It’s Valentine’s Day, a special occasion deemed both by my father and a local arts and entertainment weekly to be a “made-up holiday” (that nearly any holiday can be accused of being “made up” is another argument entirely). Regardless of how fictional the premise (the Catholic Church nixed Saint Valentine from it’s calendar of celebration in 1969 since there is no historical connection to any of the saints named Valentine), King Henry VIII declared the day a holiday in 1537 (yes, THAT King Henry VIII).
Valentine’s Day is a big deal: 190 million cards (1,330 different designs by Hallmark alone!) and 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be exchanged. Not surprisingly, the data skews female — most cards will be given to teachers (a majority of whom are female, especially in the lower grades, where a majority of the exchanging takes place), mothers and female significant others.
Interestingly, the commercialism of Valentine’s Day is at the foundation of its modern celebration. By the mid 19th century, printed valentines, with lace and bows, were widely available for purchase and mailing. Usually, it was the man who bought valentines for a woman who had caught his eye. In other words — very similar to what happens in 2011.
One of the more recent conversations about marketing and consumer insight centers around the idea that the purchaser is not the end user. In nearly anything written on the subject, the story is told of women who know the needs of another person (child, spouse, friend, etc.) and purchase a product for that person to use. On Valentine’s Day, not only are men the ones leading the purchasing, but men are also uncomfortable with that role (not a shock since a majority of women would break up with her boyfriend if he did nothing to acknowledge the day). Men on average will spend $130 on chocolate, flowers, jewelry and dates, which is roughly double what women expect to spend. That’s a lot of money up for grabs, and since Valentine’s Day is a test of the relationship, it’s a highly-profitable opportunity to help a guy avoid a social faux pas.
I challenge marketers to come up with a better way to help men through this minefield. Men are dying for some assistance — finding the right card, the right box of chocolate, the right restaurant — and there is precious little out there by way of help. Sure, you can order flowers online or swing by Kay’s Jewelers (Every Kiss Begins With Kay!), but their self-interest is untrustworthy. All men want is to not screw up … why isn’t there anyone to help?
This might be worth exploring further. Until then, I must run — like millions of other men around the world, I need to pick my girlfriend up for a nice dinner. Even marketers can be sold.