Valentine's Day: Five marketing lessons

Love is in the air; but are you making the most of it? We take a look at five companies doing things a little bit differently this Valentine's Day

Romance is big business: in 2008, Britons spent £1.6bn and an average of £70 wooing their loved ones. If you're a restaurateur or hotelier, you will undoubtedly notice a surge in bookings as February 14 approaches; if you're a florist or jeweller, it may well be your busiest time of the year.

But if your business doesn't naturally lead to consumers eager to profess their love to one another beating down your door, can you still get in on the action? With a little bit of creativity, you can.

Here are five businesses that have demonstrated entrepreneurial Valentine's Day campaigns. Our list covers both large and small companies, as well as those that are a natural port of call for romantic purchases - and some that aren't.

1. Promotions

This one's a real gem (no pun intended). London's Gilgamesh restaurant has created a Valentine's Day-inspired cocktail called 'Diamonds are Forever', priced at £10.50, to accompany the romantic, three-course set menu crafted by head chef Ian Pengelley. Nothing earth-shattering there; however, one lucky customer will find a real round brilliant cut diamond in the bottom of their glass.

The £800 rock comes courtesy of jewellers Madison Diamond Rings, and the promotion will undoubtedly generate word of mouth buzz and press coverage for the restaurant. The lucky winner will then be offered a one-to-one consultation with the jeweller, where they can pick out and purchase the setting of their choice - potentially boosting sales and PR for both firms.

2. PR

Thou shalt not send out tenuous press releases. Amid the various Valentine's Day surveys hitting our inboxes, informing us, for instance, that IT professionals are the most predisposed to having an office fling, there was one that grabbed our attention; retail giant Debenhams took a slightly different approach with its 'lingerie commandments' - a guide for the many flustered male shoppers who don't know their basques from their balconettes.

Debenhams hopes the campaign will not only help male customers buy the right gift - but also save the firm time and money by reducing the vast number of items returned by women a few days later. So great is this trend, apparently, that the retailer has coined the term 'Monday Undies' - lingerie is typically bought by men on a Saturday and promptly returned by women on a Monday.

"The lingerie commandments are a great introduction, as they mean that all our staff will be able to offer relevant, important expert advice on shopping for lingerie gifts," says Mina Abban-Mensah, personal shopper at Debenhams Oxford Street.

3. Social media

Dr Pepper doesn't exactly scream romance and seduction, but that hasn't stopped the drinks brand from getting in on the Valentine's action. Instead, the firm has played on its brand name and famous advertising slogan to find a campaign that fits.

The result: 'The Spin Doctor', a Valentine's Facebook app aimed at the teen market. When users 'like' the app, it chooses six of their friends at random and 'spins the bottle' to land on one of those friends. It then generates a "cheeky Valentine's message" which will be posted on the friend's wall. Users are encouraged to play with the well-known one-liner: "Come on - what's the worst that could happen?"

Dr Pepper is a brand that uses social media particularly well and already has an impressive following. Its Dr Pepper UK page (featuring the app) is liked by 280,697 people. The app has been promoted on the page since early Feb, along with general posts about Valentine's Day which have elicited hundreds of comments from fans, including our personal favourite: "What's worse than a dateless Valentine's Day? Last year's when I knocked a plate of hot spaghetti into my date's lap - epic fail! What's the biggest Valentine's Day fail you've had?"

4. Recruiting

Not a consumer business, you say? Well, this hasn't stopped accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) from using Valentine's Day to its advantage. The company's student recruitment team will be heading out to university campuses across the UK today armed with around 1,000 heart-shaped, PwC-branded helium balloons, all displaying the message: 'Being the one at the heart of the best opportunities'.

Cheesy? Perhaps, but PwC is confident of a good result. Recruiters will hit Oxford, Cambridge, Kings, Imperial, Durham, Bristol and Edinburgh - to name but a few - and the firm, which is keen to attract the top graduate talent, says it has found this kind of campaign an effective way of engaging with students. PwC branding is visible across the campus all day, as students take the balloons to lectures, the union, and the bar, helping to raise its profile and kudos among potential employees even further.

5. Crowdsourcing

Blur Group, which specialises in crowdsourcing and digital marketing, is giving marketers the chance to declare their love (or voice their frustrations) for their marketing agency this Valentine's Day.

The company itself was set up to challenge the traditional agency/client relationship, by building a platform where companies and creatives can come together to deliver campaigns. "Of all the innovations in marketing one thing hasn't changed - the way companies source their creative/marketing campaigns. The agency relationship is ingrained within marketers' mindsets," says Dorothy Mead, who describes the blur Group as a trading floor for creative buying and selling. "We've crowdsourced the creatives, and the other side is businesses submitting a brief online - and getting results fast."

The company has now created a portal where businesses can post messages - anonymously or otherwise - sharing their thoughts of their agency. "We launched the Valentine's campaign to make people think about these agency relationships, what is it that makes them so valuable - is it having that much-needed advice and support, or is it totally down to the quality of work," says Mead. "We've also invited people to say why perhaps things have gone a bit sour."

However, Mead insists the name of the game is not to criticise agencies, but rather increase their understanding of how they can improve their offering as an alternative. She says the response so far has been "interesting", with some good and some "less happy" comments on the anonymous message board, plus a lot of buzz across social networks. "Some of the tweets have been from traditional agencies, which proves they're recognising an alternative in us," she says, adding that blur Group has been built solely using social media.

"We measure everything that happens across [social networking] channels as our main metric; combined with traditional website analytics to see visitors, impressions etc. In the early stages of a business making sure that you can monitor how much attention you're getting is a key indicator. We're lucky that this attention has turned into business, month-on-month growth and profits."


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