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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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This essay is going to aim at highlighting the psychological and cultural perspectives in consumer research, focusing on valentine's day as a consumer fantasyland. To understand the factors that play a role in the high level of consumerism associated with Valentine's day, it is essential that we understand the cultural and classical influences. The essay will also address how these perspectives have shaped the way in which marketing has become a fundamental aspect to how both genders experience Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day is presently a globally accepted and practiced phenomenon that has numerous stories explaining it. BBC (2017) reports that the most popular believed theory is that it's a holiday that celebrates the roman Saint, Valentine, who lived in the 3rd century AD. At a time when Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage, as he believed married men were weak. St Valentine viewed this as an injustice, thus carried out marriages secretly. Getting caught got him thrown in jail where he fell I love with a woman. On the day of his execution, February 14, he sent her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine'. This became part of a roman festival called Lupercalia, where boys would demonstrate their affections for girls. The church then afterwards decided to officially recognize February 14th as St Valentine's Day. Hence what is believed to be the birth this highly anticipated day.

Solomon (2016: 511-512) describes culture as “the accumulation of shared meanings, rituals, norms and traditions among the members of an organization or society. It is what defines a human community, its individuals, its social … economic and political systems”.

Culture is what sets the course for marketing and advertising campaigns, as it is the foundation of the drive behind decision making, i.e. purchase. This is because consumers are more gravitated towards what is familiar to them.

Today, Valentine's Day has gone from celebrating a loyalist of love to celebrating love in a much broader sense. This is one of the vastly celebrated holidays that has strayed so far from its origin of religion. Initially this phenomenon was mostly concentrated among couples (boyfriends and girlfriends/wives and husbands). However, over the years, valentine's day does not discriminate. It has become an instrument in how emotional life is presently interpreted and expressed. It is an experience celebrated among pets and pet owners, best-friends, co-workers, siblings etc. Leadem (2017) suggests that, with half of the American population classified as single, 25% whom have valentine's day plans, it is only economically correct to find a way to enhance the holiday for them too. 22% of valentine's day research on are directed at husbands, 20% at friends and 17% for boyfriends. This allows for friendship to be taken into deeper consideration for future analysis. With pick-ups of changing trends in society, marketers are able to make the most out of valentine's day. The consumers that shop for their parents and family also allows for new experiences such as family trips, which could eventually become a family tradition that is practiced each year. A clear example of why valentine's day is a consumer fantasyland.

A tremendous part of how this day is presently experienced is gift-giving and receiving. This practice was solidified by the 18th century. Throughout history, gift-giving has had different symbolisms based upon the situation at which it occurs, and the depth of affection towards the receiver. Gifts could serve as a token of peace, as an invitation, or as proposals (both business and personal). Belk (Mayet et al.) argues that gifts are usually given in special significant moments of a person's life, such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc. Belk also suggests that gifts could be given in order to strengthen personal relationships, to engage children in proper patterns as well as to urge economic trade. Mauss (Mayet et al) suggests that the act of giving, receiving and/or reciprocating gifts has become a naturalized requirement within a society. Mauss' (Mayet et al) studies conclude that the act of gift-giving is a self-sustaining system of reciprocity and summarised three sorts of commitments that safe guard gift-giving. Which are the obligation to give, the obligation the give and that of which to repay. In most cases, gift recipients will almost always judge their importance to the giver based upon the monetary value of the gift rather than the sentimental value it holds. This somewhat obliges gift-buyers to try and spend as much as they can on days such as valentine's day.

This concludes that gift-giving is deeply rooted in most cultures, which already creates a platform for marketers and advertisers to develop into a consumer fantasyland. As valentine's day has become a holiday for both couples, singles and all else in between, this holiday generates a great deal of money for an economy. The flowers, chocolate, candy, restaurant, jewellery and card markets are among those that benefit the most from valentine's day spending. Reports show a breakdown of spending in those markets in the US during valentine's day. 50% ($1.7 billion) of the total generated by this holiday is spent on candy, with 47%, 37%, 35% and 19% are spent on greeting cards, evening out, flowers and jewellery respectively (Amedeo, 2017). While the UK had an estimate of £3 billion.

However, even though valentine's day is a culprit of generating large amounts of money, less people are taking part in this holiday therefore less capital is being generated during valentine's day. Amadeo (2017) reports that the amount of those whom indulge in the commodities and services tied to valentine's day has been decreasing since the year 2007 in the US, perhaps the financial crisis is to blame. Only 54% celebrated the holiday this year, as opposed to the 54.8% in 2016 and the 63% in 2007. The forecast for valentine's day spending for 2017 was estimated at $18.2 billion. Showing a lower figure than the $19.7 billion that was spent in 2016. This is due to the decrease of GDP.  As basic needs become more of a challenge to meet and occupy most of the public's incomes, it is only natural for the hedonic needs to become partially ignored by individuals (Maslow's ‘hierarchy of needs' theory.).

The study also suggests that it might be due to an increase in the older population, as valentine's day was reported to be celebrated by 60% of those between 18 and 25, around 75% of those aged 25-34, less than 50 % of those between 55-64 and only 44.7 % of those that are 65 and above (Amadeo, 2017).

A study carried out by Groupon states that 70% of the UK population were predicted to participate in valentine's day in 2017, in comparison to Italy (91%) and France (83%) with higher rates of participants. The study also shows that the expected average spending on valentine's day for Spain, France, Italy, Germany and UK are £111.08, £107.33, £107.30, £83.77 and £49.64 respectively. Additionally, the study shows that 43% of Italians considered themselves as romantics, as opposed to the low 26% in the UK ( It could be argued that the difference in percentages is because Italy and France are historically and culturally more romance centred; this would naturally reflect in the level of commitment to a day dedicated to romance by different countries.

The psychological aspects of consumption that play a role in how valentine's day is experienced are a few. The key factor that fuels a person's drive is passion. Thus, the hedonic motivation and emotion behind valentine's day for most is love. We are driven by what we aspire towards, be it with love or hate in our hearts, the feeling is usually an overwhelming one. This tie between Valentine's Day and love is what makes this holiday the 4th most celebrated holiday worldwide. Valentine's Day not only symbolizes a single day but also plays a role in how people manage love in general. It entails putting our beloved ones on pedestals we wouldn't on a regular day. It could be argued that because valentine's day deals with the most personal feelings would cause consumers to be excited at the thought and sight of it. We have been conditioned by the media and everyone around us to value love since childhood, and to do our best to keep and maintain it once we have it. ‘Women fall in love through their ears and men through their eyes'. While men tend to concentrate on purchasing the perfect gift for their partners, women tend to focus on showing up looking perfect from head to toe. Alexandre suggest that gift-giving is a manner to materialize affection. However, on a more contradicting note, conspicuous consumption. This is a term coined by the sociologist Thorstein Veblen.

Due to the introduction of the middle class in the 20th century, Veblen suggests that consumerism has become more integrated with lifestyles, tastes, behaviours and attitudes. Veblen's theory depicts that the motivations behind a person's purchase goes deeper than their limitations. A person might indulge in a service or a good in order to a create temporary or a long lasting image of one's self. As a result of imitating that which is shown by the media, people indulge in large amounts of spending, there for solidifying the concept of valentine's day termed as a consumer fantasyland.

Studies show that men spend more than women on valentine's day. Due to societal norms (eastern and western) and naturalized patriarchal ideologies that have aroused historically and culturally. As these views viewed the woman as being under the care of the man. Men are naturally expected to do the spoiling on most special occasions and holidays. They are expected to glorify as many of their special lady's romantic valentine's day wishes. Men approximately spend twice as much as women on valentine's day (Amadeo, 2017). This is because men tend to earn higher wages than women do. This allows for them to have a looser pocket when shopping for loved ones on holidays.

On the flipside, in cultures such as that of Japan, women are the ones expected to dominate gift-giving during valentine's day while men are expected to do the reciprocating about a month after February 14th (Spitzer, 2016).

Sociologist, Alexander, argues that since valentine's day happens each year on the same day, it has become more of a ritual (. I believe it could be argued that valentine's day might slowly becoming more of biogenic need rather than a psychogenic one. From experience, I can state that my female friends have previously denied themselves proper nutrition in order to afford a certain image on valentine's day. This underline's just how much valentine's day is valued within society.  Alexander also adds that society encourages this holiday as it assists in reminding people that romance and coupling are a significant aspect of society. This serves as an advantage to markets as it provides consistency, which allows for companies to know exactly how to market and who to target every year round. It also gives a reasonable amount of time for said companies to identify any new and trending attitudes for their future campaigns. I believe that the factor of consistency also plays a role in the manner in which people receive, register and naturalize holidays such as valentine's day. Year in year out we are given new and different indicators of ‘love', new information to associate with love. This aids in making people anticipate being treated and cared for the same as on this ‘sacred' holiday.

The media is one of the major shapers of Valentine's Day, be it through movies, music, advertisements etc. This is because we learn, make assumptions and build taste based on our understanding of the world, which a great deal of is reported through the media. The media does not necessarily have persuade us buy something, it's purpose could solely be to change the public's current view about something. In the past 2 decades, companies started to notice that there was an untapped market among those that are single on valentine's day. Organized and themed parties for the singles on valentine's day became popular amongst different cultures in different countries, especially in the west. Nowadays people enjoy treating not only their human loved ones but also their pets. The British were estimated to spend approximately £27 million on pets alone this valentine's day. Treats and grooming salons are only a few among the festivities enjoyed by pets on valentine's day. Hence, broadening the concept of valentine's day as a consumer fantasyland and provides new markets for companies to tap into and develop. Using specific methods targeted differently at different age groups.

Although the majority of the global population view valentine's day as a day of displaying and receiving affection, there is also a rather large portion that associates it with heartache and despair. The advertising of valentine's day is laid on the public so thick and this sometimes causes social problem. Seeing as to how holidays can be psychologically stressful, as they are physically due to the high expectations and efforts tied to them, the idea of going through a popular holiday like valentine's day alone can create a strong feeling of isolation (Alexander cited in McDonald). This could be due to numerous factors. Such as, because it serves as a reminder of some failed past relationships, it also serves as a reminder to some that they and their partner do not have the luxury of being together on this special day, or creating unnecessary conflict due to high expectations of the valentine's day experience not being met.

Tomassi (2006) Reports that the 2 weeks prior and post valentine's day holds the largest percentage of couples getting divorced. Chang and Cheifetz (dailymail, 2011) American lawyers, also state that there is a visible rise in divorce around valentine's day. Chang argues that there are two main categories of people in relation to the spike of divorces around Valentine's Day, the ‘delayed new year's resoluters' and the ‘waiting to exhalers'.  The delayed new year's resoluters are those granting their new year's wish to becoming single, the waiting to exhalers are those whom use valentine's day as a gauge to help in assessing whether the relationship is worth continuing with or not. Tomassi (2017) argues that it could also be because a divorce is the best present you could give to a man or woman that is dating a married person.  

Even though valentine's day is practiced slightly different across different cultures, valentine's day remains one of the most anticipated holidays in both social and consumption perspectives. It has been referred to by scholars as a basis a form of globalization. No doubt it has become a medium for not only couples, but for everyone that wishes to express their love fellow companions. More importantly, it has become a medium for companies to indulge in creating new and refined forms of experiences for this special day, as well as to branch out into other markets. Such as the pet lovers market. However, the rates of divorces and depressions do seem to spike at that specific time of the year and might not perhaps be as cheery a holiday as thought by most.

(source: Aime, 2011)

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