Falling In Love With V-Day?

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day—it always feels like a cheesy manufactured holiday to me—but it is an $18-billion business, so I suppose it deserves some attention in this February column.

I decided to browse the Internet in search of Valentine's Day marketing campaigns that achieved something unique, something other than the usual buy-her-roses-and-diamonds themes. To my surprise, I found some, and I have to admit I’ve even fallen in love with a few of them. Each one capitalizes on the occasion while staying true to its brand. And I suppose you could say that just like love itself, Valentine's Day still has the capacity to surprise.

The first campaign that won me over comes from a brand forever associated with the holiday: Necco, whose "Sweethearts" candies have been part of Valentine's Day for 150 years this year. Who would have thought that you could come up with a brand-new way to market the candy hearts beloved of schoolchildren everywhere? But they did it: To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the product, they created a truly compelling campaign that celebrates "sweethearts" of all kinds.



The campaign centerpiece video focuses on Jack and George, who have achieved the seemingly impossible, sustaining a happy 55-year relationship in Texas, and who celebrated their marriage in 2015, as soon as same-sex marriage was legalized in that state. As Michael McGee, Necco CEO, said in a recent interview, "When you see how they interact with each other—their strength, their genuineness, their commitment to each other—they are just so endearing."

Another wonderful Necco ad looks at the transformative effect of a once-abandoned dog on a young, formerly non-communicative boy with autism. Consumers are invited to enter a contest on the Necco website with their stories "of sharing, love, friendship and words from the heart." The videos and the contest convinced me that there is much more to be said about Valentine's Day than I previously imagined, and demonstrated again what can be achieved when you throw off the past and start from scratch.

Having raised a son in the thick of the Harry Potter years, I also got a kick out of the V-Day promotion hosted by the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. The studio is offering a special “Valentine’s Dinner in the Great Hall” for couples that includes a “bewitching” three-course banquet, drinks at Platform 9¾, and their own wands at the end of the evening—as well as, of course, an after-hours studio tour. The $715 per-couple price tag would leave me breathless for a different reason, but if you're a true lover (of Harry Potter), clearly the magic of Valentine's Day is worth it. 

I was impressed by this campaign for two reasons: its creative re-purposing of assets in a fresh and original way, and the park's thorough knowledge of the property that allowed it to go beyond the usual Harry Potter themes and capitalize on the love stories (Harry and Ginny Weasley, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger) that were born at Hogwarts. 

Finally, who knew that the alt-superhero Deadpool had a soft spot? The latest banner ad created for the upcoming Ryan Reynolds film focuses not on violence, revenge, or even superpowers, but on the potential romance between Deadpool and Copycat (played by Marena Baccarin), with the killer tagline “True love never dies”—a playful allusion to the super healing powers Deadpool developed after being subjected to a highly unorthodox experiment. Yes, even a motormouthed antihero can take time to stop and smell the Valentine's Day roses.  

The thing I love about this development is the sense of humor that went into it, which was clearly approved from the top. Taking a brand and giving it an unexpected quirky twist is a risky move, but one that pays off in spades (or hearts) when it's done right.

So while I still don't love Valentine's Day (although if my husband had an out-of-body experience and decided to buy me a diamond for the big day, I wouldn't reject it immediately), I can honestly say that I've looked at the holiday in a new light thanks to these campaigns. I'd say the message is clear: think outside the chocolate box, add a kiss of humor, and take your recipient by surprise.  Someone might even fall in love with you.

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