Brands court customers with different tactics this Covid-tinged Valentine’s Day

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This year, Valentine’s Day will be less sexy, more self-care.

With the virus still in full swing and consumer behavior still stuck in a new normal, some brands have rethought their traditional Valentine’s Day pitch to be more at-home friendly. Others, such as meal kits and wine delivery, have gotten more traction than usual. Marketers are also expanding ad messages to include more than just romantic partners.

But the memory of “shippagedon” around the 2020 holidays motivated companies to push customers to order sooner to avoid late deliveries. Ad campaigns also began running ads about a week earlier which led to more expensive inventory.

“We started ordering flowers in September for Valentine’s Day,” said Joseph Ayoub, co-founder of Dose of Roses. Dose of Roses sent out text messages and emailed customers to buy early, to avoid delivery delays due to Covid-19. 1-800-Flowers offered discounts to customers who ordered before January 31.

There’s a lot at stake: U.S. adults will spend a total of $21.8 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, down from the record $27.4 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

“We’re seeing a lot more [Valentine’s Day] gift guide content as brands move away from experiences and towards gifts,” said Kristina Nolan, vp of affiliate marketing at DMi Partners, which works with large media companies like Condé Nast, Hearst, and Meredith. “Our media partners say they’ll produce 4 times more content than they usually do.” Nolan said that, year to date, DMi’s food and wine category revenues are up 24% year over year, but did not provide exact figures.

Consumers’ moods around the holiday have changed — 73% of those celebrating the holiday said it’s important to do so given the pandemic and the tough year we’ve all been through. Brands are reflecting this in ad messaging, with language such as “treat yourself,” “self care,” and promoting Galentine’s, and even gifts for pets.

“We saw the ‘buying for oneself’ category nearly double from 6% in 2019 to 10.5% in 2020,” said Alejandro Bethlen, ceo of The Bouq’s Company, a DTC flower company. He said they are expecting strong YoY growth this Valentine’s Day because of consumers treating themselves to flowers this year, or sending flowers to loved ones. 

The Bouq’s Co. started advertising for Valentine’s Day on January 18, 10 days earlier than usual. This year, they also opted to run 25% of their ads on TV, and the rest digitally. “We’ve spent the same amount, but shifted our channels,” Bethlen said, but declined to share ad costs.

“For the floral category, we can see Valentine’s Day take up as much as 40% to 50% of the total marketing budget,” said Johnathan Fanucci, svp of performance at 360i. He also noted that ad costs, especially in search and shopping, are up 10 to 20% this year. He did not provide exact figures. “Part of it is the holiday, but it’s also that there’s more interest from an e-commerce standpoint and there’s more advertising as companies go digital,” he said. 

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Brian Tapfar, vp director of paid social at Digitas, added that some clients frontloaded their budgets this year and started advertising about a week earlier. “We spent most of the budget in the last week so people would order on time.”

The flower company also introduced SKU’s specific to Galentine’s Day. “We’re seeing growth in this category. More women are gifting proactively,” says Fanucci. Bouq’s is also planning to expand into plants like succulents and snake plants, after noticing their popularity among millennials.

Other brands are eschewing the traditional “sexiness” associated with the holiday. 

ThirdLove, the DTC bra company, started leaning into comfort when the pandemic ramped up. CEO Heidi Zak says there was a surge in underwear sales and wireless bras, as women redid their underwear drawers. “Covid was a catalyst in the trend towards comfort,” she said.

This year, the company is trying a new ad campaign aimed at enticing folks to buy a ThirdLove gift card so their significant other can buy lingerie that suits their body and style. It’s also releasing a coral-colored lace bra with matching underwear that can be bought together or separately. “We’re not the brand that does the loud, red set,” said Zak. “We want to do sexy in an elevated, comfortable way.”

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