Why marketers still celebrate consumer-based holidays, such as Valentine’s Day

A white feather, chocolates arranged in the shape of a heart, rose petals
“Essence of love with sweet chocolate and Strawberries #1 [Happy Chocholate day]” by Kumar’s Edit, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

One of the questions I get often from friends is why people in communications and marketing still celebrate consumer-based holidays (such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It’s a fair question, since we are supposed to be such “experts” on how product companies utilize these holidays to get consumers to buy things.

There are three main reasons we still go out, buy things, and celebrate:

The holiday & traditions are important to someone else in our lives

I first witnessed this when I was interning at the Kellogg Company in their snacks division. High-level marketing executives would rush out of their offices in the middle of the day for a chance to get their child the toy craze of that holiday season. Why? Because, even though these executives knew the techniques very well that made their child want the toy and made them willing to rush around to get it, their child didn’t care about those, their child wanted the toy, and sometimes, it’s not worth the battle to explain to the child why they shouldn’t want it.

If you want to test this theory, try telling your mother that you will no longer be celebrating Mother’s Day because it’s a “Hallmark holiday” and see what kind of reaction you get. Oh and email me about the experience, I’d love a good laugh.

Emotion and societal norms play a huge role

The vast majority of the consumer-based holidays are based around religion, cultural traditions, and personal relationships, which makes them highly emotional for the vast majority of us. This makes it difficult for anyone, even someone who is trained in the influential techniques, to not react emotionally to them.

As Robert Cialdini, best-selling author and professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, humbly points out in his best-selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, even he falls prey to the subtle, but powerful influences of his emotions, societal norms, and cues in his environment. In many cases, it’s because we’ve developed patterns of behavior that become routine and thus we don’t question them. For example Valentine’s Day=buy a card and chocolates for your loved one (which yes, I did this year).

The holidays are rooted in a positive intention

Is it wrong to take a day and celebrate the love we have in our lives? Is it wrong to show appreciation to the people who raised us? Most definitely not. We should be celebrating these things. And I would argue that most of us need an external reminder to take some time to do so, such as a designated societal day.

What this doesn’t mean, however, is that it needs to be celebrated in a consumer-centric way. This may be something as simple as not having your Valentine’s Day dinner on the actual day, or it may mean something more, such as not exchanging gifts on major gift-giving holidays. As long as the other people involved are on board (see the first heading), then you can choose to retain the positive intention of these holidays and celebrate them another way.

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