Post Thumb

Valentine’s Day as a celebratory concept was introduced to Indians by brands in the mid-90s. 

As a festive celebration occasion, it had its own meanings that it brought with it from the West. The brands that invested in bringing Valentine’s Day as relevant to consumers were the greeting card brands – Hallmark cards, Archies, and so on.

At first, the brands brought in Valentine’s narrative as it existed in American marketing.  The day was anchored on concepts to do with romantic love, where lovers celebrate one another and the love they feel by gifting flowers (red roses), accompanied by cards with romantic messages, chocolates, and wine.  It was a scene right out of rom-com popularised by Hollywood.

The hope was that Gen X, coming out of socialism and embracing consumerism as practised in the West, would adopt Valentine’s Day into their cultural calendar of activities and make it their own.

Establishing Valentine’s Day in a different culture was always going to be hard, more so, one in which parental involvement in their children’s lives is very high and arranged marriages are the norm. Indian society stubbornly continues with arranged marriages (CSDS youth survey).  In the past  5-6 years, dating culture has been initiated by apps such as Tinder and Aisle.  But it is early days yet, even for those apps.

In 2023 Valentine’s Day communication, we find the celebration of self-love by women to themselves by gifting themselves clothes, fashion, and jewellery. And extending from there onwards to their partner. This is not new to 2023, some efforts in this direction had started earlier.

Valentine’s Day has also, unfortunately, become the symbol of bad and contaminating ‘Western culture’ for the guardians of Sanskriti, who would like to remove it from our calendars or replace gifting with cow-hugging as the defining activity for the day. This concerted attack is also responsible for undermining its relevance.

Let’s take a closer look at how brands are communicating for Valentine’s Day this year:

Westside: Embrace the true meaning of love

 The film portrays the modern urban woman and emphasizes self-love. In the film, we see a montage of shots of the woman wearing fashionable clothes with an upbeat background score full of beats. If it were not for the film’s title, which mentioned valentine’s gifting, one would not know that the ad is made for the occasion of valentine’s day.

There is no mention of valentine’s day anywhere in the content, and worse, there is no binding narrative. Even if Westside had to emphasise more on the theme of self-love while putting fashionable clothes in the foreground, it could have done it by building a cohesive narrative around it.

This does not seem like a valentine’s day film but just a regular ad, as there is no specificity to the occasion at all. The content piece does not have any recall value, and you would forget it in an instant, which defeats the entire purpose of advertising.

 Reliance Jewels: Khudse Bhi Pyaar Karo

 Reliance Jewels has also built a narrative around the theme of self-love. The film intends to portray the modern Indian couple as a progressive one. It showcases the man and the woman as equals in a relationship, wherein both are understood to be financially independent.

While the couple in the film comes across as affectionate towards each other, and we see them acting as playful companions, there is no theme of romance in it. The content piece imagines the modern couple as equal companions rather than romantic ones.

Melorra: Valentine's Gifts for Him and Her!

Melorra cleverly subverts the common cultural notion that behind every successful man, there is a woman. It tells the audience that behind every successful woman, too, there is a supportive man.

The man in the content is shown as a caring and supportive husband; he picks up his wife in times of need - both figuratively and literally. He picks her up from a football game, and also picks her up emotionally when she needs support.

The film intends to showcase the modern heterosexual couple as one with gender-neutral roles, thus positioning the brand as gender-neutral. The positioning of the brand is cleverly done, as Mellora is trying to promote its valentine’s collection for both him and her.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk: An Unforgettable Valentine's Day Gift

Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk has stuck to its conventional positioning of showcasing a conventional couple. Silk does not intend to break any heteronormative stereotypes, however, in the domain of heteronormativity itself, the ad portrays a ‘nerdy’ boy instead of a conventional ‘macho’ figure, while the girl looks like she is based on a barbie doll archetype.

The ad sticks to its conventional jingle, ' Kiss me… close your eyes’. As seen earlier in the article, while many brands have adopted a more gender-neutral and self-love positioning, Silk does not seem to have any intentions of moving away from the tropes.

Cadbury 5 star: 5 Star Mush Detector

While Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Silk is targeted at couples and young love, Cadbury’s 5-star is positioned more towards the young and the single. 5-Star takes a humorous and interesting route in its latest campaign on valentine’s day. It talks about the non-existing problem of single people looking for a quiet spot in public places like parks on valentine’s day.

It builds a humorous narrative of how Cadbury’s 5-Star mush detector can detect mushy spots in their localities, you just have to visit their site to see all the mushy areas near you.

It is interesting that 5 Star took the route of addressing single people on a date meant for couples. Their tagline ‘Do nothing’ fits perfectly as single people are doing essentially nothing on valentine’s day.


Three decades later, Valentine’s Day is still searching for its relevance in our context. After Gen X, we now have Gen Y(millennials) and Gen Z living through their single life stage.  Yet, Valentine’s Day has not made any real headway with Gen Y or Gen Z. Currently, the concept that it seems to be anchored on is Gifting … it is a day for gifting loved ones (akin to birthdays or anniversaries). The act of gifting is itself an expression of love and affection, which can be directed towards anyone – starting with oneself.  Why shouldn’t women gift themselves on Women’s Day?  Or Mothers’ Day?  Why only or mainly on Valentine’s Day?

The answer isn’t clear yet and this reveals the hollowness of its meaning in the Indian context. For brands, Valentine’s Day is yet another moment for underlining their positioning in a creative way. Self-love thus seems like a safer option than romantic love thematically as self-love seems like a progressive yet prudent idea in the Indian context as portraying romantic love on screen can lead to backlash for the brands by right-wing groups.

In 2023’s content pieces we saw young love as a concept that is only used by brands that are positioned on this platform, viz CDM Silk (chocolates). Self-love communication, on the other hand, seemed two be on the rise. It can be seen most prominently in two brands – Westside and Reliance Jewels; and a little more subtly in 5-Star’s communication too, as intended to nudge the viewer towards embracing singlehood.

The logical question that follows next is, will Valentine’s Day slowly die out in the marketing calendar, as a day on which to ‘push’ messaging out to consumers? Our view is that it may not ‘die’ completely as there could be a few brands that still choose to make communication for Valentine’s Day. However, brands cannot inject energy and momentum into a cultural product, when there isn’t any real cultural momentum or energy behind Valentine’s Day.  Hence, it is likely to drop off from many brands’ activity checklists.