Killing Cupid: How Advertisers are exploiting your hatred of valentines day, Radar Online February 14 2007

read the official article here

Or read the longer, more balanced article (you know how editors are) here:

If you are single like me, you have dealt with the onslaught of V-Day with commendable skill for years. You weather the foiled, doiled hearts in the windows of your neighborhood CVS, know how to ignore the white teddy bears that say “I Wuv U” in Hallmark stores. You arrange to cook at home so you won’t have to sit next to some irritating couple as they mewl over their dinner specials holding hands histrionically like they were Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. You may go out to a bar, or even, perhaps, some Love Stinks party, to bond with others who have to once again tolerate the corporate love parade of Hallmark emotions.

But in late January of this year, I started seeing wheatpasted posters and ads on the streets of New York City with the url: on a pink background, no explanation. From the clean graphics and sudden omnipresence, I knew it was some sort of mass market effort of some kind, I just wasn’t sure if it was to promote a dating website or a new emo band. Later when I typed in the url (why do I always fall for this stuff?), I was slapped in the face with a bright website for Herbal Essence shampoo that said, “When you’ve got luscious hair, who needs Cupid?” Even worse than what I feared – major advertisers have turned their sightlines onto a new demographic: people like me who hate Valentine’s Day.

Be prepared, oh oppressed Singletons of America, they are coming for us. This February 14th, our feelings of resentment and irritation are being used to sell product, a trend that will most assuredly escalate in the coming years. That’s right, your hatred for a holiday that has been shoved down your throat is now, also, about to be shoved down your throat.

Way back in the 90’s, rebellion against this holiday was underground. Anti-Valentines Day parties were small, ironic events held in tiny one bedrooms and dive bars. The Black Hearts Party in New York City, for example, started in co founder Marc Leonard’s New Brunswick house 17 years ago. Since its humble beginning, it has grown into an invite-only annual event at a large venue with over 300 revelers all wearing the required black attire.

Long ago in 2000, San Francisco-based writer Sasha Cagen invented a more upbeat angle in an essay in Utne Reader, called “Quirkyalone” -- single people like herself who don’t pine for relationships. The Quirkyalone is “a person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple.” She started a website and created International Quirkyalone Day (IQD), which she stipulates isn’t an anti-Valentine’s party, though it does share the same day, February 14th. Now Cagen has published a book, “Quirkyalone, a Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics,” spoken in conferences all over the world, and offers “Quirkymerch” for sale on her website. IQD has become a huge event, which in the past has presented performers, a Quirkyalone dating game, an awards show (“the Quirkies”) as well as sister parties in other cities as far away as Sydney Australia. “”It’s like a wedding every year,” she says.

Similarly, The Black Hearts Party in New York now has liquor sponsors for the night and sells merchandise (including “herpes free boxers” and panties printed with the words “I need some space”) on their website, “People want to franchise, and send documentary crews, and all kinds of craziness,” says Leonard, “we mostly send them away with a polite thank you”. In the spirit of Black Hearts and Quirkyalone, a multitude of anti-valentine’s day parties have cropped up all over the country. Log onto MySpace, for example, and you will find a parade of events and forums geared to those fed-up with V-Day.

Since these once-original gestures of independence have become cottage industries, it wasn’t long before their tactics were put to more commercial use by advertisers eager for new angles.

The ball got rolling last June when Budweiser and Universal Pictures teamed up to create “National Breakup Day,” a cutesy tie-in effort to coincide with the release of the straight-to-Jet-Blue classic The Break-up, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan. The day is ostensibly organized to help couples break up while drinking beer and watching a hugely unimportant film. The site has interactive elements to help you turn the end of your relationship into a game, like a forum of favorite breakup lines, a program to help you digitally cut up your pictures, and a helpful breakup “E-Card,” so that you and your jilted one will get lots and lots of comforting spams.

It’s unclear if Budweiser and Universal Pictures believed that the holiday, (or the Earth, for that matter) would survive for years to come. Maybe they really believed that The Break-Up was a significant movie to be watched year after year like It’s a Wonderful Life, (Someone at Universal did go to the trouble recently to post “Now on DVD!” above the film’s ad on the website.) or maybe they were just practicing for February 14th, when a larger demographic of dateless despondent people could be exploited.

Universal has wasted no time by offering a “blokey range” of “Anti-Valentines DVDs” like Scarface, American Pie and 40 Year Old Virgin in a contest through Maxim Magazine’s website. The contest seems geared towards Lad mag Guy Ritchie types: “It's time to stick those red roses in the bin and enjoy this Valentines the proper way - by watching great 'blokey' DVDs on the sofa. You can even scratch your balls in peace!”

On the other end of the gender spectrum, Bust magazine is teaming up with Altoids to offer the event “Curiously Lonely: A DIY Valentines Day for One,” This Tuesday the 13th where participants can play Old Maid, “Make your own one-night-stand kit, and hopefully snag some products from Commandos, Sweetspot Labs, Altoids, Bableland and others. Its happy aestheticism of loneliness fits in well with our “I’m depressed, let’s buy shoes!” Post 9-11 mentality

But it’s Herbal Essence’s Dump Cupid campaign that truly heralds in the new era, where anti-Valentines sentiment will become a commonplace commercial alternative to the originally oppressive heart-shaped box traditions. The site encourages you to turn your back on Cupid, who appears as a slobby, corpulent, longish haired man in a little comical Grecian outfit. You can help a friend “dump cupid” by dragging and pasting refrigerator magnet-style words like “never” “boyfriend” “Jerk” and “dump” into an E-card. Or you can watch vidcasts of Cupid poledancing in a strip club, chased around by a screaming, angry woman, and performing a rap: “I’m cupid, I’m not stupid!”

The campaign was created by the effective advertising agency Kaplan Thaler, the brainchild of Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, who have created memorable campaigns for Revlon, The Girl Scouts of America, and Continental Airlines among others, and recently co-authored the bestselling book, “The Power Of Nice: How To Conquer The Business World With Kindess,” which outlines their philosophy that it pays to be nice. The Herbal Essence promotion, suffused with positivity, is no different – unless you are a Cupid loyalist. According to its program summary, the campaign’s “nontraditional spin on the holiday allows the brand to poke fun at Valentine’s Day stereotypes in order to entertain and delight our consumers.”

The target audience is “Women in their 20s and 30s, particularly single women for whom Valentine's Day is typically a day more filled with stress than anything else because of the pressure for someone else (e.g. a man or Cupid bringing a man) to make it a good day.”

It’s a big effort too – one that includes Online Media (Programs with Youtube and Myspace), full page newspaper ads, TV and Radio spots, In-Store displays, and “Bar media (coasters, post cards, mirror clings)”. A giant 30’ arrow (with written on the side) appeared in Times Square for a product giveaway event on Feb. 9 & 10. In an ironic twist, Cupid was present to protest the protest.

All this has left the originators like Cagen and Leonard a little burned-out. After creating huge parties and speaking all over the country about being Quirkyalone, Cagen is simplifying this year’s IQD to be a low-key get together at a dive bar in her hometown of San Francisco.

Leonard and Black Hearts co-founders Darryl Jefferson and Ian Mackenzie have decided this will be their last annual party. As they state on their website, “…when loathing and mocking Valentine's Day has become so mainstream that the very soulless, evil corporations for whom it was originally created produce their own pathetic attempts to cash in on it…we know our work is done.”

The magnitude of The Herbal Essence campaign promises more to come. In coming years, we may find ourselves not only exasperated with cutesy representations of love, but also tired of cutesy representatiosn of its opposite– just another cultural example of our consumer culture’s tendency to exploit anxieties it originally caused with more product (see: Pharmaceutical Industry).

Perhaps this could be considered a kind of bellweather of what is sure to happen with any popular event. If you have a fun countercultural idea, host a party, and eventually get a liquor sponsor, you should expect to see that idea on billboards and websites within exactly 17 years.

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