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Not Every Brand Needs to Board the Love Train

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For some, it’s a hugely important day for the expression of amorous intent and indulging in unbridled (or is that overpriced?) displays of love. For others - whether in a relationship or not - it’s a day to dread, ignore, and then forget, in that order. For many brands, however, it’s one of the most crucial days in the calendar in terms of boosting awareness and generating sales; as a result, the 14th of February sees increasingly more jumping on the Valentine’s Day bandwagon and peddling their own romantically oriented campaign in a bid to join the conversation and engage existing or potential consumers.

However, if you don’t actually market a particularly romantically themed product, or seasonal events aren’t your typical marketing style, are you in fact at risk of confusing or diluting your brand message? Will you merely end up drowning in the sea of heart shapes and rose petals, disappearing into insignificance with nothing more than a weighty marketing bill to show for your efforts? Could it be that your whispering sweet nothings will fall on deaf ears? It’s important to consider whether running a luvvy-duvvy campaign is indeed relevant to your brand, any previous activity and also your audience’s expectations, or whether you should simply step back, take some promotional down time and leave it to the brands who are more suited to a Valentine’s-inspired strategy.

Effective Valentine’s Day Marketing

Despite the fact that opting to engage in marketing activity on such a pointedly transient moment in the calendar as February 14th offers a true minefield of risks, there are still some successful case studies of organisations that have siezed the opportunity and snatched success from the jaws of peril.

It’s safe to say that IKEA Australia won Valentine’s Day 2013 with their free cot campaign. The Swedish furniture and homeware retailer took an advert out in newspapers offering a free cot voucher for babies born exactly nine months from the day. This campaign created a significant ripple on social media and got the attention of news outlets such as The Daily Mail and AdWeek.

IKEA isn’t exactly known for being a particularly ‘racy’ retailer, so this ad succeeded because it still played to their reputation as a straight-to-the-point, functional brand, where aspiration meets affordable style. With just the solitary red heart dotting the ‘i’ in 'Valentine’s', they show both a subtle nod to the occasion in question and a restrained sense of humour which remains true to their Scandinavian light heartedness.

In 2017 the flat pack specialists took to social media to again engage at arms length in what can be a real pitfall of a day for many brands. In this case, they embraced the often inevitable ham-fistedness of Valentine’s Day marketing with a handful of deliberately poor puns referencing several product names, drawing a line at dry humor but never stepping into overtly schmochy drivel. They also ran a similarly themed campaign in 2016, ‘Love is complicated, Ikea is simple’ which showcased a range of quirky illustrations in the form of a ‘love manual’, again playing on the somewhat rudimentary nature of their assembly instructions and combining self-deprication with only the lightest dash of V-Day hype.

In 2012, Innocent Smoothies got involved with proceedings by allowing consumers to create their own ‘love label’ to wrap around a bottle. Customers could personalise the packaging online and print it out to stick on a smoothie of their choice for their lucky valentine. The labels could also be shared across social media channels to raise awareness of the campaign and get more people on board.

Innocent are known for their slightly playful, irreverent tone of voice and this campaign again shuns direct references to sickly sweet themes and instead stays true to their nature of not taking things all that seriously; something which may often be in short supply during the mid-February schmooze-fest.

In 2017, Snickers pulled an epic Valentine’s stunt for all the people who inevitably forget to buy a card for their loved one. Billboards were placed outside Waterloo Station in London with the words ‘You’re forgetful when you’re hungry,’ playing on their famous slogan: ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry.’ Commuters could even peel off Valentine’s Day cards from the word ‘forgetful’ on the billboard. Play on words + freebies = clever marketing, especially when it builds on an already recognisable motto.

Although running a Valentine’s Day-Specific campaign may seem like a bit of fun for your brand once a year, it might not always be totally necessary. Indeed, running a campaign around cupid's busiest time of year when your day-to-day content has nothing to do with romance or celebrating specific occasions could go the other way and diminish your impact. In an ideal world your marketing activity builds on the solid thematic foundation established over years, refraining from sporadic breakouts into strange new territory. Puzzling your current customers while trying to attract new ones is doubtful to be a recipe for success.

Think about it: will you actually benefit from a Valentine’s Day campaign or can you take a back seat with this one and allow others to fight it out? The obvious choices of confectionary, lingerie and jewellery brands certainly have the relevant target audience firmly in their sights in February, along with restaurant chains and supermarkets who are likely to push special offers for the international day of love.

If you’re, say, a financial services organisation, a more relevant time of year for you to run a fresh, inventive campaign might be in the new year when people are more intent on saving money after the customary Christmas splurge. Likewise, a cleaning products or hygiene brand is far more likely to enjoy a less competitive environment in Spring, when people begin to spruce up their homes in preparation for more clement weather. 

Valentine’s Day Marketing Fails

In some cases, not only are there organisations that don’t really have any business piggybacking Valentine’s Day, but succeed in monumental failure at the same time with a face-palming, double barrelled shot to the foot.

In 2017, London Dungeon had to issue an apology after they published an somewhat tasteless Valentine’s campaign across their social channels with a series of strangely selected creatives. Their campaign caused mass offence and led to a backlash amongst hundreds of people on social media, getting people talking but for all the wrong reasons.

Speaking of brands who sell products that with no romantic relevance whatsoever, this American e-cigarette brand offered a small discount on chocolate and strawberry flavours. Aside from there being little to e-cigarettes to get somebody in the mood for love, the only achievement of a campaign such as this one is to display your opportunism, transparency and lack of creative endeavour; it would certainly have made more sense for this brand to perhaps show more restraint, sit back and plan some promotion for October when people take part in ‘Stoptober’ to quit smoking.

Seasonality is key for your brand when it comes to advertising; people are more likely to engage with your campaign if the product or service you are promoting is relevant to the celebratory day in question. There may be a degree of leeway to take advantage of, or you may simple have a brand that elevates itself above all time and space, but proceeding with caution should be front and centre of your mind.

However, for continued brand awareness and a healthy level of consistent engagement, it’s important to maintain presence throughout the entirety of the year, especially on social media. Have a set-in-stone content strategy so your customers get a feel for who you are and what your values are and always ensure that your seasonal campaigns don’t drift too far from your typical content strategy and tone. Once you’ve established a brand narrative with your customers, it’s crucial to stick by it; straying away risks confusing your message which can have a worse effect than overdoing the garlic at a candlelit dinner.

The message from your crush is clear: if it suits your product or personality, buy yourself a ticket on the love train. If not, there’s no green light and you’ll be left looking for first base.

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