February 14, 2024
5 mins

The anatomy of a great Valentine’s Day ad

How humorous ads and the romanticism of singledom have become the new Valentine’s Day coupling.

“Beloved, sweetheart—bahaha…”

If you don’t get this reference—congratulations. It comes from a poem called Havisham’, by Scottish writer Carol Ann Duffy, and is quite possibly the most use I’ve got from a diploma in English literature to date.

My not-so-unique take on Valentine’s Day is that whoever said that romance wasn’t dead probably didn’t have a very good sense of humor. Since, at least for the last few years, once purportedly romantic commercials are getting less airtime and are being replaced by the comedic genius freshly released from Pandora’s heart-shaped, hell-bound box. 

And I’m more than here for it. In fact, I have spent the last 35 minutes chuckling away at a series of ads that—in my opinion—put the art in heart. 

With more than 40% of the US population over 18 being single, are we looking at the dawn of a new age for advertising? Has cupid got romantic ads in a chokehold, or is singledom and humor the new unholy union for commercial advertising?

Let’s swan-dive in and see the makings of an effective Valentine’s Day ad 💕

A match made in hell 

My all-time favorite. 

This 2021 ad cleverly couples humor, horror and makes the impossible happen—love for the unlovable (and I’m talking about 2020, not Satan).

As part of our ‘Anatomy of a Great Ad’ series, we run commercials through SmartAssets—Stagwell Marketing Cloud’s creative analytics tool which breaks both static and video assets down at creative component-level and measures the different drivers of creative effectiveness.

In this particular edition, I wanted to find the parallels for Valentine’s Day advertising. And what better way to do than getting a breakdown of the top emotions and a visual representation of the data? 

Top 3 emotions: Cozy and warm, horror and fear, excitement. 

So far, so good. Sounds like most relationships. But, how about a word-cloud to show the main themes and on-screen display? 

Here is a breakdown of the screen time: 

Let’s not sugarcoat it—this is a little off-beat for ‘conventionally romantic’. Mainly the huge presence of ‘devil’ and ‘demon’…And also, if you look a little closer at words such as ‘running away’, ‘unsettling’ and ‘black horns’.

But honing in on these finer details you’ll also see that this ad amusingly plays to almost all of the Valentine’s Day tropes: picnic, fireplace, intense, close, dancing, walking, bridge, popcorn, smiling, diamond, theater, stadium, move, blanket, feeling and talking.

A registered total of 37 scenes which play into—yet also break—the clichés of Valentine’s Day advertising in the best possible way: by making fun of them. 

The number of people that SmartAssets detected in all sequences is 3, which was slightly skewed due to the on-screen figure at the cinema. But, disregarding the random person butting in on this near-perfect relationship—there’s always one—the focus is on just two love birds

And that’s the perfect finish to this overwhelmingly red Valentine’s commercial.

Valentine’s Day alibi

From one cliché to another, this ad depends heavily on a different kind of humor: 🧀

In fact, if the previous ad was slightly cheesy, then this one microwaves both cheesiness and corniness together to make an incredible popcorn for your next rom-com. 

But it also has something else, which is relatability. 

I mean, who hasn’t been asked “what are you doing for Valentine’s Day?” and wanted to be sucked into the ground. I’m also part of that lucky group of people whose mom has bought them a card (she thought I needed it).

Skipping the details on that, let’s look into more of the largely successful tropes. 

Top 3 emotions: calm, positive and peaceful.

The total number of scenes in this clip is remarkably similar: 87 seconds and 27 scenes. That’s around 2.4 - 2.5 seconds per clip to help your audience follow the storyline without getting too bored. 

Cadbury brand prominence is highly detectable, and so are the calls-to-action. There are a total of 9 brand mentions, and 6 labels, which—if you break that down—it’s a rather good ratio of 1:10 seconds for brand recall.

Detected tropes: heart-shaped balloons, waves, pizza,heart-shaped decorations, stuffed toys, sky, sun, sunlight, teddy bears, clouds, island, beach chairs, wicker baskets, flowers, sand and boats. 

So, if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to the alibi island of ‘My Cousin’s Wedding’, you’ll have to fill in a visa application explaining the nature of your visit (eg. to avoid crowded restaurants and romantic couples), as well as going through a ‘mush detector’. 

Sorry, Satan, all things red are prohibited here. 


I pondered for quite a while about including this Ryanair ad in the UK & Ireland, because… 

Top 3 emotions: calm, sad, neutral

And then I remembered that both ‘neutrality’ and ‘sadness’—that I am renaming unfortunateness—are often some of the best conduits for dark or tongue-in-cheek humor. 

Ultimately this reconfirmed why this needed to be part of an alternative Valentine’s Day breakdown.

Starting with a comparison to the previous commercials, this adheres to the norm in terms of scenes per seconds—with SmartAssets registering a total of 21 scenes in 56 seconds, or 2.7 seconds per scene. And in those scenes SmartAssets detected more than 15 brand mentions. Good job.

But what really adds to the humor in this clip is the ‘traditionally romantic’ track (Why Don’t You Tell Me by Christophe Deschamps) used to enhance tragicomedy. And at exactly the right moments. 

Something else that makes this effective is the significant reduction in detected romantic objects (read: neutral): scarf, phone, paper, sandwich, bench, man, suitcase, banister, path, kiosk, couch, thermos, door, coat and stairs.

The exceptions being: sky, heart (although used for dramatic effect) and trees. 

Even the supposedly romantic—barf—kissing scene looks uncomfortable. 

It’s really the fun combination of ‘lack of romanticism’, neutrality, unfortunateness and singledom that make this ad special. 

In the end, it’s just another day.

The thing that all of these clips point towards is singledom being a solvable problem, whether it’s finding your match made in hell, avoiding bothersome questions or taking solo vacations for fun. 

Surveys show that 91% of consumers are looking for something different—and that is for brands to be more humorous.

Brands that are able to lean into this, and to stand out with light-hearted or funny ads can increase their ad recall by up to 90%.Think of all the ads that made you laugh—the ones with the jingles, the ones that broke the norms, and the ones that were just plain wild. 

The bottom line is: if you can build a unique relationship with your customers and engage them, that is the key to being able to sell to them.

Stagwell Marketing Cloud’s SmartAssets

SmartAssets is Stagwell Marketing Cloud’s generative AI platform transforming the way that brands manage their creative content—intelligently tagging assets, predicting campaign performance and optimizing ad creatives. Visit here to learn more.

Daniel Purnell

Daniel Purnell is the Marketing Manager for Stagwell Marketing Cloud.

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