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Reimagining Valentine's Day

As far as ‘holidays’ go, Valentine’s Day is one that is already viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism by many. And in the context of a worldwide pandemic, with people unable to spend time with their loved ones; parents homeschooling their children while juggling jobs and managing a home; and over a hundred thousand deaths in the UK alone–limited edition red polyester lingerie sets and novelty cards seem even less appealing than ever.

The collective mood at the moment could probably be described as ‘fragile, lonely. Needs a hug.’ But instead of glib pledges to ‘bring people back together’ and ‘be there for us’ (24-hour telephone banking doesn’t quite replace the comfort of a cup of tea with your mum), brands who want to get loved up with their customers this Valentine’s Day should think beyond the norm to create values-driven activations that centre on community, family and connection. 

We decided to explore how brands could reimagine Valentine’s Day this year, with the aim of alleviating loneliness in a fractured society.

1. Staying in Touch: How can we enable people to spend quality time together virtually?

2. Chance Meetings: How can we recreate opportunities for connection with strangers?

3. Dating: How can people date beyond Zoom calls and walks in the park? 

4. Giving Back to Community: Beyond our own networks, how can we help people feel valued, connected and appreciated?

Even before coronavirus wreaked havoc on the world, modern society had a tendency to breed loneliness. Millions of years of evolution have made humans into social beings who need connection in the same way we need food and water, but studies suggest that anywhere from 22% to 75% adults are persistently lonely. They’re even developing a pill to combat the impact of chronic loneliness.

Norman Cousins

"The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness."

With so many people isolated, technology has had to step up to try and replicate in-person meetings, but it falls short a lot of the time. Unfortunately for Zoom, the success of its app is largely dependent on users’ home wifi connections, which can often be unreliable.  But putting wifi issues aside, how could video conferencing do a better job of replicating real-life hangouts? What could the family Zoom meeting of tomorrow look like? 

Video calls formalise the process of socialising which can actually make us feel even more disconnected from our loved ones: conversations can be stilted, nuances missed. When nonverbal cues, like smiles, gestures or glances, are harder to read, we perceive fewer friendly cues from others. And you can’t tell if someone’s shoulders are slumping a little more than usual; whether they’re being unusually quiet; if they’re looking ‘well’ or whether it’s just the Zoom filter.  

The rise of the ‘Zoom Quiz’ in 2020 was a natural response to people wanting to connect over something other than polite small talk, which can be hard to break out of when you’re distracted by a delay on the line, or your own face staring back at you. Spending quality ‘IRL’ time with family and friends isn’t always about sitting opposite each other at a table, talking: it’s often the long car journeys or trips to the supermarket that bring those moments of connection, whether it’s through comfortable silence or an uncontrollable laughter fit. 

Staying in touch: How can we enable people to spend quality time together virtually?

Nothing fills millennials with horror quite like an unexpected call, but video calls are just next-level. Your hair’s a mess, you’ve got no make-up on, all your horrible secrets are on show in the background –– make it stop. 

Kim K on the phone ignoring call
But in the spirit of helping us connect with each other – our real selves, not our curated ‘For Zoom’ selves – there’s an opportunity here for a brand to play in this space. Rather than it being a beauty brand, focused on ‘always looking your best so you’re always Zoom-ready’, what if a brand created a campaign that was focused on embracing the mess, the imperfections, and having an impromptu video call anyway? People might initially be attracted to ‘perfection’, but it won’t sustain a relationship. In order to truly connect with someone you have to be able to see their flaws and imperfections. It’s what makes people human. 

How could video conferencing apps like Zoom make the experience more personal?

- Could Zoom take a leaf out of House Party’s book and develop a way for people to drop in and out of group chats, with no obligation to stay? Could virtual doors be left open for ‘trusted’ contacts like family members?

- Building on this, could there be a status button for people to indicate whether they’re open to a video chat? For example, [Catherine] sets her iPad FaceTime/Zoom availability to ‘open’ on Friday at 5pm, which will notify her ‘trusted’ list of friends and family that she’s open to a chat, without her needing to make any formal arrangements. 

- Could Zoom integrate with fitness and health trackers, to pick up on signals around someone’s mood? Could Cycle Tracking apps let your friends know whether you’re more likely to be hibernating or in the mood to socialise? 

Spotify has recently patented technology that will allow it to analyse your voice and suggest songs based on your "emotional state, gender, age, or accent". The patent will allow the algorithm to "make observations" about a user's environment and emotions using speech recognition technology. Spotify can then play music reflecting the mood or even their social setting - "e.g. alone, small group, party," according to the patent. It would be interesting to see how this technology could be integrated with apps like Zoom, to create social cues for more nuanced connection.

Granted, Zoom needs to remain lean in order to function as best as it can for as wide a range of users as possible. Plugins allow users to expand the options to suit their setup and lifestyle. Not everyone would want their health or mood status to be displayed proudly against their name: but for certain groups, this type of integration could be an interesting way to create more meaningful interactions. 

How could we facilitate chance meetings between strangers through shared experiences?

The path has changed for everyone during this pandemic –– but young people have arguably suffered the most. If we choose to be dramatic about it, and it seems apt if we’re channelling our teen selves – hundreds of thousands of potential friendships and romantic relationships never had the chance to blossom. The days that would’ve been spent travelling, festivalling and partying have been replaced with endless days at home with parents or housemates. 

So –– how could we build successful virtual events around shared interests? How could we make those events interactive and exciting, and relaxed enough that people could actually create meaningful connections with each other?

You Me Bum Bum Train is one of the most legendary immersive theatrical experiences, where you’re taken on a journey through different high-pressure scenarios, one after the other. It would be interesting to see how this could be translated online: could you have large groups of people gather and go into ‘breakout rooms’ where intense situations await them?

For example: in YMBBT you physically move through different rooms, meeting a new scenario in each. You might suddenly be a guest on a radio show, or prep for an American football game, or have to sing a song on stage in front of hundreds of people. 

Could you move virtually through these situations with a group of people you’ve never met before? 

How could we create innovative dating experiences that make the most of the distance between us?      

Music has been bringing people together since Shakespeare and the lute (and probably before that). 

Shakespeare on the Lute winking

Spotify has access to an insane amount of amazing data. What if they created a campaign where you could meet your musical match and find out if the person who has the same algorithmic music taste is also your perfect match? 

This idea would need to run as a one-off campaign rather than a feature of the app: Spotify’s core functionality is to serve up music, not be cupid. But the fun opportunities they could have with a big budget and playful use of data are really fun to imagine. Think glossy, high production, like the video of strangers kissing. The campaign answers bigger questions around psychology and love and music. 

Ideas for enhancements/integrations: Instead of dating apps simply telling you what a person’s top music is, or allowing them to share their playlists or favourite songs, what if it gave you a separate music match score? 

Speed Dating: Could ChatRoulette make a comeback? 

Chatroulette became famous during the early 2010s for allowing people to talk with strangers. However, the site also became infamous due to the obvious associations with X-rated opportunists using it for unsavoury activities. As reported by Wired, Chatroulette is now aiming to make a comeback with better content moderation aided by AI. 

"It's a similar thrill to going out to a bar. You have no idea who you are going to meet, what you might talk about — honestly, I'm lonely and wanted to feel the butterflies that come with talking to a stranger." 

There is definitely something in the technology behind this, as long as the content moderation works

How could virtual speed-dating work? There are lots of benefits to doing this: you don’t actually have to waste money on a dinner/drinks, you can sit at home with your cat and meet as many people as you like, all while remaining in your leggings.

- Could a heart rate monitor measure the connection you have with prospective dates?

Large numbers of people around the world have been forced into solitude due to the coronavirus pandemic. But social distancing is completely at odds with our drive for social connection, the cornerstone of human evolution. We are witnessing huge changes in the way that humans come together; and brands that understand these changes and can provide new ways for us to connect with each other will prevail.

If you’d like to discuss how Matter Of Form partner with companies to provide strategic design and tech services, please get in touch via hello@matterofform.com to arrange a time to speak with our team of consultants or visit www.matterofform.com. 

Strategy
MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a 60-person Experience Design Consultancy with soul. We help timeless brands design what’s next. STRATEGY + DESIGN + TECH + OPTIMISATION