LOVE SICK: UNLV researcher finds consumers are rejecting Valentine’s Day materialism
Business was lousy Friday at this roadside stand selling Valentine’s Day wares along Decatur Boulevard, says proprietor Gary Huff. He blames the economy, mostly, but also what he sees as a takeover of the holiday by large chain stores. A UNLV professor’s academic study says there’s a growing backlash against the consumerism inherent in Valentine’s Day.
People are sick of the ugly mess that Valentine’s Day has become. They’re sick of the consumerism, sick of the pressure to buy-buy-buy, sick of being told by the corporate masters of the universe that the only equation that matters is Cash = Love. So says a UNLV researcher who’s just published a paper on the topic. The study by marketing prof Angeline Close and a colleague from the University of Georgia spanned several years and featured hundreds of surveys, diaries and interviews. It was published in the February issue of the Journal of Business Research.Close says excessive consumerism has spawned guilt, which forces people to buy stuff, which has led to a nasty backlash against retailers and the entire You Can Buy Love! industry.“They feel it’s taking advantage of people who are in love,” she says.
What she means is this: Everybody knows V-Day is supposed to be about sunny smiles and glorious rainbows and fluffy puppy dogs, but it has somehow morphed into a buy-me-a-trinket-with-diamonds-on-it-and-I’ll-love-you-forever day filled with pressure.
People blame big business.
“Some people feel it was invented by marketers or certain retailers,” she says.
This is true for lots of holidays, of course. Christmas. Mother’s Day. Baby’s First Birthday.
But none of them, Close says, spark the kind of animosity that Valentine’s Day does.
“I’ve never seen an anti-Mother’s Day group,” she says.
But there are plenty of anti-Valentine’s Day groups.
Gary Huff feels that backlash.
Huff runs a roadside stand for lots of holidays: Christmas trees for Christmas; a carnival for Halloween; teddy bears and flowers for Valentine’s Day.
“It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous,” Huff says. “I can’t believe it.”
He was operating his stand Friday on Decatur Boulevard across the street from a shuttered Chevrolet dealership.
It was lunchtime. He’d had three customers all day.
“Used to be, we had a line of people at the cash register all day long,” he says.
Sure, it’s the lousy economy. Christmas tree sales were half of what they should have been last year. The spooky carnival’s attendance was down two-thirds.
But this Valentine’s Day chasm is about more than that, he says: MegaGiantConglomerateCorporations have taken over the world.
“You go to Walgreens, they can give you a dozen for a dollar,” he says. “We can’t have a dollar a dozen.”
And so he waits. In the cold. Beside the road. With tables full of cute bears and colorful flowers that no one wants.
Close, the UNLV researcher, says not buying stuff is just one reaction from the anti-Valentine’s Day crowd.
Some people boycott certain retailers. Some avoid spending lots of money, opting instead for a more personal approach to gift-giving.
They make their own gifts. Or they do something special for their partner, rather than give something special.
Ben Harris, who was buying a heart-shaped box of chocolate Friday for his wife of 28 years, says he and his wife never feel pressure to buy stuff just for buying-stuff’s sake.
“I don’t think gifts are absolutely necessary,” he says. “But when it comes to things like chocolate, it kind of sweetens things up.”
He says the most special Valentine’s Day gift he ever gave his wife didn’t cost a penny. He made it himself.
“I expressed my own feelings about our relationship over the years,” he says. “She was more than happy about it.”
Close says that’s the lesson to take away from her research: That people who reject the overhyped nature of V-Day are forcing themselves to focus on its real meaning.
They’re avoiding excess. They’re professing their love every day, not just on the holiday. The backlash, in short, is having a positive effect.
“Consumers love the meaning of the day,” Close says. “They’re just against the materialism.”
Of course, that’s not true for everybody.
She says research shows that nearly two-thirds of consumers still spend money on Valentine’s Day, despite their general disgust. Spending on the holiday this year is expected to top $14 billion.
Source: Close, Angeline G. and George M. Zinkhan (2009), “Market Resistance and Valentine’s Day Events,”