As another Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, I cannot help but think about the history of the day. A holiday that dates back to St. Valentine and the Fifth Century, rooted in the celebration of love, is now one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world. In fact, one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year; this is second only to the number of Christmas cards sent.

So this begs the question: is it the second most widely celebrated holiday because it provides a day to celebrate and express love, a feeling that is genuine and universal to all cultures? Or is it because it was made mainstream by marketers capitalizing on an opportunity to boost sales of consumer goods during what could otherwise be a traditionally slow season?

The cynic would argue the latter, and in my younger (and admittedly headstrong and single years), I tended to agree. So I decided to do a little research into the matter and found that Valentine’s Day experienced a shift to gifts, candy and cards in the mid 1840’s during “Cupid’s golden age”. It was the age of romanticism where the Victorians adored the idea of celebrating courtly love throughout the month of February, showering loved ones with roses, song and the like. Enter Richard Cadbury, the head of a British chocolate manufacturing company who had recently improved his chocolate techniques to extract pure cocoa butter and produce the more palatable chocolate we are familiar with today; he referred to this new product as “eating chocolates.” He launched the promotion of eating chocolates by placing them in lovely boxes with Cupids and hearts to sell as gifts for loved ones. And thus you can argue that it is from businesses and companies like Cadbury that Valentine’s Day has never been the same.

Like it or not, as modern marketers, it is our job to capitalize on opportunities to enhance brand awareness that ultimately result in a sale, but doing so in a strategic manner that speaks to the right target market at the right time. Cadbury’s idea was not just a clever gimmick; he understood and accepted the developing correlation between chocolates and romance. He noted the shift in culture from celebrating Valentine’s Day with expressions of love (such as a sonnet, poem or song) to purchases of love (such as a card, jewelry and flowers) and capitalized on it with some clever packaging. The moral of the story: know your market, understand what drives purchasing decisions, decide what makes sense and go for it.

Although it does appear marketing has played a role in the historical development of Valentine’s Day, I wish to believe in it in its purest form. After all, what could be better than a day set aside each year solely dedicated to expressing love to the ones you care about the most?

And thus, I wish you much love, joy and happiness, and yes maybe even a box of chocolates, this Valentine’s Day.

Written by Katie Dubnik, President