Whether it’s a well thought out greeting card left on the back seat, a beautiful bouquet of roses hanging on for dear life, or empty pockets on February 15th, we each have our own Valentine’s Day traditions. In fact, this day—dedicated to showering our partner with consumer-driven affection—is the highest grossing annual holiday outside of Christmas. There’s plenty of love to give, but how exactly did Valentine’s Day become the day virtually all consumer industries salivate over? Strangely enough, it began in Rome with streaking and animal sacrifices.
The Feast of Lupercalia was a pagan festival celebrating health and summoning animal fertility, with origins dating back to 44 BCE. This controversial feast consisted of animal sacrifices, wine overflowing, and streaking men draped only in goatskins. As centuries passed, the barbaric holiday became increasingly unpopular among the upper class. Around 496 AD, Pope Gelasisus I banned the festival and converted it to the Christian Feast of St. Valentine, which would be honored on February 14th.
The earliest historical artifact associating St. Valentine’s Day with “love” was Geoffrey Chaucer’s 700-line poem, entitled “Parliament of Foules”, written in 1382. Esther A. Howland, whose family owned a bookstore in Britain, commodified this “love” concept and used it to create a lucrative Valentine’s Day American gift card industry in the mid-19th century. This paved the way for ubiquitious staples such as candy hearts, chocolates and roses. Although Howland was first to capitalize on Valentine’s Day in America, two of these items had been previously married to “romance” in other countries.
Sweden’s Charles II, who communicated in flowers, assigned the message of love to red roses in 1714. This later became a common practice in Europe. In 1822, the Cadbury chocolate company sold its first heart-shaped box of chocolates in England. The Chase brothers of the New England Confectionery Company then used vegetable dye to write romantic messages on candies, which became heart-shaped by 1904. This and the following decade also saw the creation of Hershey Kisses (1907) and Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards (1913). As consumer culture around the holiday grew in America, the De Beers diamond company launched its “Diamonds is Forever” campaign—the first time jewelry was associated with love. Soon after, Kay Jewelers coined one of the most famous, simplistic jingles in marketing: “every kiss begins with Kay.” Although it’s rarely known, the most powerful video-streaming site in the world also started with Valentine’s Day.
On February 14, 2005, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim originally founded YouTube as an online dating site. Although the site was soon converted to the content powerhouse it is today, Co-Founder Chen still credits the idea to “three guys on Valentine’s Day that had nothing to do.” Today, Valentine’s Day continues to grow in the digital age with eCards, apps that allow the user to send gifts, and warm social media campaigns. Whether or not you celebrate this holiday, its huge influence in the marketing industry ensures that you’ll be feeling the love around this time every year.