Politics & Policy

St. Valentine’s Day No Longer

How inappropriate commercials have cheapened an important holiday.

When what was once called Saint Valentine’s Day ends at midnight, it will at least mean blessed relief from a barrage of disgusting commercials.

A relentlessly airing spot for Vermont Teddy Bear — disrupting Fox News every night, every ten minutes — starts with a man wearing a T-shirt in an office cubicle (note the double-down male stereotype) who sees “Valentine’s Day!!” on his calendar. Cue the Psycho shower-murder music (given the female behavior we are about to suffer, perhaps the date annually drives him to consider mutilating his beloved). “And you know what comes right after Valentine’s Day?” a nudge-nudging announcer says, “Valentine’s night!”

The commercial makes clear that the outmoded “day” nonsense of tender poetic gestures and corny-but-sincere proposals is merely an annoying means to the salacious end of sexual conquest. The spot cuts to an office scene with stupid-looking men sheepishly poking heads above their carrels as they overhear insipid female coworkers — having been delivered teddy bears sporting tattoos, boxer shorts, and the name Horny Devil Bear — squealing with orgasmic jouissance and calling out double entendres of the sixth-grade variety: “So much bigger than I thought!” “Oh, I could just kiss it and kiss it!”

It is at this point, perhaps, that any remnants of the Roosevelt family should sue. The announcer tries to convince “guys” that this toy will get “a great response.” The announcer says that, unlike flowers, the Vermont Teddy Bear “keeps giving and giving.” T-shirt man literally licks his lips in a close-up, the better to keep the drool from dripping on his Chia pet and Dilbert tack-ups. The spot ends with one of the gals in the office porno-pool saying, “I can’t wait to give him my surprise!”

A spot for PajamaGrams starts worse — with women parading around in their undies, missing nothing but the fireman’s pole and hackneyed razzmatazz — but at least settles into ancient artifacts of troglodyte romance: the ol’ crackling-fireplace-and-champagne-on-ice chestnut. Still, a female voiceover utters the debauchery pitch right up front: “This Valentine’s Day there’s only one gift guaranteed to get women to take their clothes off!”

Is that what St. Valentine’s Day has come to? Like the commercialization of Christmas and the candy-fication of Easter, has the feast remembering a 3rd-century priest — martyred under the emperor Claudius despite his selfless prayers leading to the restored sight of his captor’s daughter–been reduced to mail-order seduction by a nation of salivating Caligulas?

Even some professional marketers don’t like it much. In 2007, I noted in Adweek’s blog, Adfreak, the airing of sexual-lubricant ads during a Saturday morning USA Network showing of The Breakfast Club. To exploit Disney’s then-recent Pirates of the Caribbean release, otherwise-legitimate cable networks were accepting ads for an adult film, Digital Playground’s Pirates 2, another new low. Responding to the blog item, a media executive commented that a so-called “scatter” media buy could mean just that — practically random airings of commercial inventory at any time of day. Thus the television industry no longer even wears the micro-thin prophylactic of “appropriate hours” for commercials advertising adults-only products. These commercials slither by unobstructed by content-blocking TV chips.

“KY on cartoon day, Hostel billboards on the way to the library,” an ad-industry blogger responded. “If you’re over thirty I’m betting this isn’t the way you grew up. Why can’t my kids have what we had?” A mother of 13-, 12-, and 5-year-old girls added that That’s So Raven had exposed her kids to sexual-dysfunction ads. She added: “The other day they had male friends, same ages, over, and they tried to loudly talk through a ‘feminine hygiene’ commercial on the Disney Channel. But it didn’t work. The girls were totally embarrassed.” Naturally, another marketer soon thereafter accused his colleagues of prudishness and favoring censorship.

With respect to Judge Bork, TV advertising is galloping towards Gomorrah. The advertising profession — which once considered showing people brushing their teeth vulgar — daily diminishes itself with genital-herpes ads suggesting that the fulfillment of women’s liberation lies in safely servicing multiple partners, and erectile-dysfunction spots featuring men sprouting devil horns to Tex Averylike wolf whistles. Recent spots for “male enhancement” drugs use Andy Griffithstyle whistling and tawdry, rank-amateur spokeswomen.

All the tackiness reinforces the larger malady, that those commercials are for products once only hawked in the back pages of magazines targeted toward indiscriminate youth and pitiable men with arrested development. The heart starts to ache in earnest.

Gregory Solman is former West Coast editor of Adweek.

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