Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Marketing of Love

“I feel it in my fingers I feel it in my toes, The love is all around me, And so the feeling grows”...

I have been humming this song for days, and wondering why! It’s one of my favourites, but not one to be sung for days. I tried to figure out why, and then realized that everywhere I looked, every shop I went to, every website I visited, every dinner I attended, there was one thing that was always present; and that too in large doses – love! Yes, I realized it’s that time of the year when love is on sale, everybody, everything, is drenched in “red,” the colour of love. The red hearts, the red roses are just ‘unmissable’.

If Saint Valentine were here, he would have been a very happy saint, for what he did in secret and under great fear, is today being done so openly and with so much gusto that even those remotely aware of him cannot miss this day.

Of Chocolates and Teddy Bears

If legend were to be believed, then Saint Valentine was a priest during the third century in Rome. At that time, Emperor Claudius II wanted more and more men to join his army; and figured out that single men made better soldiers. So he outlawed marriage. Valentine decided to help these young souls and began performing marriages for young lovers in secret. Valentine was caught and put in jail by the king. It was in the jail that the first ‘Valentine’ message was sent by him to the jailor’s daughter, with whom he fell in love. Before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed as “from your Valentine.”

That one letter has today turned into an avalanche of letters. If statistics are to be believed, then half of the US population celebrates Valentine’s Day by purchasing at least one greeting card. Who knew V’day would become the second largest holiday (after Christmas) for giving greeting cards; after all, giving a card is so much easier than writing letters, since there is now a card for every feeling and emotion... Some cynics say, Valentine’s Day was created by card companies to fill their coffers. I must say the strategy has paid off. Americans are spending to the tune of $13 billion on Valentine’s Day. Now that’s something to cheer about, not just for the card companies, but for the candy makers, the chocolate companies & teddy bear companies too. The Vermont Teddy Bear Company sells 100,000 teddy bears on this day. As much as 30% of its yearly sales come from Valentine’s Day sales itself. According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are sold on Valentine’s Day itself!

The amount that is being spent on Valentine’s Day is increasing every year, making it a very special day for retailers the world over. Almost everyone has something unique to offer to their customers on this day.

A couple of years back, Pepsi launched ‘Pepsi, Love Wrap’, where consumers could get their messages printed on customized labels. These labels would then be stuck on 500 ml Pepsi bottles and delivered by hand to their Valentines! McDonald’s too had come out with an offer called ‘All for my love’, which was a special Valentine meal combination, and it came with a special ‘scratch-and-win’ coupon. You could win shoes, chocolates, cosmetics, music and even jewellery.

Look what’s happened to those roses!

There was a time when the demand for roses used to shoot-up because a large event was coming up. Indian roses were in huge demand when UK was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Queen ascending the throne. The Chinese New Year also gave a boost to the export market of roses sometimes. Now, every year, the demand for roses shoots-up, thanks to Valentine’s Day. Around 13 million rose stems were exported from Bangalore and Pune in 2002. For those who believed in “Love lasts forever, roses don’t,” a company called I. K. Silver has come out with roses that stay in bloom forever. Skilled artisans coat each rose with 24 carat gold, thus preserving the bloom’s loveliness. At Rs.1,000 a stem, this rose is for the not-so-thrifty lovers. If this sounds steep, then consider this – in Singapore, cupid has struck so hard that people are paying $30 for roses with the name of their loved ones printed on the petals.

The business of loving

For those who think cola and roses are cheap options, there are bigger brands that have also planned ways to help you profess your love. From Titan watches with their ‘Big Heart’ limited edition watches, to Corum and its Rs.500,000 watch, you could express your love and your bank balance on this day!

Brands are doing a whole lot of things to increase their sales. In fact, Valentine’s Day has become the perfect time to launch new products. From coffee to cola, from scooty to suitcases, from special dinners to diamonds, everything is being customized for the V’day!

La Salle decided to introduce its “Panache” range of soft luggage on this day. Christian Dior made a splash into women’s watch segment on this day. So much so that a no-fuss bank with a serious image – SBI – decided to roll out a host of direct marketing activities on this day. They sent around 30,000 direct mailers. Each mailer had a card that read, “From Your Loving Husband.” The card, however, was dated Feb 14th, 2032. The mailers went on to explain that their lifelong pensions could give you financial independence forever. Even when you are sixty and not earning a regular salary, you can still keep showering your wife with gifts on special occasions like this. How sweet!

Not just this, the company decided to follow it up with an event at multiplexes, where visitors would be asked what they would give their wife when they would be sixty, and the best answer would win a prize of course. Pension policies never sounded more romantic.

So while you thought Valentine’s Day was only for the oh-so-much-in-love couples, a lot of firms are finding it the right day to express their love for – who else – their customers. The CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi came out with a book titled, Love Marks, the Future Beyond Brands. He proved how loving your customers generates a following for your brand, which he termed “loyalty beyond reason.” Al Ries (the famous ‘marketing warfare’ guru) too believed that tender-loving-care always helped in building loyalty for your brand; and what better a day to show it than Valentine’s Day.

Love in movies, malls and MTV

From Google changing its logo to suit the occasion, to TV channels customizing their programmes for the V’day, everyone is using love to promote themselves. Story lines of serials are changed to fit the event, so Jassi of Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin receives a Valentine gift from her boss Armaan on this day. Not to be left behind, Star Plus started a contest where you could mail Valentine messages to the characters of its popular serial Kahiin To Hoga. The best message would have won a dinner date with the stars of the serial. Zee Cinema came out with a whole movie festival around the love theme called Dil Deke Dekho.

This day of love is loved by the retailers, and where else is this more evident than in the malls. They are designing promotions in such a way that one can spend the whole day there. Keep spending, and let love keep flowing. Not surprising then, Fun Republic in Chandigarh created a record of sorts when 40,000 footfalls were clocked on 14th February (in 2005); and the McDonald’s outlet in their mall achieved its highest per day sales in the nation, at this very mall. Not just the mall, a whole lot of other brands have begun earmarking this day. MTV hosts its MTV Asia Awards bash on this day. Cashing in on love, the theme for the bash naturally is ‘Love’. Not just this, the Chicago based Wrigley decided to venture into chocolates just days before the nation, or rather the world, got into a love-frenzy. It bought a premium chocolate company in Russia just in time for Valentine’s Day! Even anti-love sells!

All those who don’t believe “love is a wonderful thing,” there are savvy marketers who have designed things to help you express your feelings. So while brands like GAP, DKNY are designing t-shirts with “I love you’s” and kisses planted on them, you could visit and design your own anti-Valentine t-shirt (and you thought only Shiv-Sena was anti-Valentine). You could get one that reads, “Love is for losers,” which, incidentally, also is also their official anti-Valentine’s day motto; or you could go in for stronger messages like “Love makes me puke.” So whether there is love in your life, or lack of it, marketers have found a way to spin money out of it. If there is something for couples, then there are a whole lot of offerings for singles too. The Taj Group has a vacation scheme for singles. The TVS Scooty invites single yuppies to answer questions like, “A Scooty Pep is preferable to a date because...”

The power of love

The business houses are loving this business of love. The V’day has cut across all barriers of caste language, religion and even age. Everybody, everywhere is celebrating it. If in 2001 people were spending on an average $82 on this day, then till last year the average spend had gone up to $100. What’s even more interesting – than the fact that the day is snowballing into a big event – is, the people in the age group of 45-54 are spending more and more each year on this day. While the 18-24 year olds actually are decreasing their spends! No wonder marketers whose target audience falls in the 40+ age group are promoting their goods like never before. In 2006, for the first time, De Beers launched its Valentine’s Day marketing campaign. The campaign was inspired from classic romance novels and ran during the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

While Star Plus may still be wondering if it was a good idea to run Kaun Banega Crorepati with King Khan, the department store ‘Lifestyle’ is sure its Valentine’s Day contest Kaun Banega Pati will generate a greater audience participation than KBC’s TRP. So be it Papa Murphy’s heart shaped pizzas in Vancouver (Canada) or the British Heart Foundation launching its online campaign of Valentine’s Day to encourage donation, when it comes to matters of the heart, savvy marketers know there is a lot of room for creativity and profits. After all, this is one day when you can shop to your heart’s content! “That’s the magic of the marketing of love.”

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