Someone feeling lonely at home, on a day set apart for showcasing grand gestures of love, might go out and buy lipstick in an attempt to put up a show of love on social media
“Can’t buy me love’’ is believed to be the absolute truth by romantics worldwide – until it’s Valentine’s Day. On the 14th of February, the United States alone spends around $29 billion. Even though the origins of the holiday remain a mystery to this day, it is not limited to a single corner of the globe. Red hearts and roses have become symbols of love all over the world. According to some, the only way to save money on Valentine’s Day might be to declare oneself unlovable because otherwise one is most certainly expected to invest in a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses as proof of love.
Historically, those benefiting the most from Valentine’s Day have been large corporations. These bank on the idea of people spending large sums of money on valentines, as if it were an unavoidable obligation to their loved ones. In the US, companies such as the American Greeting Company, Flowers.com, Hershey’s and Tiffany benefit the most from the holiday. This is due to the fact that flowers, chocolates, greeting cards and jewellery have gradually developed into standard purchases for the day. These companies advertise themselves as flag-bearers of this symbolism and their media campaigns promote the concept of spending to express love. Television and social media too play a huge role in propagating the ideals of love-buying.
Over time, television has become one of the most reliable means of advertising and creating corporate demand the world over. On Valentine’s Day it is not just through TV ads that the concept of spending money as an obligation to show love is put forward; rather the narrative takes over almost every programme. Movie channels show a never-ending stream of the most cheesy rom-coms, music channels play their most romantic songs, regular TV shows broadcast their Valentine’s Day specials and reality shows follow suit. With all this effort being put in, love is in the air and viewers everywhere are forced to constantly think about the forms of love in their lives on this particular day. Television is also used to promote the idea that just thinking about it is not enough.
During the month of February, TV channels are flooded with red hearts and the word ‘love’. This year, several makeup companies like The Body Shop asked viewers, “Are you feeling the love yet?” Through its television campaign, the company asked viewers to apply their new shade of lipstick and send a kiss to the people they wanted love from. A possible outcome of this ad campaign could be that someone feeling lonely at home, on a day set apart for showcasing grand gestures of love, might go out and buy lipstick in an attempt to put up a show of love on social media platforms. TV ads also encourage consumers to showcase their spending on social media with various hashtags.
The multinational transport company Uber jumped on this romantic bandwagon as well. They used a television ad showing a young man in a state of extreme anxiety over forgetting to buy flowers for his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. However, this problem, which perhaps would not have been a problem without Uber promoting consumerist culture, was solved by a few taps on his phone. The day was saved by spending money on Uber and a happy girlfriend appeared with her flowers, followed by the hashtag ‘romance on demand’. The distressed boy in the Uber ad shows how one must go to any lengths to validate their feelings on Valentine’s Day.
Netflix, the top content streaming platform in the world, followed this Valentine’s Day tradition as well. Not only did the “recommended” section transform into an area filled with romantic programming, the streaming service used this occasion for the release of ten new shows, movies and specials. During the week of February 14, every day was marked by the release of a new romantic special.
In Pakistan, markets and streets saw an abundance of red. The Defence main boulevard and Liberty Market were flagged by red heart balloons and overflowing flower markets. Prices of these goods skyrocketed. Everyone had their hands tied under the obligation to express love on Valentine’s Day. Flowers and chocolate became a necessity – something everyone must buy no matter the price.
The trend was not very obvious on Pakistani television. Where there once used to be special telefilms and morning shows to mark the occasion, there were now news reports and clips discussing love on Valentine’s Day instead. This might have been a result of a previous warning to the media to refrain from promoting the holiday for being “un-Islamic”. However, Pakistani television did not completely miss out on the occasion either. News channels picked up the slack left by Valentine’s Day specials in other ways. Reporters went around documenting the celebrations of the occasion and asking people if they thought Valentine’s Day should be celebrated. In other countries, such as India, Valentine’s Day specials were broadcast on a larger scale.
Valentine’s Day has long been reserved for a declaration of love. Over time, this holiday has become a means of expressing love by spending money. Being the ultimate promoter of love-buying on this day, television all over the world has been swept into this consumerist tradition as well.
The writer is a staff member and a political science student at LUMS