This time of year, every few minutes brings a new Valentine’s Day pitch into my inbox. By the time I finish this paragraph, there will be a new one and it will probably have something to do with wine or chocolate or flowers -- you know, REALLY ORIGINAL IDEAS THAT I AM SO GLAD TO HAVE BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION!
OK, maybe that’s not fair. Very occasionally, there are more surprising pitches: Nobilified, a company that does custom oil paintings that imagine you or a loved one in a famous painting or as a historical figure like Napoleon, sent me an email saying that a portrait of your boyfriend or husband "doing something legendary is sure to boost any man’s confidence and perhaps make him feel more inclined to do some housework.” (Have you noticed? V-Day marketing is all about the gender stereotypes.) Then there was the company trying to sell dudes on giving their ladies a “P.M.S.” candy bar (it stands for “peanut butter, milk chocolate and salted potato chips,” but the label reads “P.M.S.” in bold letters). And there was the sci-fi book about aliens that a publicist tried to promote as perfect “for those who need a distraction or escape” on Valentine’s Day.
But if you pay close attention to these emails like I do, because bad P.R. is the most entertaining, and look beyond the chocolate-wine-flowers spiel, as well as the quirky how-about-some-weed-lube outliers, you start to notice a broader theme: Companies want to scare the shit out of you. I mean, we all know this, right? But seeing it collect in your inbox in such a transparent and shameless way only underscores that -- and as far as I’m concerned, the only interesting story about Valentine’s Day is the selling of Valentine’s Day. So let's take a critical look at some of these pitches, shall we?
"Smelly Valentines: You May Get Dumped in 2015"
For real! That was the actual subject line of a pitch sent to me by a publicist for SCA, "a leading global hygiene company" that sells stuff like toilet paper, baby diapers and "incontinence care products." You just have to read it to believe it: "While you’re making reservations, planning trips and buying gifts for Valentine’s day, don’t forget to give yourself a final scrub before the big night!" The email was accompanied with an infographic reading, "11% of Americans have ENDED A RELATIONSHIP because of their partner’s POOR hygiene habits." Emphasis theirs.
“86% of Men Will Let Down Their Valentine This Year"
This one came courtesy of WhatsYourPrice.com, a "date-auction site" (read: a service that lets men pay women to go out with them), and serves to freak out both dudes who aren't sure whether they're getting Valentine's Day right and ladies who have been taught to measure their self-worth via the gifts they receive on the 14th. But, like, this idea is that both parties can just say "eff it" to the pressures and letdowns of traditional romance and just buy, or be paid for, a date via WhatsYourPrice? Sigh.
"Gain Love Not Weight This Valentine's Day"
An enterprising personal trainer wants to give you tips to "burn off the Valentine’s Day treats" -- because healthy and desirable means freaking out about the calories in a glass of champagne and some chocolate-dipped strawberries.
"8 Signs Your [sic] Are Dating a Psychopath"
This sweet little pitch is for a psychologist who can offer "warning signs ... for potential victims to identify a psychopath before their heart breaks this Valentine’s Day, or before it’s too late and danger ensues." But that's not all! She is also available to speak on the following topics: "Hide Your Crazy: Don’t be The Ex Who Won’t Go Away" and "Be a Goal Digger, not a Gold Digger this Valentine’s." Those are definitely the first things that come to mind when I think of love: psychopaths, crazy exes and gold-digging.
"Avoid an STD on Valentine's Day"
I mean, sure, great, good idea to practice safe sex, and the pitch is for a company that helps people locate testing facilities, which, thumbs up -- but the tone is a wee bit alarmist. Behold the first line of the email, "It is hard to know what's spreading faster – online dating or STDs." After listing a bunch of STD stats, it asks, "Is this the perfect storm this Valentine’s Day?"
"Experts Warn People of Potential Online Dating Dangers This Valentine’s Day"
Leave it to a company offering dating background checks to turn Cupid's holiday into a fright fest. Says the company's CEO in the pitch, romance scams can "happen to anyone," even people who think they're in a stable relationships: "Some may lead their victim on for months or even years to build trust.” TRUST NO ONE EVER.
"When Your Lover Is a Liar: Tips on How to Spot Fraudsters Before You Set the Valentine’s Day Plans in Stone"
You guys, this private investigator has an important message for you: "This Valentine’s Day, before you dive into your box of chocolates, consider whether your lover is really as sweet as he seems to be." You see what he did there? "Fraud in relationships is much more common than you may think, and small discrepancies are often a sign of much larger lies," he warns. Also, don't trust anyone with a "tendency to use cash over credit cards." They are sure to be a psychopath ... I mean, smelly … no, carrying the herpes virus? Gosh, it's so easy to mix up all the bad things that we're supposed to be vigilant about at this time of year.