Study shows cupid getting clumsy
February 23, 2009 by Lisa Rush
Professor looks at sweethearts' holiday behavior
Study: We love (to hate) Valentine's Day. By: Jason Emord
Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day's enormous presence in American society is undeniable. It is the second largest marketing holiday of the year (after Christmas) and seems to have as many haters as lovers.
UNLV marketing professor Angeline Close published her findings on market-resistance to the holiday in the Journal of Business Research this month. Her research with George Zinkhan of the University of Georgia spanned seven years and utilized extensive surveys, diaries and interviews. She found that many people, males and females alike, felt that pressures from marketers and retailers made them feel obligated to purchase gifts to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Of the couples Close studied, 81 percent of males and 50 percent of females that had been dating for six months or less and 44 percent of males and 13 percent of females dating longer than six months felt obligated to buy gifts for Valentine's Day.
This obligation, she said, is what has encouraged growing cynicism about the holiday, resulting in increased anti-consumption and alternative consumption behaviors.
"We love the day, but we loathe the over-commercialization of it," Close explained. "The bigger and more commercialized it gets, the more anxiety and emotions of expectation and obligations rise."
Close narrowed down the resistance to three specific categories: Gift-resistance, retail-resistance and market-resistance. gift-resistance involves the avoidance or limiting of gift exchanges. Retail-resistance is the avoidance of retail stores that place emphasis on the holiday and market-resistance is the broadest and most severe type of resistance, in which the idea behind Valentine's Day as a whole is boycotted.
It comes as no surprise that anti-Valentine's Day practices have been increasing in prevalence over the years. Many eastern countries denounce the holiday because they believe it glorifies western ideologies about consumption markets and the role and status of women.
Today, "singles awareness" events and anti-Valentine's Day gifts are far from uncommon. Close explained that when large resistance of this nature builds, ignoring it can be problematic. Recognizing, acknowledging and trying to understand the reasons behind the resistance are vital in minimizing conflict.
"It's a common day for breaking up or getting married," Close said.
Most of the anxiety is financial. Couples often suffer from "one-upmanship" — the need to outdo friends and family to prove that their love is more sincere than each others'.
Stresses over expensive gift-giving are often foolish and unnecessary. Close has found that most women prefer a heart-felt, hand-written letter over a cliché card, box of diet-sabotaging chocolates or expensive necklace seen on TV.
There are, of course, those who love the holiday. According to Close, some males like the holiday because they need cues from marketers and gift suggestions to help them with their relationships. Hallmark can say things better than most people can, after all.
It is apparent that the slowing economy has left cupid with fewer targets.
According to the National Retail Federation, consumers were expected to spend an average of $20 less on combined Valentine-themed gifts per person in 2009 than they did in 2008. However, the cost in 2009 is still an average of $20 more per person than was expected in 2003, showing that even in a slow economy, people were still buying.
Close noted that people are buying for fewer people than in the past. This year, people are wondering if their teacher, their co-worker or their cat will even miss the candy hearts they received last year.
Belts were tightened for those who still decided to celebrate this year, but technology has also played a role in how communications have changed. Today, increasing numbers of e-cards and texts are sent with less reliance on the paper cards of the past.
"People are spending more at grocery stores versus restaurants, more on movie rentals than theater tickets and are staying in versus going out," Close said.
For many students, Valentine's Day is just another day. UNLV student Laura Zeljeznjak decided to spend more time with her boyfriend this year rather than spend money on gifts.
"I don't like Valentine's Day [because] I think it's a society-inflicted holiday forcing us to buy commercial goods," Zeljeznjak added.
Close thinks reduced spending has helped bring Valentine's Day back to its roots by reminding people that love is at the heart of it.