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Study: Valentine’s Day 2023 is All About Gifts, Less About Love

The commercialization of Valentine’s Day is more prevalent than ever on social media, which may negatively impact mental health

Posted in: Communication and Media, Press Releases, Research

Graphic showing the logo for the Center for Strategic Communication, a calendar icon showing February 14, and the text "Valentine's Day Report: Check it out."

A romantic at heart may assume most people around the U.S. are preparing for their Valentine’s Day date by posting famous love poems or searching lovey-dovey queries like, “How do you say ‘I love you’ in Farsi?”

But they would be wrong. New research from the Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication at Montclair State University shows that the commercialization of Valentine’s Day is more prevalent than ever, and a more realistic social media post would be less about romance and more about gifts and shopping.

To investigate the themes of Valentine’s Day messaging in social media, Montclair researchers analyzed more than 80,000 posts using “#Valentinesday” and “#Valentinesday2023” on various social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram over a month in the leadup to February 14.

Key takeaways from the Valentine’s Day 2023 study:

  • Analysis of social media data using “Valentine’s Day” as a keyword shows the most associated term was “shop,” with “shop” and “gift” identified 131.17% more frequently than the term “love.”
  • Four of the top five recent Google search queries related to Valentine’s Day were for Nike’s Valentine’s Day Air Force 1s and Squishmallows.
  • The commercialization of Valentine’s Day appears to have created a context that creates significant mental health challenges.
  • Among Valentine’s Day social messages targeted toward singles, popular hashtags included “#selflove,” “selfcare,” “valentinesgift,” “#chocolate day,” and “#roseday.” Particularly, supportive messages encouraged singles to focus on setting healthy boundaries, focusing on mental health, prioritizing personal goals, launching positive changes, seeking love from friends and families, purchasing personal dreams, learning strategies to manage loneliness, seeking balance by turning inward, staying physically active, etc.
  • According to the National Retail Federation, Valentine’s Day accounted for an estimated $23 billion in purchases in 2022, up after a noticeable decline in 2021 spending due to the pandemic.
  • A word cloud generated to show term use frequency in the studied data set further reveals the extent to which commercial and advertising messages are embedded in social media messaging about Valentine’s Day. Related terms included “#buyartnotcandy,” “#shopindie,” “#etsyshop,” “#giftsforher” and “#valentinesdaygift.”
  • Separate research in 2022 cites the mental health challenges linked to buying around the holiday. A study of over 2,000 participants found that “generalized depression was greater for those not receiving a gift relative to that expressed by those who did receive a Valentine’s Day gift” with depression continuing longer than three weeks after the holiday in participants studied.
  • The coupling of love with commoditization is indicative of the need for continued vigilance against acceptance of online messaging as being rooted in truth and legitimacy. Media literacy and the ability to unpack manipulative online content should be a focus for all populations, with a significant emphasis on Gen Z.

Valentine’s Day advertisements skew meaning of love

“The data on #Valentinesday is heavily cluttered with advertisements rather than messages of love on social media” said Jin-A Choi, assistant professor of Advertising at Montclair. “Brands are prepared to sell and consumers are ready to buy.”

“Now more than ever it’s important that heavy users of social media, especially young people, understand the difference between what they consume online, what actually might be happening, and how that might affect them,” said Bond Benton, associate professor of Public Relations at Montclair. “Valentine’s Day has always been heavily commercialized, but ubiquitous social media messages about buying something nice perhaps lead us to a skewed view of the meaning of the holiday and love in general.”

This is the sixth study released by the Center for Strategic Communication, located within the School of Communication and Media. The Center provides social media analytics tools and training for faculty and students for classroom learning and research projects.

Full Report: Love Loses, So Says the Data

For more information or to set up an interview, contact the Media Relations team at Montclair State University.