Mentions of Valentine's Day often come with a ubiquitous reference to gross consumerism. It's just a fake holiday created by the greeting card companies. It's designed to encourage superfluous spending on items no one needs. It's the worst night of the year to eat out! Flowers die! While this may have been true in decades past, experiential marketers have discovered an important shift in the way consumers spend their time and money every February 14.
The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which couples expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering candies and chocolates, and sending greeting cards. And that's the way it remained for hundreds of years, with the occasional addition of new candy conversation heart sayings, such as Text Me, R U Shy?, #Love, Come On.
Today, according to the National Retail Federation, 44% of 24- to 35-year-olds are planning an experience together to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and more than 50% say a shared experience is what they’d most like to receive. That’s significantly higher than the average of all adults, of whom only 39% are hoping for an experience—for example, a spa day, a concert, or fun day excursion—as a Valentine’s present. Millennials will also spend more on those experiences, averaging $104 compared with $87 for all adults.
This change in the standard response to Valentine's Day can be attributed to the entrepreneurial spirit of millennial consumers combined with the time/value equation. In a generation of people who have largely abandoned the traditional 9-5 professional schedule, instead working as freelancers and independent contractors, making time for those they love is a high priority.
Also, as the children of Baby Boomers and young observers of the 2008 financial crisis, Millennials don't get the same satisfaction out of material ownership as they do from an experience. The long-term commitment that’s by nature a part of big-ticket purchases such as cars, homes, or even luxury handbags is less appealing to a generation that gets bored more easily, values immediacy, and doesn’t want to be tied down. The act of going on an adventure, attending a festival, or just attending a big party has immediate and emotional impact.
Experiential gifts also support social sharing. Besides the obvious benefit of spending quality time with the person you love, experiences can be chronicled online for immediate follower consumption, feeding in to our need for public acknowledgment and approval.
Skip the flowers and chocolates this year, here are five romantic and unique Valentine's Day experiences to share with your partner:
- Airbnb Experiences: This is a great resource for couples who are planning a romantic getaway or want to discover new activities in their own city. You can find everything from bike tours of Copenhagen to pizza-making lessons in Rome. There are even services that will take care of your dinner reservations, accommodations, and activities, like Paris Perfect (their "Parisian Romance Package" starts around $500, and includes a car rental, dinner plans, and a cruise down the Seine — just note that flights aren't included)
- Live music: One of the greatest experiences in life can be hearing your favorite band/musician/orchestra in person. See who's playing and treat yourself or your partner to a performance for Valentine's Day
- Wine tasting or brewery tours: Depending on whether you prefer hops or house Cabernets, book a visit to a local brewery or vineyard for an afternoon of taste-testing, great company, and the chance to learn how beer or wine are made. Most spots host weekly tours and tastings, but you can also book a private tour, if you'd like things a bit more intimate. Most group tours cost between $15 and $30, while a private tour and tasting can run as high as $500
- Kitchensurfing: Not big on cooking and don't want to go out? Bring the chef to your house with Kitchensurfing's service that sends the chef, the equipment, and the ingredients to your house. All you have to do is eat and enjoy
- Dinner in the dark: NYC restaurant Camaje Bistro provides luxury meals with all the culinary fixings, and without sight. That's right, dine blindfolded and focus your senses on what you taste, smell, and feel, for a truly sensual Valentine's Day experience.