Putting together a Valentine’s Day social post used to mean hastily photoshopping your product into the shape of a heart, or writing a witty one-liner that implied your product was the perfect Valentine’s gift for someone you’d like to have sex with.
But the world has changed and advertising needs to keep up. Thanks to a cultural shift towards increased social and political awareness, we’re now regularly seeing thoughtful, insight-driven and often progressive campaigns instead of sexist clichés about gender and relationships. The Feast of Saint Valentine is still a loud and overcrowded buffet of brands competing for attention, but the content they should serve is no longer heart-shaped or sprinkled with petals.
Breaking up with offensive content
Social has given people a powerful platform to voice their concerns about social issues and inequalities. If users don’t like what they see in their feed, they speak up - especially when it comes to branded content. Regardless of their politics, brands have no choice but to keep up with shifting values or risk a PR disaster.
The result is that companies have never been held so accountable for what they stand for. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was appointed to Trump’s advisory council; users boycotted the app as #DeleteUber trended on Twitter. In a completely baffling move, Snapchat created a Bob Marley lens; users made it very clear that they were not okay with promoting blackface.
More than ever, advertisers are being held responsible for reflecting a fairer society in their work. Unilever recently discovered that nearly 70% of 9,000 people surveyed believe the world would be a better place if children could grow up without being exposed to gender stereotypes in media and marketing. Which brings us to the cliché minefield that is Valentine’s Day.
The Valentine’s gift of fairer advertising
While the 14th of February used to be a celebration of everything red, heart-shaped and traditional, brands simply can’t get away with dated stereotypes about gender and relationships anymore. If they want a share of the estimated £1.6 billion that Brits spend for Valentine’s Day, they need to work harder.
This means that instead of advertisements that insinuate if you give a women flowers she will give you sex, such as Teleflora’s 2012 Super Bowl ad starring Adriana Lima:
And campaigns that suggest women ‘give him wood’ for Valentine’s Day, like this 2011 effort from Ann Summers:
...we’re seeing ads that don’t position women as gift-hungry sex-objects. Like Coco de Mer’s new (and slightly NSFW) ad starring Pamela Anderson, which turns traditional gender roles on their head with the crazy notion that a woman can enjoy Valentine’s Day even if she doesn’t have a partner.
Unoriginal Tweets like the below don’t slip by unnoticed like they used to. If your content would be more at home in a Jane Austen novel, your audience will call you out.
— Michael Hill (@michaelhill) January 26, 2015
This trend towards progressive Valentine’s Day insights isn’t limited to reflecting changing gender roles. Brands are celebrating all kinds of love and relationships by featuring groups who have been sidelined on Valentine’s Day in the past.
— Lush North America (@lushcosmetics) January 19, 2017
Brands don’t need to send a political message on Valentine’s Day. But if you decide to compete with all the noise on February 14th, use it as an opportunity to make your brand stand out for being creative, insightful, subversive or progressive. Consumers won’t let you get away with anything less.