘Valentine’s Day’, for the first time since 1900, as many of you may have already experienced, it also shared its place with Chinese New Year (‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’ and ‘Xin Nian Kuai Le’ to all by the way!). This I learned of, much to my delight, as I strolled through Manchester city centre last Sunday morning trying frantically to avoid the endless parade of loved-up couples drifting smugly along the sun-filled streets. The sound of Chinese drums and oddly placed fairground rides – including the ‘teacups’ (how quaint) – offered some welcome respite from heart-shaped foil balloons and red rose street sellers (who smiled sympathetically), and whilst this year, Valentine’s Day – as always – ‘sold’ to the masses successfully, I was one very happy customer drawn in by an alternative market route, found ogling instead over the beautiful handcrafted Chinese lanterns which stood stationary whilst I floated away happily into my own world……………………….waiting for the postman to deliver my lost Valentine’s Day card…!