by Amber Davis
Love/hate may be the best way to describe humans’ collective relationship with Valentine’s Day. As in, love the partner, hate the restaurant-reservation scramble. Or love free candy, hate the looks of pity from people who think that “single” is the saddest word in the world.
Mixed emotions haven’t slowed spending. According to an American Express survey, consumers expect to shell out an average of $196 on the holiday this year, an 8% jump from 2011. More than half plan to pick up a gift — 54%, vs. 41% last year. And a growing number of singles are getting out there, making V Day their day, too.
And why shouldn’t they? In her new book, Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life, blogger/author Samhita Mukhopadhyay takes on society’s narrow relationship conventions, which tend to ignore, for example, race/class/sexual orientation differences. When Pew reports that married adults barely outnumber singles in the US, it’s big news, but among African Americans and Latinos, the unmarried have been in the majority for a good while (PewResearch.org, 11 December 2011). They still have love, partnership and community in their lives, just in different forms.
Mukhopadhyay’s Occupy Valentine’s Day Tumblr campaign urges everyone to celebrate the full spectrum of relationships, and to do it on their own terms. With an army of unapologetic singles out there, Valentine’s Day could look more like it did in the third grade: Everyone gets something and no one feels left out.
What does this mean for marketers?
1. Leaving out singles in any Valentine’s Day promotion is leaving money on the table. They’re not also-rans. And even bitter singles are sick of having the bitter-single cliché shoved in their faces.
2. Friends and family aren’t just highly valued by both single and coupled African American and Latino consumers. They’re leaned on in ways that can make giving something back on Valentine’s Day an easy sell.
3. Celebrating independence may work with single black women (and most single women, really), but it’s low on emotional resonance. Fulfilled, happy, optimistic, complete — how independence makes them feel is what connects.
4. Standard Valentine’s Day expectations seem a little grown-up to down-aging adults in their 20s and 30s. Fun and whimsy in messaging could take the edge off all the pressure.
5. Casting a wider love net won’t keep people from buying flowers and chocolate. In fact, it could mean buying more of everything — for the spouse, mom, friend and/or oneself.