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Economics of love

Meghana Rajeshwar, Feb 9 2018, 19:26 IST
Love is in the air

Love is in the air

Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful girl named Claire. She lived in a little cottage near the woods. No, she didn't know Cinderella or Snow White, in case you are wondering; they were before her time. One day, Claire was pruning her beloved roses when she realised that Valentine's Day was just around the corner. "Oh, no!", she moaned. "I am tired of being showered with teddy bears and love poems. If I could get a penny for every pathetic poem, I could be a millionaire in..", her voice trailed off. A gleam came into her eye. Why not, she wondered. If people are so eager to part with their money, why not help them?

And that's how Love Gallery was born. It began in a barn, then grew into a corner shop, then into a chain of glitzy stores that employed hundreds of people. They crafted greeting cards and candy, teddy bears and jewellery. They packaged love and sold it to legions of eager lovers.

Claire went on to marry Voyance, a fine young man. They had two beautiful children, Prudence and Ambition, who carried forward their mother's legacy of love. Today Claire is no more, but come February, the flowers on her grave burst into bloom. Some say that she is smiling in her grave. Others swear they can hear a woman's laugh all the way to the bank.

Those who dismiss Valentine's Day as crass consumerism are missing the point. True love doesn't create jobs, consumerism does. According to market research, the Valentine's Day market in India was estimated at more than Rs 20,000 crore, and is expected to grow further. And that is just online. Not convinced? Read on.

The month of love produces a sharp spike in business, across industries. Disclaimer: This list is not comprehensive and is constrained by the word limit of this article.

Flower vendors, specifically those who sell red roses. On V-day, the price jump of this precious commodity can put even bitcoin to shame. Ms/ Mr/ Messrs Satoshi Nakamoto have a long way to go. In fact, if you are a smart investor, circa November might have been a good time to invest in rose gardens.

Gift shop owners, for whom V-Day is the equivalent of Diwali for mithai shops. Specifically, sellers of candles (red), chocolates (heart-shaped), teddy bears (large) and wine (any kind). Actually, sellers of all things red. And of heart-motif anything.

Jewellery stores, although unverified research indicates that these typically show an increase in business after V-day, when boyfriends/husbands who had forgotten V-day are in the market for guilt jewellery, pun intended. Smart jewellers offer discounts on V-Day, but hike up the prices soon after. Guilt > love to loosen purse strings.

Beauty salons that promise a "magical glow" for "that important day in your life". Gender equality is the topic du jour, so it is appropriate that men's grooming companies have a field day too.

Restaurants/cafés/lounges, especially those that offer V-day packages and a romantic ambience. Even the roadside vendor who sells 99 varieties of masala dosa tries to get hold of red umbrellas and plastic chairs, if nothing else.

Multiplexes that screen sigh-inducing mush. Flop movies see a brief revival too. Flop movies = empty theatres = easily available corner seats = assured privacy. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Hotels and resorts who were in the doldrums thanks to Airbnb. V-day gives these businesses a much-needed shot in the arm.

TV channels that fall over themselves to offer the perfect mush fest for stay-at-home-revellers. Comedy, romedy, dramedy, take your pick.

This is the age of click-and-buy, with one in three people choosing to buy online. V-Day does its civic duty by helping to increase the valuation of already over-valued e-commerce sites and win another gazillion dollars in the next round of funding.

Different "adult" products that see a rise in hope-driven business in the run-up to V-day. Advertising for some of these products has recently been banned from prime-time television, to arrest the rampant spread of corruption-by-Western-civilisation. For the same reasons, these products cannot be named by respected newspapers.

Counsellors, who scramble to cope with a sudden influx of the lovelorn. Like the rise of respiratory allergies in some months, February sees an increase in "loveria" cases. Unfortunately, there is no cure; one can only manage the symptoms and pray that this too, shall pass.

Then there are those who don't necessarily gain employment, but derive a sense of purpose from V-Day. Indeed, some of them owe their very existence to the festival of lurve:

The outraged parent (usually, but not always, the father of the girl).

Outraged junta, if the couple in question belong to different communities. Then the intensity of fury is inversely proportional to the closeness of the relationship, which means that the most incensed person will not even have met the couple. Outrage for hire, anyone?

The thwarted lover. This segment contributes heavily to the earlier categories in this list - flowers, teddy bears, jewellery, et al, with the quantum of contribution increasing in direct proportion to desperation level, but with little correlation to said thwarted lover's own financial state. The unofficial V-Day handbook for thwarted lovers says, "Thou shalt beg, borrow or steal, but thou shalt inundate the object of thy affection with objects of affection."

The culture guardians who pick up cudgels, literally or "literarily", to protect one group or another from corruption-by-Western-civilisation. While there are generalists in this field, many have chosen areas of specialisation. For some it is community, others are roused into action by same-sex couples, and still others are very generous in their tolerance as long as a certain kind of meat is not consumed. The best part? All signs indicate that this is a growing field and will resist the job-destroying spread of automation. Casualties of Brexit or Trump's war against H1B1 quotas, fear not. There will be jobs aplenty in your homeland; qualification no bar.

So does that mean Valentine's Day is just another product of marketing genius? Perhaps not. Just the other day, my almost three-year-old nephew looked up at his mother and chirped, "I love you, mama." Just like that. The words come naturally to him, as well as to his mother, who tells him regularly that she loves him. There are many like her. This is an interesting shift, as verbal expressions of love within the family tend to invite either embarrassed snorts or derisive lectures beginning with "In our time€" But people have started taking the idea of celebrating love, and expanding the circle it includes. It is not uncommon to see children buying red roses for their mothers, friends meeting for 'dates' and family members greeting each other with hugs on Valentine's Day. If this commercial holiday has made it fashionable to express love for the people who matter most in our lives, maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.

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