Like it or not, love is commercial and Valentine's Day is the screaming highlight of love's year. Even diehard Valentine’s Day commemorators can’t deny that a day intended to celebrate love, affection and admiration between people has fallen victim to unfettered commercialisation and obscene consumerism. There are literally businesses who rely on Valentine's Day flower sales for their existence. And it’s not OK to write-off environmentally unsound purchases by saying, “but it’s just one day a year”. We know better, so let’s do better!
IF YOU THOUGHT VALENTINE’S DAY WAS AN ANACHRONISTIC TRADITION SET TO DIE A NATURAL DEATH, THEN THINK AGAIN BECAUSE DIVERSIFIED CONSUMER MARKETS ARE KEEPING ITS RETAIL BEATING HEART ALIVE. EVEN WITH A DEAFENING CHORUS OF ANTI-CONSUMERISM BACKLASH, THIS WEEK AUSTRALIANS ARE TIPPED TO SPEND A STAGGERING $250MILLION ON V-DAY GIFTS.
So what is driving the consumer spending associated with Valentine’s Day across the globe? Well it’s not as straightforward as you think.
In terms of what we are spending and who we are spending it on, let’s look to the USA, a market that often (but not always) predicts our own ultimate consumer behaviour. Americans are expected to spend an unprecedented US$20.7 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, even though less people are celebrating or even acknowledging the day. So what’s going on? Well, it’s complicated.
The changing dynamics of human relationships are diversifying Valentine’s Day spending habits and in the process creating more opportunities for product consumption. That’s the bad news.
Millennials still LOVE those traditional visual markers of V-Day affection: flowers, jewellery, chocolates, perfume etc that fill their instagram feed, however new products continue to flood the market such as Valentine’s Day branded merch squarely aimed at the under-35s (think branded stuffed toys). Now add to this the trend of purchasing gifts for those beyond your significant other, including friends, children, extended family members, work colleagues and even pets and its little surprise Valentine’s Day spend is through the stratosphere.
Spending on Valentine’s Day presents for American pets alone this week is forecast to reach USD$886 million. And for those keeping score, the average spend on cats is US$95.90 and on dogs, a mere US$81.56. Hmmm.
Outside of the ginormous US consumer market, there are interesting developments globally that also point to the growing commoditisation of love. Take China. THE RISE IN EXPENDABLE INCOME IN CHINA MEANS VALENTINE’S DAY IS GAINING TRACTION AS A RETAIL OPPORTUNITY, ESPECIALLY TO THOSE UNDER 35. THIS IS AN INTERESTING CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT GIVEN THE CHINESE ALREADY HAVE THE HIGHLY CELEBRATE CHINESE LOVERS DAY ON JULY 7TH AS PART OF THE CHINESE LUNAR CALENDAR AND THREE OTHER ANNUAL DAYS DEDICATED TO THE AFFECTIONS OF LOVED ONES. So why embrace yet another day commemorating love? The outward and open show of affection has become a reflection of the opening of Chinese society. However, the big difference between the way Chinese and those in the West celebrate the day is this: show your love but don’t be showy. So spending on Valentine’s Day is still relatively moderate in this respect.
An emerging retail trend driven by the loud and proud Singles brigade is the anti-Valentine’s Day movement, a protest against the unsavoury need to equate love with material possessions and the out of control consumerism of V-Day gifting which ironically has itself spawned a lucrative market for retailers! Anti-Valentine’s Day parties, celebrated on the 13th or 15th February have party planner’s ears pricked, embrace fast-fashion statement T-Shirts and are almost always accompanied by a higher than average spend on alcohol which we’re not sure is to celebrate Anti-Valentine’s Day or a thinly veiled attempt to drown one’s sorrows about being single.
While we’ve delved into the economics and questionable eco-friendly practices of Valentines Day, if we are going for full transparency, we can’t have a conversation about the day without acknowledging some of the psychology behind it. Unlike other gift-giving events on the calendar there is a darker side to Valentine’s Day. WE DON’T SEE PEOPLE FLAUNTING THEIR CHRISTMAS DAY GIFTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUT WE DO SEE VALENTINE’S DAY GIFTS SHARED AD NAUSEUM. WHY IS THIS? THE STATISTIC THAT MEN ARE THE BIGGEST BUYERS OF V-DAY GIFTS, BY AN OUTSTANDING MARGIN, BEGS THE QUESTION – WHAT IS THE TRUE MOTIVATION BEHIND GIFT-GIVING ON THIS DAY? IS TOO MUCH PRESSURE PUT ON COUPLES AND PARTNERS – ESPECIALLY MEN IN HETEROSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS - TO PROVE THEIR LOVE THROUGH MATERIAL GIFTS? Even if we do make eco-friendly choices this Valentine’s Day, are we in it for the right reasons? And here’s an interesting fact: the spend on V-Day cut flowers every year can fluctuate up to a staggering 30% depending on the day of the week which it falls on any particular year. It’s been reasoned that the drop is simply a reflection of delivery services not operating on weekends. Given that, how much of the celebration of the day is the show of the gifts, read ‘the flowers arriving at your workplace’?The marketing of Valentine’s Day as a commemoration of Self-Love adds more retail opportunities. Self-gifting, or more specifically, permission to self-gift is on the rise. But is this just another instance of filling a psychological void with more stuff? You have to wonder.
We’re not necessarily saying ditch the gift-giving but we all know there are better ways to do things. That’s what we are about at Ekkoworld – celebrating those better ways. So for the romantics out there who still want to say it with gifts, seek the eco-friendly alternatives to the usual suspects. And remember, this international day of love should never be the source of financial upheaval so, as always, if you have to make a purchase go for a ‘less is more’ approach.Images: Unsplash: Debbie Hudson | Laula & Co | Jennifer Burk | Jon Tyson | Kelly Siddema | Alex Block