Is Valentine’s Day for keeps?

No cultural institution is immune to change. With attitudes to romance evolving at pace, we wanted to trace the history of this annual PR touchstone and ask what it really means in today’s society.

The origins of the festival are anything but romantic – according to legend, St V restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer before being somewhat gruesomely martyred. Later embellishments align his story more closely to affairs of the heart – an 18th-century addition claims that his amorous farewell letter to the same daughter was signed “Your Valentine”; another posits that he performed weddings for Christians forbidden to marry.

Feb 14th was claimed for courtly love as early as 1477 – and by 1822, the year that Cadbury’s sold their first heart-shaped box of chocolates, the annual flurry of anonymous gifts and cards was well established. In 1866 the first ‘Love Hearts’ appeared, with vegetable dye used to print cute messages on sweets. Hallmark got in on the game with their first valentine’s card in 1938, and De Beers caught up in 1938 with the strapline May Your Happiness last as long as your diamonds!

St Valentine can also claim responsibility for a digital phenomenon – according to Youtube founder Steve Chen, it began as a dating site built by “three single guys with nothing to do” on Feb 14th 2005.

Today, Valentine’s norms are being challenged, and we set out to map some of this year’s anti-val campaigns with a less traditional spin.

An antidote to commercial language and the unrealistic expectations it creates around Valentine’s, Twitter’s integrated campaign Ode to Cringe Humour sees an outdoor and underground billboard takeover, featuring real tweets about the face-palm reality of the dating world.

Taste Card reached out to the self-partnered this year, with some novel self-love inspiration. Diners at the Self-Love restaurant ate in front of a mirror flashing periodically with motivational quotes. For the final course the mirrors came down, revealing another lone diner opposite! Diners then had the chance to split a two-for one offer, or continue dining solo.

Our personal favourite however had to be El Paso Zoo’s “Quit Bugging Me!” promotion, which offered participants the chance to ‘name a cockroach after your ex’. The special insects were then fed to a host of hungry animals, including meerkats, primates and birds. Just…wow.

A teddy-bear holding a chocolate heart suddenly feels so 1999. Clearly attitudes have come a long way in a short time! But with V-Day spending estimated at £855 million in 2020, (an increase of nearly 25% since 2017) and with pinterest searches for ‘Galentine’s Day Ideas’ increasing 1780% year-on-year, nobody is about to let Feb 14th become any-other-day.

Here at instinct, we had a lot fewer call-ins for traditional Valentine’s gifts with a lot more focusing around self love and friendship – what’s not to love about that? One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be fascinating to watch this Valentine’s beast evolve. Bring on the cockroaches! (NB don’t actually bring cockroaches. You know where to send the chocolate hearts.)