Wunderman Thompson’s Robyn D’Arcy analyses how lockdown, commercial fatigue and shifting perceptions of love are changing how we plan to celebrate this Valentine’s Day
In 2020 we spent as a nation £1.45 billion on Valentine’s Day celebrations. Yet this year analysis of the levels of happiness on Twitter linked to Valentine’s Day is three times lower year on year whilst levels of dread have doubled. That might be no surprise considering how much our personal relationships have been affected through the pandemic. Long romantic weekends away are a distant memory, as is doing anything but awkward first date laps around the local park. How we experience and express love is changing and, as such, so is what we need from love: our so-called ‘love language.’
‘What is my love language?’ has been one of our most Google’d questions about love since 2019. Pre-pandemic, Twitter users declared their ‘love language’ to be ‘words of affirmation’ and gifts in the highest volumes. ‘Touch’ has now taken a considerable lead, increasing in volume by 73%. This may explain why UK visits to adult sites at the end of 2020 were 42% higher year on year, and why a Canvas8 study found that 30% of people who don’t live with their partners plan to break lockdown rules this Valentine’s Day.
With the avenues of how we can spend time with one another narrowing, cosy nights on the sofa, cuddling and holding hands – which those living away from their partners describe as ‘missing the most’ - are becoming all the more 'important’ and ‘precious’.
The shift away from gifting as a leading love language is also reflected in how UK consumers are predicted to spend less this year. The average person is expected to spend £12 less this Valentine’s Day gifting themselves or their significant other.
So how are we planning on showing our love in lockdown on what has been historically a commercialised holiday?
1) We’re reprioritising different types of love…
We’re not all eschewing Valentine’s Day completely, but rather rethinking it. We’re increasingly seeking out gifts for loved ones beyond immediate romantic partners: mums, pets, teachers and children (Google searches for ‘baby’s valentine’s outfits’ are up 550%.) We’ve seen the rise of Galentine’s Day. In 2020, we posted about celebrating 14th February with friends three times more than in 2019, whilst posts about Galentine’s Day revealed 26% more excitement than posts about Valentine’s Day.
Brands should eschew the ‘traditional’ and go beyond romantic partners to avoid Valentine’s fatigue. Brands that divide consumers as single vs coupled, and concentrate exclusively on singledom vs romance, miss opportunities for creativity.
2) We’re focusing on self-love
Since lockdown began, we’ve been seeking advice on how to practice self-love at an increase of 5,000%, looking for apps, books, affirmations and tattoos. UK digital journalism about self-love is now 14x higher than it was in 2014. It’s also worth noting that Google searches for vibrators are the highest they’ve been in the last five years; we’ve searched for them more in the last 30 days than we have for Valentine’s gifts.
UK companies across nearly every industry - including retail, food and even insurance - have picked up on this, with branded Instagram content about self-love increasing by 23%. Even on Valentine’s Day, this content tends to eschew the deep pinks and reds of typical ‘romantic’ posts for more neutral tones, with copy that centres mental health, confidence and community. Given that most Valentine’s content utilises the same three - five colours and 20 words, this variation allows brands to stand out.
3) We’re focusing on the funny and relatable
We’re looking for funny, meme and pop culture cards more than the overly romantic ('The Office' and 'Schitt’s Creek' are particularly popular.) Our musical preferences this Valentine’s Day also echo this decreasing focus on romance. We’re searching for love songs less. Searches for ‘songs that make you think about life’ have increased by 1,000%. This interest in music and content about the day to day - quarantine, masks, 2020 - also demonstrates how we’re turning to culture to help us make sense of our strange new reality.
4) We’re looking for longer
Our analysis found that British people start searching for Valentine’s gifts ‘for him’ around mid- January, whilst searches ‘for her’ begin a week later. This year, we started searching earlier, yet with 5 days left, intent to buy ‘for him’ is nearly four times higher. Brands should be advertising early but targeting (and re-targeting) last minute to encourage impulse buyers. Gifts for women in particular will need promoting right up until the 14th. Valentine’s Day is for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that one size fits all; brands should target by age, interest, online behaviour and communication style.
5) We’re becoming more inventive
Being stuck between four walls has encouraged us to seek inspiration and embrace creativity. We’re seeking Valentine’s décor and balloons at an increase of 950%. We’re trying our hand at Valentine’s crafts. We’re buying Valentine’s PJs at volumes high enough to rival lingerie, whilst Valentine’s nails are set to dominate Instagram and TikTok. Although we’re less inclined to cook, we’re prepared to bake; Pinterest content on cake decoration and cupcake recipes is soaring this week.
The pandemic has led us to discover and lean into our hobbies like never before. Brands should encourage us to celebrate what we love as well as who we love, and to new find ways to make the most of the day.
6) We’re seeking packaged up experiences
In lieu of restaurants, we’re seeking Valentine’s ‘gift sets’, ‘treat boxes’ and hampers, particularly from M&S and Tesco. Afternoon tea delivery will also be in high demand. We’re looking to buy items that can be packaged together, easily delivered and that we can actively enjoy. Brands should promise not only products, but experiences.
To stand out and connect with consumers, brands must demonstrate a genuine intention to deliver memories and connection - by first understanding how we experience love in all its forms - including lockdown.
- Robyn D’Arcy, senior data analyst, Wunderman Thompson UK