by Alice Lambert
With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching many conversations are stirring online from gift ideas to how to spend the day.
Whether celebrating with a partner, loved ones, friends, or solo, in recent years with the rise of social media content surrounding Valentine’s Day is vast and has definitely changed the way we view it.
Although Valentine’s Day has disputed origins, potentially stemming from the legends of St Valentine’s, or the Pagan Festival ‘Lupercalia,’ the holiday has always been associated with ideas around love.
Exchanges of affection then moved into exchanges of cards and gifts, becoming popular around the 18th century, and the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day has continued to grow over the centuries with the boom of mass-produced cards by companies like Hallmark.
Despite many people continuing to use the say to express their love for those in their lives, scepticism has grown around the holiday. Its commercial aspects often overshadow the day, and leads to an increased focus on the material and monetary factors of celebrating Valentine’s.
This commercialisation has only grown with the rise of social media, and now our feeds become full of targeted ads and branded posts around this time of year.
Valentine’s Day has therefore become one of the biggest marketing opportunities of the year. Many brands use the holiday to help promote products and gifts specifically aligned with the day, from lingerie to jewellery, flowers to chocolates, and restaurants to travel experiences.
While romantic companies are bound to latch on to the festivities, the marketing opportunities seem to have become too widespread with typically unromantic companies hosting campaigns like KFC, SpecSavers, and even Deliveroo’s ‘Third Wheel Kevin.’
Influencer culture, particularly on Instagram, has also increased the commercial aspects of Valentine’s Day, with our feeds churning out branded content from influencers in collaboration with multitudes of brands. These posts help to popularise the #Valentines handle, which currently has 26.5 million posts, and reach wider audiences to encourage purchasing from their affiliated links.
Regardless of if we are influenced or not by the content pushed our way, the effect social media has had on Valentine’s Day is apparent.
Although the idea of Valentines being commercialised isn’t revolutionary, we’ve seen this for hundreds of years, social media has led to an increase in alternative ways to celebrate - particularly the ‘galentine’ movement.
The term was first introduced on the US sitcom Parks and Recreation and has since grown in popularity over the years, with now 1.4 million posts marked by #galentinesday.
Now, the idea focuses on celebrating love found in female friendships and organising ways to spend the day with your nearest and dearest girlfriends.
Other celebrations in place of Valentine’s Day include the humorous ‘Singles Awareness Day‘ (S.A.D) on February 15th, which jokes at being a day for those to reclaim their singleness in the midst of a month of love.
But, more seriously, social media has also led to the promotion of self-love for those who are not in relationships, and the ability to feel loved and fulfilled in a society in which being single can make people feel an outsider.
A new strand of posts can also be linked to the ‘anti-valentine’ movement, which is enjoyed by those who disagree with it being a prescribed day to celebrate your love, and who particularly disagree with the commercialisation and consumerism associated.
This movement has now led to ranges of ‘anti-valentine’ gifts and cards – ironically!
With all these movements though, it is still up for debate what their true purpose is. Do these movements allow us to explore love in all its forms? Should we appreciate the opportunity to publicly celebrate all forms of love within our lives? Or, are we once again seeing a marketing tactic to increase conglomerate profits by being an audience that previously wouldn’t be spending around Valentine’s Day?
The conversations around social media and Valentine’s Day are not just limited to the commercial aspects of the day, though.
Many online outlets are focused on the negative aspects created through social media, in particular through the ‘toxic positivity’ it can perpetuate.
This idea looks at the pressure felt by those feeling inadequate in comparison to the positive and aspirational posts we see online, causing a negative influence on mental health and self-esteem. While can be true for many, its effect isn’t limited just to Valentine’s Day.
Despite the large scale use of social media alongside Valentine’s Day, data surrounding spending habits around Valentine’s Day seems to highlight that we aren’t being influenced as much as many brands would like.
In the UK, numerous surveys have shown that Valentine’s Day is not as widely observed as we’d believe, with only around 1/3 of the population choosing to celebrate in 2023. Of these numbers, most opted only to gift a card, with other presents like flowers or chocolates gaining much less widespread attention.
Most Brits chose to also spend pretty modest amounts on the day, with 68% planning to spend between £1-£50 and an equal proportions choosing to spend more or less on both sides. Worldwide studies have also noted that most countries see just 50% or less of their population observing the holiday.
In reality, the influence of social media on Valentine’s Day spending is not as widespread as we think, and, despite targeted ads, brand collaborations and hundreds of #ValentinesDay posts, fundamentally, the numbers of those who choose to celebrate and those who opt out of the holiday are unlikely to be drastically changed by any campaign we might see.
Social media’s relationship with Valentine’s Day continues to highlight the vast commercial aspect of the holiday, which has definitely increased with online influence, but only looks to target those who already actively participate in the holiday. Even then, many are choosing to scale down the budget for their celebrations, and are less likely to be influenced by what they’re seeing online.
So, while we may not spend more on Valentine’s or Galentine’s Day, perhaps social media has allowed the festivities to simply encapsulate all forms of love - allowing us to celebrate those most important to us without the fear of being ‘cringe’ - and not at the expense of our bank accounts.
Edited by Emily Duff