My creative team has been working overtime on my ad campaign. After I conduct extensive focus-group testing, my pal Todd Levin, ad writer extraordinaire, turns my pages of research into a catchy paragraph and some suggested tag lines.
“Cole Kazdin: What you want. What your friends want for you.”
I decide to go with “refreshingly approachable” because it’s nonthreatening and brings to mind a glass of nice, cold soda. And everybody loves soda.
This is one of the 15 steps I am trying from the not-so-cryptically titled New York Times bestseller “Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School: A 15-Step Action Program,” by Rachel Greenwald. Steps include packaging, branding, telemarketing and quarterly performance reviews, and I have agreed to give it a whirl.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am close to but not yet 35, and I’m not looking for a husband. I have a wonderful boyfriend who is good-natured and supportive, especially when I come home and announce I am writing an article for which I have to go through 15 steps toward finding a husband. The book itself is a little frightening in its directness. And that’s just the cover. I look over my shoulder self-consciously in the bookstore as I pick up the book with “husband” in the title and a gold wedding band on the jacket. A man walks by and I reach for “The South Beach Diet” instead. I realize I must be in the “women’s insecurity” section. “The South Beach Diet” promises you’ll lose 8-13 pounds in the first two weeks. “Find a Husband” promises you’ll find a life partner in 12-18 months. I look up at the sign overhead and discover I am not in the women’s-insecurity section at all, but rather the “bestsellers.” Scary. I get both books anyway. “It’s a gift,” I tell the man at the checkout loudly. “Could I get a gift receipt?” I want to convey to him and everyone in line behind me that I am married and thin. This is too embarrassing.
I learn in Chapter 1 of Greenwald’s book, however, that this is entirely the wrong approach. The idea of her “Program,” as she calls it, is to let as many people as you can find know that you’re single and looking for a husband.
I decide to condense Greenwald’s 12-18 months into a two-week crash course. This will be perfect because I can also do Phase 1 of the South Beach Diet right alongside it. No bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, fruit or alcohol. Skinny jeans and life partner, here I come! The first step is to make finding a husband my first priority. I want so much to do this in earnest, but it’s difficult to keep a straight face. I can go so far as to make the experiment itself a priority for a couple of weeks and try — really try — to suspend my disbelief. Greenwald says that if you’re serious about finding a husband, you must also create a budget and separate checking account devoted to your quest — this money is for personal care, thank-you notes to people who set you up on dates, and the welding class at Home Depot you take to meet men (more on that later). I put $40 in an envelope and put it aside. That’s all I can afford right now. Today is the first day of my new life and I don’t miss bread and pasta one bit.
The following day I find a mentor. According to the program, your mentor should be a woman, preferably married, who will guide you and support you on your journey. You sign a written agreement with your mentor to contractually commit to meeting on a regular basis and working toward the common goal of finding you a husband.
“Are you crazy?” asks my good friend Jane. She can’t believe this book exists, much less that I’m going through the steps. But she owes me big because I wore a floor-length green ball gown in her wedding last month. She agrees. We sign the contract for two weeks.
Rooted in marketing techniques, the core of the program deals with packaging yourself in an attractive, wifelike way, then literally creating a brand for yourself and, finally, saturating the market with your ad campaign.
“I wish I could tell you that your inner self is what really counts,” writes Greenwald in the book. Which isn’t to say that you have to be a supermodel, but she says you should look the best that you can look. In creating the “packaging” (“look”) for my “product” (me), I approach male and female friends for feedback and criticism, as the book instructs. There is even a sample script to encourage honest answers:
Tim, I really value your opinion … I have decided that this is the year I am going to find someone to spend my life with. Before I start, I want to make some changes in my appearance. This is really important to me and I need your sincere opinion …
The feedback is surprising and also encouraging. Everyone tells me they prefer my hair long (no one said anything two years ago when I was walking around with a bob — the traitors!). They all independently agree that I’m smart, sexy and I laugh a lot.
“You have a big, beautiful laugh,” says my friend Charlie. “It’s more prominent than other people’s, but it’s part of who you are and I like it.”
“You’re feminine,” says my friend Amy. “Not in a flowery, riding a horse on a beach, tampon commercial sort of way, but a cool girl living in the real world.”
My friend Barbara tells me that if she had a girlfriend, she would want her to look just like me. But she did add that I obsess about my weight sometimes and I don’t need to and it can be annoying. I decide not to tell her about the South Beach Diet.
My mentor, Jane, tells me I’m stylish, but suggests that I go for a more sophisticated look, and to shy away from the more playful, young styles that I admittedly favor. “I think sophistication reflects where you are in your life and career,” she says. “Your personality is warm and playful. That, plus a more professional look is a nice package.”
Jane is right; I decide to work that in.
This all goes toward defining and then refining my “brand” to three words. Three words to sum up my entire essence. Sort of a “Know thyself” geared toward people who clearly don’t. This is surprisingly tough, though. “Fun, sexy writer,” is the first thing that comes to mind. But Greenwald would not approve. “Fun, sexy writer” is the girl you date, not marry. Barbara tells me that a good wife is a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom. “Whore in the bedroom” isn’t the right approach either.
I look over the notes of my friends’ feedback. They see me as a lot more confident and put together than I feel most of the time. “Warm, fun writer.” That’s a little cozier. I’d marry me.
Still, it seems so generic. I think I am these things, but it’s so nonspecific — it’s not who I am. “Even though you are tough and smart and a go-getter,” says Amy, “the other side of you is so gentle, generous and warm, wearing a little apron while serving a homemade meal.” I never thought of myself that way and I am touched. But she quickly shifts gears and offers her own pitch. She tells me that I am like two-in-one shampoo — the kind with conditioner mixed in. “Or, one of those salad spinner/spaghetti strainer combos.”
I appreciate her input, but I need to consult professionals.
Which brings me back to my creative team meeting. My friend Ken Grobe, another ad writer extraordinaire, notes that “Cole Kazdin” works perfectly to the tune of the “By Mennen” jingle. “Cole Kaz-din!” he sings. Catchy. In his 1983 advertising bible, “Ogilvy on Advertising,” David Ogilvy writes that the one reason Procter & Gamble’s strategy is so effective is that “They always promise the consumer one important benefit.” Ken suggests, “Cole — the perfect companion for you and your man-needs.”
I fire Ken.
He sings the Cole Kazdin/By Mennen song, and I take him back.
Ken offers that my “current perception in the market” is as a woman who is attractive and successful, but maybe a little intimidating. (My firing him five minutes ago didn’t help this.) He suggests, “Cole has looks, brains and a great sense of humor, and she is accessible enough for me to have a chance with her. She’s the perfect girl for me to marry.” He says I can tailor this to different markets — men with beach houses, for example — by addressing a need they may have. Too many rooms in your beach house? Try Cole Kazdin. He also suggests playing off the double meaning of my name.
“Cole — she’s looking for a diamond,” he says. Too money-grubbing, I think.
How about “Let Cole keep you warm”?
I like that one a lot. It’s comforting. I think Greenwald would be proud — it’s sexy, but with wifely connotations. And it conserves energy.
“I’m trying as hard as I can to fit this stuff into a marketing format without it sounding funny, but it’s impossible,” he says. “It’s comedy gold.” It’s impossible because it’s dehumanizing to think of a woman as a tube of toothpaste or a can of soda. Even if she is “refreshingly approachable.”
I need to go to yoga class to clear my head, but then I remember that yoga’s probably not the best place to meet men. Do I have to go flyfishing instead? I call Greenwald. Shouldn’t I be doing the things I love? Like yoga?
“You can absolutely take the class next year,” she says matter-of-factly. “This is a short-term focus of 12-18 months. I’m not telling you to say, ‘I have always loved flyfishing.’ Walk in the door with the attitude that you don’t know anything and want to try it!” She is very positive and perky about the whole thing, and I realize that none of these ideas are remotely original. “Try new things” is hardly revolutionary.
I have a sudden epiphany that Greenwald’s extraordinary success with this book has little to do with her program’s validity. Rather, it’s due to Greenwald’s own brilliant marketing abilities. I decide to go to yoga.
Tomorrow: I take a look at Chico, as if for the first time
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We want to make you a part of this series. What is the state of your union? Did you find the one and never look back, or has finding lasting love been a marathon of trial and error? Did you have a fairy-tale wedding only to watch things crumble once the reception was over, or have you glided along in marital bliss since Day One? We want to hear your stories of joy, romance, heartbreak and pain. After all, partnership, as we all know, is a complex concoction of all of those things. (Please remember: Any writing submitted becomes the property of Salon if we publish it. We reserve the right to edit submissions and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.)