All you need is love: Valentine’s traditions around the world
The first ever Valentine’s Day reportedly dates from the year 496 AD and is thought to have originated from a Roman festival called Lupercalia. Supposedly, boys would draw girls’ names from a box, sometimes leading to marriage. Over the years, the tradition evolved, and by the Middle Ages, people started exchanging handmade cards.
Today, Valentine’s Day continues to be marked with flowers, chocolate, and jewellery but new trends are emerging – such as the tendency to buy Valentine’s gifts for children, pets, friends and even oneself, with a high percentage of shopping carried out online. In addition, various countries around the world have their own festivals dedicated to romance, which are celebrated on different dates. Read on to find out how Valentine’s Day varies around the world.
Not all countries celebrate Valentine’s Day the same way
Last year, market research company Ipsos carried out a survey in 28 countries to find out how Valentine’s Day is viewed around the world. Some key insights emerged:
- The countries where Valentine’s Day were most likely to be celebrated were the US, South Africa, Chile, India, Turkey, Mexico, Poland, and China.
- The countries where it was least likely to be observed were the Netherlands, South Korea, and Germany.
- Younger people were more likely to observe the occasion than their elders. On average globally, 68% of those under the age of 35 planned to do so versus 55% of those aged 35-49 and 45% of those aged 50-74. Those who were not married were more likely to celebrate with their loved one than those who were (61% versus 52%).
Interesting geographical differences emerged too – for example, having a romantic dinner at home was most popular in Russia (55%) and Canada (54%), both countries with very cold weather in mid-February. By contrast, countries where couples were most likely to go out to celebrate (Peru and Columbia, both 47%) and Argentina and South Africa (both 45%) are in the Southern Hemisphere where Valentine’s Day falls in the middle of summer.
Other countries have their own Valentine’s Day equivalents
While Valentine’s Day is popular globally, it isn’t universally celebrated and in fact, a number of countries have their own Valentine’s equivalents. These include:
Dia dos Namorados – 12th June
In Brazil, lovers celebrate Dia dos Namorados – Lovers Day – which is on the 12th June. (Carnival is celebrated in February.) Their Lovers Day celebrations are similar to Valentine’s traditions elsewhere – with romantic gifts, parties and decorations. Somewhat confusingly, the term ‘Dia dos Namorados’ is used in other Portuguese-speaking countries to refer to the usual Valentine’s Day.
Qixi Festival – 7th day of the 7th lunar month (usually August)
People in China celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 14th February, but they also have their own traditional day, known as Qixi Festival. This event celebrates the romantic legend of two lovers meeting in the stars for one day each year. Qixi Festival falls annually on the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar (which is usually August). Marketing activity typically kicks off in early July and is a particularly lucrative time for the luxury sector. In recent years, high end brands such as Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Miu Miu have found success by localising their campaigns and choosing celebrity ambassadors that resonate with Chinese consumers.
White Day – 14th March
In Western countries, it is traditional for couples to exchange presents on Valentine’s Day. However, in South Korea and Japan, typically Valentine’s Day has been a time for women to present gifts to men. A month later, men return the favour on White Day. Popular gifts include white chocolate, candy, and lingerie.
Black Day – 14th April
As well as the Westernised Valentine’s Day on 14th February, and White Day on 14th March, some Koreans also celebrate Black Day on 14th April. This event is for Koreans who are single. Singletons who observe the occasion get together, dress in black and eat black jajangmyeon noodles.
Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers
While Valentine’s Day is associated with lovers, in recent years, there has been an increasing trend for people to buy gifts for their children, pets, friends and sometimes themselves. For example:
- In the US alone, since 2010, the amount of money that people spend on their friends for Valentine’s Day has increased from $737 million to over $2 billion
- In 2022, US consumers spent just under $1.2 billion on Valentine gifts for their pets
- According to one 2021 study, 26% of Gen Z and 21% of Millennials planned to treat themselves. Many brands have responded with ‘love yourself’ messaging in recent years
- In recent years, the concept of ‘Galentines’ – i.e. women buying Valentine’s gifts for their female friends – has gained traction. Galentine’s Day is usually marked on 13th February
According to the US National Retail Federation, much of the growth in Valentine’s Day spending in the last decade or so has been driven by consumers’ interest in celebrating the other important relationships in their lives, beyond romantic partners.
Use tried-and-tested sales techniques for Valentine’s Day or its equivalents
Your Valentine’s Day activity will be well underway already but if you’re planning to promote your brand during one of its international equivalents, classic holiday strategies include:
Create dedicated landing pages: A typical e-commerce bounce rate is about 20-45% but you can keep to the lower end of that by creating holiday-specific landing pages with themed imagery, products, and offers.
Provide last-minute delivery options: It’s not unusual to leave shopping for Valentine’s Day or its equivalents to the last minute. Therefore, providing last-minute delivery options will maximise conversion.
Provide gift guide style content: While chocolate, flowers and fragrance are Valentine classics, some consumers may be looking for something different. Make things easy for them by providing gift guides or inspiration for alternative products.
Cross-sell related products: Suggest recommended or complementary products through the user journey to maximise basket value. A common technique for increasing average order values is incentivising customers to spend more with free delivery or shipping over a certain threshold.
Create urgency: Usually there’s a short window in which to grab consumer attention for Valentine’s Day or its equivalents – which means creating urgency or FOMO is more important than usual for retailers. You can achieve this through countdown timers, time-limited special offers, voucher codes, and so on.
Consumer preferences vary by market
The same Ipsos research cited at the start of this article found that, while chocolate and candy is the most common Valentine’s gift around the world (followed by flowers and fragrance), there are subtle differences across markets. You can read the full research here but the key point is that it is normal for consumer preferences and behaviours – along with cultural norms and the digital landscape – to vary by market. For this reason, it’s always best to consult a Local In-Market Expert to guide your digital marketing campaigns and to maximise impact. You may find Oban’s international marketing calendar a useful tool for working out the key marketing dates in your target markets.
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