It’s that time of year again - everyone’s favourite commercial holiday, Valentine’s Day, is just around the corner. Lovebirds all over the world will celebrate their love and the single ones among us will either lament or embrace our singlehood. Half of the American population identifies as single. And whilst couples, unsurprisingly, out-shop everyone on Valentine’s day with an average spend of $107, single men and women are not that far behind, with men spending $71 and women $40.
The holiday has evolved over the years, becoming less of an ode to love and more an of an opportunity to express appreciation towards family, friends, co-workers and pets. In fact, we spent a total of $681 million on our animal friends for Valentine's Day in 2016.
What would the 14th of February be without Valentine’s so let’s commemorate this special day by taking a trip down memory lane. As muddled as the holiday has become, even more so is where it came from. There are three early Christian saints that go by the name Valentine, all of whom were martyred on February the 14th. It is a mystery as to which Saint Valentine the day was meant to commemorate but there is definitely a favourite amongst scholars. The legend goes that around 270 AD the Roman emperor, Claudius II, prohibited marriage for young men, believing that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine performed marriage ceremonies in secret until he was found by the Romans and put to death. Another popular legend goes that Valentine who was imprisoned by Claudius, cured the blindness of a jailer’s wife and fell in love with her. Before he was executed he addressed a letter to her and signed it off with “from your Valentine”.
In 496 AD, Pope Gladius I marked February 14th as a day to honour St. Valentine’s martyrdom. Controversially some argue that this was done intentionally so as to coincide with the Lupercalia festival as a means to Christianise the pagan Roman festival. In Chaucer’s 1382 poem “The Parliament of Fowls” Chaucer celebrated the engagement between Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. This was the first time Valentine’s Day was connected with romantic love where the poem referred to birds choosing mates on “St. Valentine’s Day”. By the 18th century, gift giving and exchanging handmade cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England. These cards would be small handcrafted messages made of lace, ribbons and featuring cupids and hearts sent as early as 1667.
But how did Valentine’s Day become the day of cards, chocolates and roses that we know today? It all began in America where Hall Brothers, now known as Hallmark, started mass producing Valentine’s cards. As a result, Valentine’s Day became the second largest card buying holiday, right behind Christmas. With the growing popularity of Valentine’s Day celebrations came a whole ecosystem of complementary romantic offerings, including jewellers, florists, confectioners and entertainment. As Eric Schmidt wrote, in Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (1995), “…commerce [...] would be the creative and guiding hand in the holiday’s American rebirth”.
Valentine’s Day is a fantastic opportunity for both off-line and online retailers. [An estimated 28% of consumers] shopped online for Valentine's Day in 2016(https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/288417). They spent an average of 30% more than consumers in stores, with the majority splurging out on the classic jewellery, dinner out and flowers. Popular search engine Bing has put together a fantastic presentation with lots of data around online shopping for Valentine’s Day. Check it out to create your own digital Valentine’s campaigns.