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Study: Valentine’s Day 2023 is all about gifts, less about love

Posted in: School of Communication and Media News

A graphic of a calendar cover showing one date, February 14

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

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.

Love Loses, So Says the Data: See the 2023 Valentine’s Day Report

To investigate the themes of Valentine’s Day messaging in social media, over 80,000 posts were analyzed using #Valentinesday and #Valentinesday2023 on various social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram over a month in the leadup to Feb. 14. The study’s highlights include:

  • 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.”
  • The commercialization of Valentine’s Day appears to have created a context that creates significant mental health challenges.
  • 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. 
  • Among the Valentine’s Day social messages targeted toward singles, the popular hashtags included “#selflove,” “selfcare,” “valentinesgift,” “#chocolate day,” “#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.
  • 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
  • According to the National Retail Federation the holiday 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 2000 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 data on #Valentinesday is heavily cluttered with advertisements rather than messages of love on social media” said Dr. 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 Dr. Bond Benton, an associate professor of Social Media and 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.”

“Along with this dominant commercialization of this holiday among couples, advertisers’ appeal to singles focused on purchasing gifts or engaging in activities/programs for self-care. “Such social conversations focusing on self-love targeted toward singles reflect advertisers or companies’ tailored messaging to different consumer groups. This refreshing approach is conducive to promoting messages related to mental health,” said Dr. Yi Luo, an associate professor of Social Media and Public Relations at Montclair.

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.

The study is also in partnership with the SCM student team participating in the Public Relations Student Society of America’s (PRSSA) 2022-2023 Bateman Case Study Competition.  This year’s client challenge is to help the News Literacy Project educate and empower Gen Z to become news literate and take action to stop the spread of misinformation.  The MSU Bateman campaign – “Touch Grass, Check Facts” (@touchgrass) is a month-long on and offline effort to reach and engage the campus and larger community with this important information.

Faculty researchers will present their findings in the Center (Room 1011 in the School of Communication and Media building), on Tuesday, Feb. 14 from 3-3:30 p.m., where they will celebrate the release of the study with free Valentine’s Day candy and treats. Students, faculty, staff and the general public are welcome.

Media contact: Keith Green, School of Communication and Media, 973-655-3701