February 11, 2016

Pub Talk: Brands to fall in love with

By Alice Austin

How brands can court your favour this Valentine’s Day

The relentless marketing doom and gloom of January is over. We’ve seen off #BlueMonday, #FatCatTuesday, #DivorceDay and #BrokenResolutionsDay – in comparison, the short month of February is sweet relief.

The shortest month of the year is also one long-adored by lovers – and people in marketing – for its traditional celebration of love. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.

The Christian feast first became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages when linked by Geoffrey Chaucer. From here sprung a rich tradition of Valentine’s poetry between lovers and in the 19th Century, paper Valentine cards had become so popular they were assembled in factories. By 1840, more than 60,000 were sent through the mail each year.

In Unity’s office, the jury’s still out on contemporary Valentine’s. Not the love bit: we’re on board with it making the world go round and are delighted that love is by far the most popular tag on Instagram, with more than 895 million posts referencing one of our favourite subjects. But while some of our colleagues are crossing florists’ palms with silver, or adding their question mark to one of the 25 million cards sent annually in the UK, others criticise 14th February, believing it’s a cynical profit margin-raiser for card companies.

We’re all in agreement that Valentine’s is sensitive: if you’re single and cardless it can feel exclusive and alienating; if you’re in a relationship it can lead to competitive coupling (and who really wants to compare relationships – especially over a Valentine’s Day set menu in a restaurant filled solely with couples?). Either way, brands need to tread carefully when using Valentine’s Day to engage with their customers.

The brands that do Valentine’s Day well are those that stay true to their brand and play to their strengths. Those that don’t are clearly hijacking a day that doesn’t quite fit; often patronising consumers as they go. An off-message hashtag or a cheesy billboard ad that hits people where they’re sensitive (Beach Body Ready, anyone?) can alienate fans for good.

It seems that the most important thing – for brands as much as lovers – is to behave with love on the other 364 (or 365 this leap year) days. When brands listen, share and do things to show they care throughout the year, they genuinely build brand love. And when people feel this love, they’re far more inclined to reciprocate. This is the essence of Unity and our work, and has led to enduring love relationships between brands and their fans.

So – who does Valentine’s Day well year-on-year, and what can we learn from them?



In 2015, Tesco took to Twitter with it’s hashtag #Loveisallaround. Based on shoppers’ experiences of running into ex-lovers in the aisles – and the insight that love is often awkward – they released a series of hilarious, and utterly relatable, vines.

Heart Transplant UK

Charity Heart Transplant UK created an e-card campaign titled ‘Give your heart this Valentine’s’. The card, delivered via email links, shows a 24-year-old woman who initially seems to be on the look out for love. However, it unfolds that she is a real patient waiting for a heart transplant.

The campaign was hard-hitting, tasteful and genuinely touched the hearts of millions, using Valentine’s Day to raise awareness for the importance of organ donation in the UK.



Evian’s ‘Live young’ values encourage people to look at things in a fresh light. In 2014, they turned their attention to Valentine’s Day with their #Iloveyoulike project. Social media users were encouraged to profess their love – without using any clichés or hackneyed phrases – by finishing the sentence ‘I love you like…’ Social media lovers shared their own cliché-free ideas and content with Evian and their own followers.