It's been a long time since I was this cynical about Valentine's Day. I guess it's not as bad as the year when it was freezing cold and I had the flu, or the year when I had a blind date with that pretentious guy who thought he was destined to be a famous economist. But this year, I'm kind of bitter about the advent of everyone's favorite love-to-hate-it holiday for a different reason, and I blame my job.
I write about the Web. I'm used to an in-box full of press releases from Web 2.0's famous and not-so-famous. But in the week leading up to Valentine's Day, the barrage has reached a fever pitch with all kinds of themed gimmicks, promotions, and other syrupy pitches geared toward the tech bloggers of the world. You'd think it were third grade again, except instead of sparkly pink-and-red cards with bad puns printed inside, I'm dealing with e-mails with bad puns in the subject lines. Unlike third grade, none of them come from the cute boy with the freckles and the missing front tooth who put a mouse in my desk that one time.
Timeliness is usually a decent PR strategy. But the problem with Valentine's Day is that everyone else is trying to use the same holiday theme to get press. Here's just a sample of what's been fluttering into my in-box over the past few days.
There is, as one of my CNET colleagues already highlighted, a new "Blow a Kiss" app for the iPhone. SpeedDate.com. also has a new iPhone app, in case you have been putting all this madness off until the last minute. A price comparison site called DealNews sent out an e-mail with some recommended V-Day gift tips.
The big guys are in on it, too. Facebook not only configured its virtual-gift feature so that you can send "wrapped" Valentine's gifts in advance and then reveal them to your recipients on the big day, but it chose February 12 as the day to announce that the New York City municipal government had chosen a Facebook fan page as the promotional hub for its "Get Some" condom distribution campaign. (Hmmm.) There's even a new promotion out of Redmond that attempts to promote the maxim that "Microsoft is a super romantic love machine of a company."
Oh, it gets better.
A representative from a mobile photo-sharing service called SnapMyLife sent me an e-mail suggesting that camera phones were a great way to share photos from Valentine's Day excursions (so, I suppose, like "Check out this pic of our booth at White Castle. This guy is such a cheapskate.") And in a possible attempt to stand out, e-card and invitation service MyPunchbowl sent out separate pitches highlighting both its Valentine cards and its anti-Valentine's Day cards.
In perhaps the trippiest of the bunch, one e-mail announced to me that the normally invitation-only role-playing game Hello Kitty Online (yes, that Hello Kitty) would be open to the public on Valentine's Day. Great news for those of you who don't have dates!
To be fair, gimmicky holiday pitches are by no means exclusive to Valentine's Day. Journalists and bloggers are, by now, familiar with the Halloween pitch (big with photo-sharing sites), the call-it-anything-but-Christmas holiday pitch (gadget gift guides, anyone?), the quadrennial election angle, and this year we've all become familiar with the recession pitch. But it's February 14 that really gets on my nerves. Maybe it's because the holiday is all about being told how to tell people that you care about them. Or maybe it's just an easy target.
That said, in recent years we've seen some Web 2.0 holiday campaigns that have been spot-on. OfficeMax created that "Elf Yourself" e-card campaign for the holiday season a while back, gaining a massive cult following by encouraging users to turn their co-workers and bosses into dancing elves. None of these Web 2.0 Valentine's campaigns--no, not even Hello Kitty!--really strike me as anywhere near as creative. Is it possible that all possibility for innovative marketing has already been siphoned out of this saccharine occasion? Maybe that's the real reason so many of us get so annoyed when it rolls around every year.
Besides, if you're really clever, you won't be trawling the Web for the best e-cards to shoot off to your significant other. You'll be like that guy who created his own iPhone app in order to propose to his girlfriend. Dweeby, but impressive.