Valentine’s Day is one of the most ideal occasions for businesses to advertise luxurious gifts as a romantic necessity and sell them to consumers. However, since many decades ago, chocolate is a very inexpensive commodity that people have also chosen to buy on this day. This treat is always stocked in vending machines, supermarkets, gas stations, and convenience stores yet, it somehow maintains a substantial role in this holiday’s tradition. In this essay, I will begin by discussing some of the historical aspects of this holiday and how chocolate became one of the main components involved in this celebration. My next section will include a semiotic analysis of Cadbury’s original Valentine’s Day ad campaign. Afterwards, I will argue that companies in the candy industry have used this style of advertising to manipulate this product into an over-consumed and falsely needed symbol for Valentine’s Day shoppers.
The exact point in time of when Valentine’s Day became a tradition is uncertain, but historical records suggest that a Roman pagan fertility festival first inspired it. Later, around A.D 496, Christian Romans adopted this celebration into a day of feasts to honour a martyred saint named Valentine (Koehler, 2017). The meaning of this holiday thematically changed once again in the 1300s, when a new interpretation of its characteristics spread to European communities through the medium of poetry. It started with Geoffrey Chaucer, a famous poet who incorporated Valentine’s Day in a poem about lovebirds finding their mate (Koehler, 2017). His works grew popular, which influenced other artists to produce their own versions of romantic songs and poems about this festival. By the 19th century, Valentine’s Day evolved into the current tradition of exchanging gifts and cards with one another to express feelings of affection.
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Chocolate was initially served in a liquid beverage form and was rumoured to work best as a type of aphrodisiac. Koehler states, around the early 1800s it became more prominently used, especially during Valentine’s Day. This was mainly because it became a more affordable product for the middle class. (Koehler, 2017). Shortly after this, the solid form of chocolate shaped like a bar was invented by a British franchise called ‘J.S Fry & Sons’ in 1847. Other chocolatiers implemented this idea and created all sorts of flavourful recipes which appealed to an even larger targeted audience. Although, it was ‘Cadbury’ that took the marketability of solid Valentine’s chocolates to the next level.
Cadbury Case Study
During the late 1800’s, Richard and George Cadbury became the inheritors of their father’s company (which is now owned by Mondelez International since 2010) and succeeded in marketing chocolate as a “sensual indulgence” to consumers (Rosenwald, 2018). Their business strategy involved packaging their products into a connotative symbol of love. They created heart-shaped boxes with decorative patterns that were visually appealing, and this design continues to be a Valentine’s Day trend in modern society. Some of Cadbury’s more recent Valentines ad campaign tie-ins include paring their chocolates with a bottle of champagne and transitioning to advertising online on their company website (Rosenwald, 2018). The mediums and strategies behind advertisements continue to fluctuate, but exaggerating messages to consumers such as the importance of buying chocolate for Valentine’s Day is still a consistent practice.
False Needs & Over-Consumption
Within the context of advertising, false needs can be described as “goods and services that people do not really require and driving a lifestyle characterized by an escalating frenzy of consumption” (Lorimer, Gasher, & Skinner, 2016, pg.111). I believe that the concept of exchanging chocolates on Valentine’s Day is unnecessary because it adds no meaningful relevance towards the true purpose of this holiday. Society has become very accustomed to this tradition because of advertisers and the media portrayal of chocolate as an essential gift for this holiday (Close & Zinkhan, 2006).
However, people do not need to buy chocolate and give them out to everyone that they care for to effectively participate in this celebration. One way to look at how the media creates this misguided ritual is through the technique of appealing to mass markets. This is explained in ‘Mediascape’ by Russell Johnston, he says, “some media try to produce the largest audiences possible by appealing to all demographic categories. This is the mass market, and this is the strategy of mainstream outlets” (Shade, 2014, pg.151). Based on this evidence, mass marketing can also be considered as a leading cause of over-consumption.
Throughout the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, millions of people are buying an excessive amount of chocolates and binging on them over such a short time span. In my opinion, this became such a widespread predicament because of social norms and our environmental upbringing. For example, many children are taught from a young age to give treats and Valentine’s cards to all of their elementary school classmates. In their consumer research report, Angeline Close and George Zinkhan state, “Childhood experiences play a large role in shaping adult Valentine’s expectations. Early memories of the day evoke images of the elementary school and the parties, arts and crafts, candy, time off from schoolwork, and egalitarian exchange of Valentine’s cards” (Close & Zinkhan, 2006). This behaviour still continues to be nurtured, even as we mature. Eventually, the new adult role models such as parents and teachers will pass on this cycle of consumerism to the next generation.
It is evident that even before capitalist societies existed, chocolate had a connotative meaning which was associated with the festive traditions of Valentine’s Day. Cadbury became one of the first companies to expand this ideology into a marketable concept, and their advertisement campaigns influenced other businesses to follow along. Ever since then, chocolates that are branded with Valentine’s Day labels are interpreted as a meaningful present, even though this treat is represented as cheap and accessible to purchase on any other day. I began my essay by examining the origins of this holiday, including the reasoning behind why people consumed chocolate for symbolic purposes and how these ideas were altered by businesses such as ‘Cadbury’. In the second part of this paper, I made two main arguments about this topic. First, the candy industry encourages a pattern of over-consumption for consumers through their Valentine’s Day Ads. Second, the purpose of exchanging chocolate on this occasion to show that we care for each other is a false need.
Close, A., & Zinkhan, G. M. (2006). A Holiday Loved and Loathed: A Consumer Perspective of Valentine’s Day, 11.
This academic journal theorizes the correlation between the mass-marketing of Valentine’s day and consumer behaviour. The research that was completed by Close and Zinkhan has several points of evidence that I referenced to support my thesis. I examined some of the survey results and statistical analysis that was presented in this report in order to find information that backed up my argument on Valentine’s Day chocolates being overconsumed. I also used this source to prove that over-consumption on this holiday is nurtured from a young age through advertising and cultural traditions.
Koehler, J. (2017, February 14). How Chocolate Became A Sweet (But Not So Innocent) Consort To Valentine’s Day. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/
This source summarizes the historical context of Valentine’s Day and how it grew into a holiday that marketed chocolate products. For this essay, I felt that it would be ideal to first provide some background knowledge about the societal changes of this holiday, and then introduce my case study and arguments. I needed to understand why chocolate was associated with the meaning of this holiday even before capitalism existed. It was also interesting to see how besides chocolate, many of the semiotic symbols of Valentine’s Day remain prominent after such a prolonged period.
Lorimer, R., Gasher, M., & Skinner, D. (2016). Mass communication in Canada. This textbook summarizes the history, terminology, and ideology behind communication in society. I analyzed the fourth chapter about the making and meaning of media content because it contained information about the different approaches of advertising. This resource allowed me to gain a better understanding of the definition and examples of false needs and over consumption in relation to advertised products. Afterwards, I was able to apply the contextual meaning of these terms to my thesis and case study.
Shade, L. R. (2014). Mediascapes: new patterns in Canadian communication.
This textbook discusses aspects of the communications industry from a variety of perspectives. I incorporated some of the ideas from the beginning of chapter eight, which focused on the topic of the relationship between Canadian advertising and the mass media. In this chapter, Russell Johnston discusses how the media is able to work with advertisers to distribute their content to larger audiences. I believe that this concept could be one of the factors that contributed to the commercialization of chocolate products for Valentine’s Day, as well as other popular holidays.
Rosenwald, M. S. (2018, February 14). We owe our sinful Valentine’s Day chocolates to the prudish, self-denying Cadburys. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/
This article provides background knowledge about the relationship between Valentine’s Day and Cadbury. I choose this source to further support the research and development of my case study for this essay. There are many companies involved in advertising and marketing treats for this holiday, so it seemed more appropriate to narrow my example to one of the most well-known brands. I decided to use The Cadbury brothers for my case study because they were recognized as the first entrepreneurs to popularize the heart-shaped box of chocolates. This seemed like a significant shift towards the commercialization of Valentine’s Day.
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