This is a Valentine’s Day story that does not discuss Hallmark, 1-800-Flowers.Com, Godiva Chocolatier,Victoria’s Secrets or even PajamaGrams. There are so many other companies from which to choose.
Partly because of the deteriorating economy, more companies than usual are participating in the annual blizzard of holiday promotions, but skeptics still warn about advertising overkill and the effectiveness of some efforts.
“In this environment, you’re going to see more of this,” says veteran marketing expert, Jack Trout, president of Trout & Associates. “Companies are looking for targets of opportunity to gin up business.”
In yet another sign of the economy’s weakness, the National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend $17.02 billion on the holiday this year, up a fraction from $16.90 billion in 2007.
Advertising spending is expected to grow 3.7 percent to $197.4 billion this year, but the difference is likely to be a result of the Summer Olympics in Beijing and the presidential election campaign, according to Universal McCann, an ad agency that tracks industry data.
Unlike politics, sports or other lesser holidays, Valentine’s Day has near universal appeal, making it harder for companies to resist – especially when consumers are hesitant about spending in the first place.
Analysts say that is definitely the case this year.
“It’s a reason to buy when the normal, everyday reasons are not enough, “ explains Trout, whose firm has worked for such top shelf global companies as Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble and Merck.
Valentine’s Day marketing efforts generally fall into three categories, the good, the bad and the ridiculous.
“Most of these brands or companies don’t necessarily think of themselves as doing a Valentine’s Day promotion,” says Al Ries, Chairman of Ries & Ries, a marketing strategy firm. “They think, ‘We need to promote the brand anyhow but its probably more effective to promote the brand at certain times of year.’”
Of course, that logic has its limits. Certain companies should steer clear of the holiday because it is simply a reach.
“It depends on the distance between your image and what you promote,” says Tom Meyvis, an assistant professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business. ”If it is too far then it's not going to work.”
In a society of stressed out, attention deficit, mobile consumers, it clearly makes business sense for travel and leisure companies to promote their services.
Take Doubletree Hotels, a unit of Hilton Hotels.
“With the demanding lifestyles of couples today, Cupid might have a hard time even locating partners in the same city let alone the same room,” says the company ‘promotion for its “Sweet Romance Getaway” package.
Doubletree’s remedy is a two-day hotel package that “includes a local guide to romantic hot spots and activities.”
Southwest Airlines is giving away a two-day air, hotel and entertainment package to the person who submits the most popular caption for a Valentine’s Day themed photo.
ProfessionalTravelGuide.com has a list of the ten top destinations in the world to celebrate Valentine's Day, which come with a recommended hotel and restaurant for each destination.
“With these special occasions, the appeal is an opportunity to make people act on intentions they've had for a long time but haven't done anything about in the past,” says Tom Meyvis, an assistant professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business, adding that
Food For Thought
For some companies, there may be little if anything to lose.
Krispy KremeDoughnuts, whose latest CEO resigned in January as the company continues to lose money, is taking a shot .
“Forget the typical Valentine's fare of chocolates and flowers, and surprise your loved ones with something they aren't expecting," urges Ron Rupocinski, the company’s executive chef.
Krispy Kreme’s answer is heart-shaped doughnuts, topped with bright white icing and pink, red and white sprinkles. (Let’s hear it for love handles.)
“I don't think that's going to play,” says Trout. “That's a little over the top.”
Korbel might not be doing itself any favors, either. The maker of sparkling wine declares that “the best gifts are classic gifts, and the classic Valentine's Day gifts are red roses and Korbel California Brut Rose Champagne.”
It turns out, though, that Korbel Brut Rose California Champagne -- unlike roses -- whose connection to love and romance dates back to the Greek God Aphrodite -- was introduced in the 1980s. (So much for a love of the classics.)
Agavero tequila, its makers tell us, is blended with the Damiana flower, “a legendary flower known for centuries as a potent aphrodisiac that gives Agavero a deliciously smooth taste and makes it the perfect catalyst for a passionate encounter.”
“I think a lot of companies are making a mistake, if your product isn't necessarily germane,” adds Ries.
Horn Of Plenty
Companies far from the core holiday sectors of food, drink, travel and leisure are hawking their wares.
Verizon'swireless unit has “an assortment of wireless treats in an array of say-it-with-love colors.” Think red, pink and purple phones.
Gapis launching a limited edition, red Mulberry bag for Valentine's Day.
Commerce Bancorp, citing a National Retail Federation survey which says 29 percent of consumers bough gift cards for Valentine’s Day last year, is offering its instant-issue gift card.
Wal-Mart is promoting Helpachickpick.com and HelpaGuyBuy.com, online shopping tools that “will help customers not only identify the gift profile of their significant other, but the perfect gift, at the perfect price, to complement it.”
Given the company's reputation for low prices, can one conclude love is cheap? Not at all, says one industry observer.
“Wal-Mart may want to seem a little more romantic, or softer and prosaic,” says Tom Meyvis of NYU. “All companies, including Wal-Mart, don't want to have just a price image.”
Amazon.com's Music store is offering “the first e-cards featuring original versions” of twelve hit love songs from the Carpenter’s “Close To You” to The Temptations “My Girl.” The cards can be outfitted with a photo puzzle that unlocks a written message from the sender.”
Sunrise Senior Living, which operates 450 assisted living centers, is simply offering the wisdom of couples married 50-plus years and “who spent more than five decades of special Valentine's Days together.”
Even the federal government seems enamored with the idea of promotion --be it marginal or superflous. On the Saturday following the big day, the Bureau of Land Management will auction approximately 70 wild horses for adoption at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus, Ohio in what it calls “a wild valentine to remember.”
Not likely -- when you consider all the self-serving studies, self-help suggestions and the silly and superfluous promotions -- weakening economy or not.
“The problem tends to be the volume," says Ries, the marketing strategist. "The more promotion there is out there, the less effective each one is and the more annoying it is to consumers.”