How Valentine's Day Became a Billion Dollar Business


Valentine’s Day will soon be here and the scent of roses, chocolate and candy hearts is in the air! Or is it the scent of dollar bills? While its origin is a little cloudy, one thing about this most romantic of holidays is clear—the power of marketing has turned Valentine’s Day into a multi-billion dollar business.

In fact, as it approached last year, the National Retail Federation predicted that U.S. consumers would spend $18.2 billion on cards, candy, and gifts!

"While its origin is a little cloudy, one thing about this most romantic of holidays is clear—the power of marketing has turned Valentine’s Day into a multi-billion dollar business." TWEET THIS

A Priest’s Death Gives Life to a Legend

In the third century, Roman Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for young men, who he felt would be better soldiers if they weren’t concerned about the wives and children they left behind when they headed off to war. Legend has it that a priest named Valentine, feeling that the law was unjust, continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret.

When Claudius learned of the deception, Valentine was imprisoned and sentenced to death. While awaiting his execution, he developed a relationship with a girl sometimes said to be the daughter of his jailerwho came to visit him regularly. Just prior to his death in mid-February, Valentine was allowed to send notes of farewell to his loved ones, one of which he gave to the girl signed “From your Valentine.”

How February 14 became Valentine’s Day is subject to debate. Some say the date was picked to commemorate Valentine’s death or burial. Others contend the holiday was a way to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Either way, two centuries after Valentine was beheaded, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as a day to honor Saint Valentine.

The Romans are also credited with creating the character that came to be called Cupid. It’s believed that the idea for the cherubic winged archer was adapted from Eros, the Greek god of passion and fertility.

From Religious Observance to Marketing Juggernaut

Saint Valentine’s Day might have been lost to the mists of time if revered authors like Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1300s and William Shakespeare in the 1500s hadn’t written about it. Their works are credited with romanticizing the observance and giving it the meaning it has today.

By the 1700s, what was generally shortened to “Valentine’s Day” had made its way from Europe to the American colonies. Soon the practice of giving gifts and notes with words of affection to loved ones on February 14 began to take root. In 1847, a woman named Esther Howland was so smitten with a Valentine’s Day greeting she received that she decided to start manufacturing cards herself.

Her beautiful “English-style” greeting cards were a hit, with a dozen of them sent with her brother on a sales trip for their father’s company bringing in 25 times the expected revenue. You can almost see the dollar signs in Esther Howland’s eyes and the lightbulb over her head. By 1850, she was advertising her greeting cards in the Worcester Spy.

The Valentine’s candies loved by school kids everywhere were developed 15 years later. Not heart shaped initially, these “conversation candies” were created by candy maker Daniel Chase who used vegetable dye to print words on confections. Like Esther Howland, he may have been thinking about cash when he wrote “BE MINE”!

As more and more marketers saw that one of the shortest paths to a person’s wallet was through their heart, the Valentine’s Day juggernaut picked up momentum. Companies and products like Hallmark, FTD, De Beers diamonds and the Hershey’s Kiss owe much of their success to lovers looking for ways to express their affection.

The Takeaway for Today’s Marketers

What can marketers learn from the rise of Valentine’s Day? Well, first of all, don’t continue to perform ceremonies if weddings are banned. It's not good for your health!

But, seriously, what’s clear from the staggering amount of money that Valentine’s Day products and services bring in every year is that emotion sells. If you can find a way to tug at a prospect’s heart strings, you will definitely find their open pocketbook at the other end. Valentine’s Day is just another example of the old marketing adage that people buy with their heart and then rationalize with their head.

If you need guidance on how to put more feeling into your content marketing, we would love to share our ideas! Contact us at your convenience. And, Happy Valentine’s Day!

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