Unlocking the Power of Love: Aligning Brands With Key Cultural Moments

Valentine’s Day is a massive cultural bandwagon for brands to jump onto. It also has serious economic clout—with an estimated worth of more than $25 billion—so it is easy to see the appeal and potential of the brand opportunity. For many this opportunity pays off. But brands, like anyone else on Valentine’s Day, can get it wrong if they’re thoughtless.

The Winners

The winners are those who are authentic and relevant to their brand, their audience, an inherent truth or by tapping into the zeitgeist. The Spotify x Tinder collaboration from a couple of years ago is a notable example. Music is the number one ‘passion’ that Tinder members include on their profile, and it found that adding an anthem to a dating profile improves swiping experience. By creating a Tinder Valentine’s Spotify Playlist of top love themed podcasts and anthems from profiles, the two brands brought audiences and their use of the platforms together in a relevant and authentic way. It required no stretch of the imagination; it just worked.

Another brand that does great Valentine’s Day initiatives is Airbnb. Romance and travel already go hand in hand, but Airbnb does great riffs on this theme. A competition to stay in Romeo and Juliet’s House in Verona, top rentals with the most marriage proposals or real-life travel-based love stories, the ideas are all neat, simple and effective.

Ikea’s suggestive approach to applying the Valentine’s theme to its products is also a winner. It works because it stays in keeping with the brand’s playful tone of voice and appeals to its audiences’ sense of humor.

The Losers

Some ideas are so bad you wonder how they got approved. The finance app Revolut was accused of ‘single-shaming’ for its painfully thoughtless Valentine’s campaign which used spending data on single takeaway meals to ask its customers, “you OK hun?” It made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Described as “exploitative” and “cruel,” it also suggested it was prying into customers’ spending data and making fun of their choices, undermining its own brand integrity in the process. Something went very wrong in the creative process here, and it’s a definite Valentine’s fail.

B2B Brands Can Win, Too

The Valentine’s bandwagon has space for B2B businesses, too. Take the day back to some essential concepts, and you’ve got an occasion about relationships and love. The concept has stretched beyond purely romantic relationships, and into relationships that matter—the ones we care about. And here is where possibilities open up for B2B businesses savvy enough to know their audiences’ needs and wants. If the business’ tone of voice can tolerate some informality, then Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to tell customers you appreciate them or deliver above and beyond their expectations of you.

Does the Love Last?

For the majority of brands, arguably Valentine’s Day doesn’t offer the same opportunities for aligning in the long run as perhaps a holiday like Christmas does. But that doesn’t seem to matter for most brands that have Valentine’s successes. Here are several insights to keep in mind when aligning your brand with a cultural moment:

  • Use the occasion as an opportunity to demonstrate brand humor, values or tone of voice, rather than trying to become part of a cultural moment long-term.
  • Unless the fit is really obvious (1-800-Flowers and Valentine’s Day, for example) becoming part of a cultural moment or mood is not achieved with one campaign. It requires relentless, consistent and successful effort over time, gradually increasing relevance with the audience. Become part of the tradition through repetition.
  • Great audience and product fit will make it easier to own moments, big or small. And that’s a key lesson: brand partnerships or cultural alignment in the mind of the consumer must start with audience and product relevance, and the common ground in values and experiences.

Susannah Morgan is Deputy Managing Director of UK-based Energy PR.