Marketing Love and Sex

What used to be a feast day of a martyred saint is now a celebration or expression of romantic love and admiration. Gifts, such as flowers, and chocolates are most common, accompanied by variations of “I Love You” messages, including number codes such as 143, 831, 721, 224 among others. Some people find Valentines Day as yet another opportunity for businesses to sell more or a trigger to remind everyone that every day should be a celebration of love anyway.  During these times, one wonders if the marketers of flower and gift shops can encourage a show of appreciation to medical front liners who saved lives during Covid-19 by promoting gifting of flowers or chocolates (hint! hint!). 

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Signs and symbols are part of cultural engagement, which in turn is most fundamental in sensemaking, allowing marketers (people in general) to have analytical empathy, mastering meaningful differences in context. For instance, giving roses in the Philippines symbolize love and romance, especially if three roses were given. However, roses in Egypt represent death, while they are given during funerals in Hungary. 

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Drive in hotels, like Victoria Court, used to experience peak occupancy not just during this time of the year, but also a few days before and after Valentines Day with some “suki” even visiting for several days.   (Of course, this has changed with Covid-19, and just like many hotels, they had to reduce the number of operating branches as well as convert other branches into quarantine hotels.)

In the 1990’s, Victoria Court innovated by having drive-in thematic rooms to encourage more usage, changing the designs of rooms to look less traditional motel-like – removing mirrors on the ceiling and on the sides of the bed (Note: This was only described to me by a friend, My wife reads my weekly articles, by the way). Perhaps, these thematic rooms may increase creativity or even lessen anxiety for those who use them today for quarantine reasons.

Victoria used to have party packages attracting groups who typically pre-meet at a nearby place before riding and entering the premise together – avoiding possible stigma of being seen entering a “motel” despite “protocol” within Victoria Court that employees are not allowed to look at the woman companion (or anyone  beside the driver) so there is no need to hide behind a newspaper sometimes held upside down. The party packages, while a small percentage of total revenues, helped increase sales from food and beverages, but more importantly, it was an innovative sampling strategy paid for by the host.  

When I asked the owner the late Archie King where he got the party idea, he admitted it was a request from a customer who volunteered to keep the door open so Victoria’s waiters can easily go in and out not just to bring food but to ensure safety of everyone.

I have since added asking for a “wish list” each time I talk to customers about what they liked or disliked about a brand or a company. Marketers have no monopoly of new ideas and many times, customers, and even noncustomers, have unfulfilled wish lists. Just ask where French Baker got their 50%-off idea thirty minutes before store closing time, and it is the same wish list conversation with a customer. Of course, the action from the wish list of French Baker is not a marketing contradiction unlike that of Victoria Court.  French Baker attracted two market segments – the quality conscious who do not want to queue, and the price conscious who do not mind queuing.  On the other hand, Victoria Court’s primary target market values discreetness and privacy which were violated by the presence of the tertiary target market, composed of the party crowd segment. 

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A college friend sent a poster to one of our college Viber groups sharing that for P50,000, a group dressed like nurses and doctors, will bring their van to “smuggle” a philandering husband out of his house to see his “other” woman. While intended as a joke, they probably have not heard about Kasoku, where unused rooms in Tokyo, Japan are rented out to emotionally challenged couples so they could talk about their relationship openly.  This arrangement comes with free half hour divorce counselling service to prevent #coronadivorce, a new buzzword that is a consequence of stress created by husbands working from home and wives not used to their presence the whole day.

In a situation that may be related, sexless marriage affects about half of married people in Japan, up from 31.9% (source: Japan Family Planning Association) in 2004 (US is about 20% from a study by Georgia University). Japan’s motel industry, called love hotel, numbering over 30,000 has allowed people not just to relax, but to role play and fantasize as a form of escape. 

This industry is estimated to be over US$40 billion per annum, visited by some 1.4 million couples daily, which is double that of the 2021 anime industry’s US$24 billion revenues globally. 

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China’s famous Marriage Markets feature anxious parents writing the amazing qualities of their “Sheng Nu” (leftover women) or “Sheng Nan (“leftover men”), typically way above 27 years old, and posting it publicly in a park for people to appreciate and inquire. Worried their children will become old, lonely, die alone, and wanting to fulfill their perceived duty as parents to avoid a “bare branch”, they also include a wish list of qualifications, typically, the income level, education and appearance. While children are mortified, parents feel it is their responsibility to ensure their only child gets married to avoid, rightly or wrongly, being incomplete and bear a stigma in the community. There are more modern blind date clubs, typically visited by the more ambitious and higher educated Chinese, but there are over 30 million more men than women in China, causing an imbalance in supply and demand. By 2055, it is estimated there will be 30% more men than women in China. Fortunately, SK-II, an international skin care brand of Procter and Gamble, has made it their brand purpose to continuously change people’s wrong perception of “Sheng Nu” –  that they are not “leftovers”, and for parents to understand that the future of their unmarried children is not based solely on marital status as life’s ultimate goal. The insight of SKII is worth applauding, the campaign became the most talked about in China as it resonated with a real bias in society. In truth, getting married should never be out of pressure to please parents or conform to society! 

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Prospecting need not be in a marriage market. When I was taking my MBA at De La Salle in my early 20’s, a classmate of mine, a relatively high ranking government employee, was not paying attention during our group works and kept looking at people in other groups. When I asked if she needed a master’s degree to be promoted in government, she answered in the negative and admitted she was actually prospecting for a husband. De La Salle has never promoted features other than offering quality education. The marketing lesson? What you sell is not exactly why people buy!

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My understanding about love finally came when I was studying in a seminary school. My professor called me during recitation to define love. I wished he asked me to define marketing instead so I faltered and answered incorrectly. As a consequence, I was asked to do a book review of “The Road Less Travelled” by Dr. M. Scott Peck, which sold more than 10 million copies. I realized there are many myths about romantic love, chiefly, the emotions of “falling in (romantic) love” or being overprotective in the guise of loving too much. In reality, true or real love is about spiritual nurturing, a conscious action one takes for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and/or another’s spiritual growth – even if it means letting go to let each other grow. This is different from cathexis, which is associated with sexual attraction, where true love can only happen after this stage. It was the best consequence I experienced for my failure to answer in a class recitation.  While I have been blessed to have experienced being loved and giving love, to understand the spiritual context of love provides a perspective of the kind of love that matters, a way of loving that nurtures and sustains.  And this is one campaign I have to admit, that is beyond marketing.

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Josiah Go is Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. 

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