Galentine’s Day: why brands need to capture the truth about female friendship

Back in 2010, Leslie Knope, the fictional star of cult sitcom Parks and Recreation, came up with a term and new form of micro-holiday that may well come to be a defining feature of our decade: Galentine’s Day.

Tired of February being eclipsed by Valentine’s Day (and the holiday’s shameless commercialisation of romantic relationships), Knope’s description of Galentine’s Day is a joyful, tongue-in-cheek ode to female friendship:

“Every February 13, my ladyfriends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.”

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‘Ladies celebrating ladies’: a Leslie Knope-conceived public holiday (image: The Telegraph)

‘Ladies celebrating ladies’ – fast forward to 2018, and Knope’s jubilatory philosophy has been wholeheartedly adopted by brands and mainstream culture alike.

From Miss Selfridge to Accessorize, Veuve Clicquot to Malibu, Remington and even Ahmad Tea, women consumers are being encouraged to break away from the heteronormative shackles of Valentine’s Day and make the most of their ‘BFFs’ instead.

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Pink fizz and friendship: Galentine’s Day with Veuve Clicquot (image: Veuve Clicquot)

In a cultural momnt where #MeToo, #TimesUp and #EverydaySexism dominate popular conversation (and in a month where the Spice Girls are rumoured to be considering a comeback tour), to some, Galentine’s Day might feel like a breath of fresh air, an empowering way to forget about romantic love to focus on the impressive momentum of Girl Power instead.

But should Galentine’s Day be as simple an affair as nipping out for a Prosecco and a giggle with ‘the gals’, as comms from Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Veuve Clicquot and the likes would have us believe?

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Surface-level: Galentine’s Day comms from Dorothy Perkins (image: Dorothy Perkins)

The mistake many of these brands are making is that they take a very surface-level approach to represent female friendship.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that female friendship can be just as agonising, exhilarating and complex as romantic love, as books such as Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love so candidly reveal. And just as we saw in Kim Cattrall’s controversial Instagram post last week, where in the wake of a family tragedy she rejected any public gesture of support from her Sex and the City co-star Sarah Jessica Parker, friendships – or what we perceive to be friendships – can die spectacularly and painfully, just like romantic relationships.

It’s also true that some women consumers are slightly affronted by the fact that Galentine’s Day even exists. Some are uncomfortable with the fact that it has been positioned as a consolation prize for being single, others resent the smugness of brands painting it as the ‘superior’ alternative to Valentine’s day, while many are simply exasperated that a deeply complex and emotional phenomenon has been packaged up for commercial gain, in a way that’s simplistic and often perpetuates harmful female stereotypes (think pink, Prosecco and squealing gaggles of girls).

There’s lots of potential for brands wanting to adopt the philosophy of Galentine’s Day, but only if approaches are sensitive to the nuances of female friendship.

A great example of a brand achieving this is British Airways. By depicting actress Anna Friel on a Californian road trip with her best friend, their campaign My California: On the Road With Anna Friel manages to capture the reality of a friendship between two women without making the messaging feel explicit or saccharine.

While this isn’t a ‘Galentine’s Day’ campaign per se, other brands would do well to take note of the fact that BA gives female friendship clear attention and airtime, without feeling the need to commercialise it in the name of a novelty public micro-holiday.

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Complex relationships: Anna Friel on holiday with her best friend (image: British Airways)

More celebrations of female friendship could and should be an important part of our next cultural chapter. But ‘Galentine’s Day’ simply isn’t enough – the profundity of the way women feel about each other shouldn’t be superficially adopted as a topic for a single day each year.

Instead, the highs and lows of female relationships are calling out for a more permanent exploration by brands whose purpose aligns with the needs of women consumers. How does retail play into the way women relate to each other? Why do women gift their friends with beauty products when words simply aren’t enough? How can we frame typically ‘feminine’ products and services around the topic of friendship in a way that feels empowering and not belittling? And can we achieve all of this in a way that doesn’t perpetuate gender stereotypes?

These questions are ripe for answering. ‘Ladies celebrating ladies’ should continue beyond 13th February – trust us, ‘the gals’ will thank you for it.

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