Tuesday, January 20, 2004

branded

In my country, there are well over one million unmarried adult females. Within this spinster surplus, there are many who have neither a respectable suitor nor a decent push-up bra. Rachel Greenwald wants her female readers to acquire these items post-haste. If both activity and bosom are elevated, she promises, a girl can find herself a husband in just 12-18 months.
Speaking from her home in Denver, Colorado, Greenwald, author of The Program: How To Find a Husband After Thirty, says “I do think all women can benefit from the purchase of a push up bra.” Although, she is quick to point out, this garment is not as vital to the search for a husband as is strict compliance to a 15-step marketing action plan.
A former marketing executive and Harvard Business School alumna, Greenwald is also a wife, mother and professed romantic. She is, therefore, uniquely qualified to articulate an idea whose awkward time has come.
The Program, which has recently found its way onto the New York Times Best-Seller list, represents the self-help intersection of commercial and intimate life. “You, the reader, are the ‘product,’” she writes, encouraging her husband hunters to create a Personal Brand. Her Unique Selling Proposition is, oddly, that we must each devise our own Unique Selling Proposition.
Quarterly performance reviews, packaging, telemarketing and budgeting are all techniques to be employed in pursuit of a husband-consumer. Greenwald, who also offers seminars and personal consultations in her curious breed of commerce-as-therapy, is adamant that these are useful tools.
While studying for her MBA, Greenwald began to her refine her marketing warfare techniques. By means of creative Event Management, she conquered a bloke to whom she today remains a preferred brand.
After Harvard, she worked extensively in marketing. At one time she “was the US Marketing Manager for Evian water.
A lot of people joked that if I could market a premium priced bottled water I could market anything”. Anything, including her own gender.
Business school and broad work experience “ gave me classic training to apply those principles to something more meaningful.”
She decided that guiding her sisters toward matrimonial bliss was much more fulfilling that peddling spring water to rich people. And so she became a Private Dating Coach and public speaker.
As Greenwald tells it, victory with her clients came so often and abundantly that a wildly successful book was inevitable.
With achievement, of course, comes critique. While Rachel Greenwald’s book has captured the notice of many strategic singles, it has also earned her harsh reviews.
“The media has marketed the book as an anti-feminist document. “ says Greenwald, who insists her intention is to help readers cultivate practical self-esteem and, in so doing, find A Man.
“When the book is really about is finding qualities that are unique and attractive about yourself and marketing those accordingly”, she explains.
Despite these pure motives, she has found that her instructional manual has polarised opinion. “If you look at the amazon.com reviews for the book, you’ll find comments ranging from ‘a waste of money’ to “five stars, it changed my life”.
Indeed, this and other media rage with assessments of Greenwald’s emotional business-management theory. Women seem to either love or hate the book that seeks to quantify a return on romantic investment.
Ironically, she says, polarising opinion is precisely NOT what devotees of The Program must do. In researching and developing her personal brand “a woman should generate a brand that has a broad appeal Women should not aim to polarise because the idea is volume.”
“If she has a polarising brand then fewer people will want to meet her.” Says Greenwald. “A high volume of prospects means that the odds are greater that one of those will be right.”
So, women should strive to offend as few, and please as many, men as possible. Difficult, unseemly or unladylike behaviour is forbidden in The Program.
Despite a liberal use of marketing industry terminology and the author’s assertion that she is anything but anti-feminist, the text does seem at times to ethically veer into the mid twentieth century. The good Greenwald student must be a perky people pleaser disinclined to argue and disposed to visit places like Antique Car Shows, computer expos or DIY furniture workshops in the hope of finding an eligible gent.
A Program Lady must be agreeable. (And not averse to the idea of fly-fishing, either.) Greenwald, a champion of mass-marketing, advises “If someone offers to fix you up on a blind date and you find out in advance that this person [is] wrong, you will still go on that date” . Each blind date is a chance to promote your brand.
In the pages of The Program, she warns readers that your “future husband may be divorced, he may have kids of his own, he may be shorter than you”. In short, stop whining, be grateful if a tiny polygamous bloke with a tribe of children looks at you twice and, above all, don’t be such a fussy britches.
The Program has emerged in its home country as arguably the most influential Find-A-Husband-Quick text since The Rules, written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, was published in 1995. Fein and Schneider, in all their playful enthusiasm for body-suits, blow-waves and girlish deceit in general, quickly and justifiably became the least popular writers amongst feminist women since Norman Mailer.
Greenwald is eager to distance herself from The Rules. “The Rules is a set of tricks and gimmicks and its about acting in a false way to attract men. My book helps women think of creative and strategic way to meet more men.”
These strategies might include, for example, mass delivery of a Direct Mail campaign in the form of a photograph of the husband hunter accompanied by the greeting “This year, I would like to find someone wonderful to spend my life with. Do you know any single men you could introduce me to?”.
The Rules, and other manuals of the kind are “a deception” says Greenwald. Hawking your image to hundreds of people and begging for a date, by contrast, is an honest and creative tactic.
It’s simple, of course, to evaluate a book like The Program within a feminist context and find it ideologically wanting. The fact is, many women would quite like to find a nice bloke and no book providing advice on this topic is ever going to read like a manifesto for social change.
The truly striking thing about The Program is not its antique sexual politics. Nor is its most salient feature the stink of humiliation and despair that permeates many of its exercises.
What makes this book remarkable is its elocution of marketing and the emerging place this has in the personal sphere. That a popular work can easily talk about the development of a Personal Brand is significant. And mildly terrifying.
That anyone, male or female, can begin to think of themselves as a product competing for attention in the marketplace of love is troubling. If we begin to define ourselves in the terms of commerce and relative value, it is surely possible to lose sight of a commodity like love altogether.

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