Valentine’s Day Guilt and Pleasure

If you are employed in marketing should you care about how sales are made just as long as they are? Are there limits to what is acceptable practice? Of course there are rules about offending people, and making misleading claims, but what I’m really thinking about are the subtle consequences of manipulating people’s sense of inadequacy and playing with their expectations.

Is Valentine’s Day just a bit of harmless fun in a troubled and stressful world? Or is it the delibrate exploitation of superficial material and consuming passions for the mere gain of business? It might seem that the school that banned Valentines cards in Somerset UK was over reacting. I’m not so sure.

Marketing Management exhorts us to think about what the product ‘does’ rather than what it ‘is’. We’re not in the greeting card business we’re in the ‘making people happy’ business. The question is whose happiness are we talking about. Let’s not forget that Valentine’s Day in the modern sense is a retail ploy to get sales going after the Christmas lull. Sure the receiver of cards and gifts will feel happy. We only have to check out Steven Reiss’s work on the 16 basic motivators that define our peronality to see a suggestion that Valentine’s day taps into some fundamental motivations that drive purchases. ‘Lurve’ being one of the strongest motivations to buy things.

But if what our product ‘does’ is play on emotions, confront people with rejection, create a sense of guilt, engender a feeling of inadequacy, fool people into believing that the square footage of the card is directly proportional to the extent of love intended surely this is just as unethical as a misleading product statement and offensive images and language?

What if something more profound for society is going on? The constant drip, drip, drip of messages that pervade the air waves, digital spaces, and public spaces surely sets a social ‘tone’. Everything sincere becomes ‘tokenised’. Buy this gift and it will represent how you truly feel, buy this card to make a statement of your love. In this sense Valentine’s day simply adds another drop of water to the social stalactite of uncritical thinking and irresponsibility.

How many people got up early this morning to belatedly shop for flowers, gifts and cards? Not because they loved their partner any less today, but out of fear that their love was not being overtly demonstrated in the superficially expected way retailers tell us it should be. Makes you wonder if the person you are with has become so beguiled with the ‘retail message’ that they actually believe you don’t love them if a card doesn’t accompany this mornings boiled egg and soldiers.

How many people have Marketing professionals made unhappy today I wonder? Unsure you are in love? check out Am I In Love to find out!

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