Image: chicks57 via Flickr

Readers, I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed looked like a war zone this morning.

I saw your standard swooning declarations of love (these past three weeks with you have felt like a lifetime, my sun-and-stars). I saw angsty anti-Valentine rants that made the Inquisition look like a small crime compared to the apparent horrors of V-Day.

I saw anti-anti-Valentine rants that urged us all to stop hating and love each other. I saw wallowing self-pity. I saw love letters written for dogs, for kids, for cats, and for cupcakes. And I saw roughly thirty thousand statuses dedicated to Single’s Awareness Day (that stopped being witty about ten years ago, America).

Look, readers, I don’t care if you’re busy frosting pink brownies or hand-lettering protest signs. I’m not here to delve into the politics of V-Day. I’m here to discuss the cold, hard reality of those candy hearts and sappy cards: the holiday is a marketing goldmine.

Selling Romance, Not Roses

I’m not suggesting Valentine-themed content marketing is some groundbreaking new idea. Retailers have been passing out Valentine’s Day recipes or craft ideas for decades. However, this year did bring out some fantastic examples of brand-targeted content marketing — stuff that really nailed each brand’s target audience (and sold some products to boot).

From fair trade flowers to scantily clad supermodels, here are five terrific examples of branded content marketing in all the heavy-hitting V-Day categories: flowers, candy, cards, jewelry, and lingerie.

1. Flowers: Whole Foods’ 3-Part Blog Series on the Whole Trade Flowers Program

The Basics: Look, Ma! We’re Charitable!

Whole Foods went old school and published a straightforward 3-part blog series on the company’s recent trip to South America to visit farmers in their Whole Trade Flowers program.

The series emphasized the positive results of the Whole Trade program: Whole Foods contributes a 10% premium on the cost of flowers that goes to local community-enriching programs (such as local childcare for Whole Trade workers).

Why It Worked: Socially Responsible Roses for a Socially Responsible Crowd

No major grocery chain knows their audience like Whole Foods does. The brand knows their customers care deeply about where their food comes from. However, the locavore-friendly Whole Foods faces a dilemma with Valentine’s Day flowers: it’s impossible to produce local flowers for a holiday that occurs in the frozen mid-February.

If You’re Going to Buy Flowers, Make Them Charitable Flowers

Unable to buy locally, Whole Foods imports Valentine’s Day flowers from South America and markets the Whole Trade program as a way the company is improving the life of South American workers. As the author writes in the series: “This year, I encourage everyone to share their love with flowers that support the Whole Trade communities of growers, to give the gift that makes a difference.”

In short: you know shipping flowers from South America isn’t the greenest gift in the world, but at least Whole Foods flowers make a difference in someone’s life. So if you’re going to bite the bullet and buy flowers, you’ll probably be doing the least amount of evil at Whole Foods.

2. Chocolate: Ghirardelli Bribes Facebook Users with Valentine-Themed Content

The Basics: We Love Our Fans So Much We Write Exclusive Content For Them!

Want to see a collection of exclusive recipes, quizzes, videos, and contests? You’ll have to be a Ghirardelli Facebook fan first.

Why It Works: Bribing Users With Chocolate

Oh, Ghirardelli, you crafty chocolatier, you. You’re dangling free content – and free chocolate – in front of Facebook users. Of course they’re going to like your page. Of course you have over 940,000 Facebook fans.

Ghirardelli sells both finished (chocolate) and raw (chocolate baking ingredients) products, so it makes sense they take an enabling standpoint instead of a selling standpoint. Like our chocolate? Of course you do! Here are recipes you can use to further enjoy our products. Want a special way to give out classroom Ghirardelli squares? Try our mini-gift bag tutorial!

Building a Community Based on Chocolate

Through quizzes, user contests, and posting open-ended questions for fans, Ghirardelli uses content to build a like-minded community of chocoholics.

The company is currently encouraging fans to submit their pictures of creative DIY V-day wrapping for Ghirardelli products (for a chance to win free chocolate). Users are discussing diabetic-friendly dessert ideas on the company’s wall.

It’s incredibly collaborative and interactive – which keeps fans coming back to the page.

3. Greeting Cards: Hallmark’s Trip Down Valentine Memory Lane

The Basics: Valentine’s Day Through the Years

Hallmark put together a slideshow of Valentine’s Day cards throughout the century. From the “steady beaus” of the 40’s to hippie-themed cards from the 60’s, every era of love is represented here.

Better yet, the historic brand isn’t afraid to poke fun of itself, like the over-the-top card from the 90’s that reads, “I breathe in your love, awakening my senses, stirring my emotions, making me feel alive – your love is like air, and in you, I breathe.

Wow. Just…wow.

Why It Works:  Nostalgia at Its Finest

It’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s incredibly shareable. It’s Web-friendly. All these make this a terrific example of Web content.

Yet the slideshow also works in Hallmark’s favor by positioning Valentine’s Day (and Hallmark) as something timeless and eternal. It’s not just a holiday: it’s an American tradition.

And, naturally, the slideshow ends with a plug for Hallmark’s latest card.

Well played, Hallmark.

4. Jewelry: Tiffany’s Guide to “Love, Manhattan Style”

The Basics: The City Girl’s Guide to Modern Romance

Never sappy or over-the-top, Tiffany’s has put together a stylish date night guide for the stylish girl. From gallery-hopping to extravagant tasting menus, this date night oozes Manhattan class and modernity.

Why it Works: Selling the Brand, Not the Diamonds

Tiffany’s isn’t about diamonds or pearls. It’s a lifestyle brand – the epitome of city chic. A Tiffany’s necklace isn’t as important as the idea of a Tiffany’s girl: the would-be Holly Golightlys of the world, the effortless glamour of a Manhattan fashionista.

So Tiffany’s uses their brand know-how to put together the Ultimate Guide to Love in the City. Art galleries. Cocktails. An opulent dinner in the city. Sounds straight out of Sex in the City, no?

It’s the perfect way to maintain brand expertise while selling Tiffany’s idealized version of love (which, let’s be honest, is the reason for buying those necklaces and rings in the first place).

5. Lingerie: Victoria’s Secret’s All-Access Valentine’s Day Guide

The Basics: Supermodels and Sex Appeal Abound

Want to send your special someone a video Valentine, featuring a Victoria’s Secret supermodel? Go right ahead. From makeup tutorials to supermodel interviews, Victoria’s Secret never shies away from the sexy side of Valentine’s Day.

Why It Works: The Art of Selling Sexiness

Theoretically, women should hate Victoria’s Secret’s All-Access page. The site is an endless parade of taut-bodied supermodels in lingerie – and so is Maxim. But the brand is beloved by women all over the world because the brand focuses on selling a concept: making women feel as sexy as those supermodels.

Indulging a Fantasy

It’s a different kind of fantasy than Maxim: while men want to be with the supermodels, women want to be them. So Victoria’s Secret opens up their supermodels to the public: having them chat about their first kiss or their idea of romance (all while rocking Victoria’s Secret bras and panties, of course).

They post makeup tutorials (be as sexy as our girls!), share love and romance tips (they’re just like you!), and allow women to customize sexy valentines for both female friends and significant others. It’s about encouraging women to be as sexy as a supermodel – and to buy some supermodel-esque lingerie while they’re at it.

Sound Off: Valentine’s Day

Which strategy did you think was most effective? See any killer examples of V-day content marketing this year (or in years past)? Share ‘em in the comments.

And while we’re at it, we’ll ask: how do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Are you pro- or anti-Cupid? Dish your opinions in the comments!

Nicki Porter is a working writer, fledgling foodie, and admitted alliteration addict who has no problem whatsoever with the big V-day. A free excuse to drink champagne and eat candy hearts? What’s not to love? Share your thoughts on V-day with her on Twitter at @nickimporter. Or better yet, come hang out with CopyPress on TwitterFacebook, or Tumblr!