There’s a line in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity in which the main character is delighted to find that his date likes a lot of the same things he does. “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like,” he says. “Call me shallow, but these things matter.”
Common interests are always important, of course, but to advertising gurus, the products you buy can speak volumes about what kind of person you are. Particularly if you’re a man, according to Bill Vernick and Claire Farber, longtime marketing experts (Vernick co-created “The Best Part of Wakin’ Up” campaign for Folgers, and Farber’s clients have included megabrands like Hershey’s, Listerine, and Dove). Their new dating book, Brand Guys, explains male personality types in advertising terms. “In our marketing practice, we’ve linked certain products to certain ‘brands’ of guys,” Vernick tells the Cut over the phone. “And once you know what kinds of products a guy already uses, it’s easier to write a commercial for other products that will speak to him.” He believes that these same practices can also be applied to matchmaking.
Research shows that, unlike women, men tend to be fiercely loyal to certain brands (women are far more likely to try new products, whereas men usually pick a lane and stick to it). The gist of Brand Guys is that men can be distilled into certain “types,” classified by the brands they’re loyal to. According to Vernick and Farber, understanding those types can help women decide if a guy is right for her or not.
The book includes ten “brands” of men – including Bud Guy, Beemer Guy, NikeGuy, Q-Tip Guy, Tom’s of Maine Guy, Comedy Central Guy, Mac Guy, Celestial Seasonings Guy, Red Bull Guy, and Abercrombie Guy. (That last type is the most problematic classification, in my opinion, because there’s only one way to deal with a grown man wearing Abercrombie: RUN.)
Descriptions of each "brand guy" are quite nuanced, and include the pros and cons of spending a lifetime with him. A few examples: Q-Tip guy is meticulous, organized, and punctual, but is also very attached to his own rules. Nike guy is active, competitive, and inspiring to be with, but can also be demanding and bossy. Tom's of Maine guy is socially conscious, highly principled, and likes to march to the beat of his own drum, sometimes to a fault. Also included in each chapter are sections about what the guy wears, what he does for a living, and how he acts in bed.
Obviously, the book is packed with sweeping generalizations, and there’s a certain degree of ridiculousness, not to mention sexism. But Vernick is the first to admit that the book should be taken with a grain of salt. “The idea is to help women understand certain aspects of what makes a certain guy tick, and the implications that might have for their relationship,” he explains. “We’re just trying to make the dating process a little less complicated.”
Indeed, after reading the book and realizing my own boyfriend is a combination of a Bud Guy (loyal, enjoys simple pleasures), Q-Tip Guy (clean and punctual — and he really does use a lot of Q-Tips), and Tom's of Maine Guy (works for a nonprofit), it reaffirms why we're together. I also realize that I'd hate dating a Nike Guy or a Beemer Guy, although I'm friends with many of them (and surrounded by them in New York). My overall conclusion: Whether or not a woman may need it, this book can help her understand and articulate what kind (or "brand") of partner she wants.
Read ahead for more on the Brand Guys philosophy.
Can you describe your “aha” moment for the Brand Guys book?
Claire and I had been working together for about fifteen years, we were in a focus group — some product for Unilever, I think — and we saw a woman say, “I like to sneak into a guy’s bathroom and look through their medicine cabinet.” And it turned out that almost all the women in the group checked a guy’s medicine cabinet while in the early phases of dating! One woman was even taking pictures and then showing her friends. So, instinctively we knew there was something going on, that these women thought they could better understand a man by doing this.
So then we started matching medicine-cabinet contents with the guys who had them, and my god, some parallels started to emerge. It’s all stuff we’ve used in advertising – to sell to a guy, you have to picture what’s going on in that guy’s house. Like, what music does he listen to? What TV shows does he watch? What’s in his medicine cabinet? What kind of car does he drive? Men are very much what their brands are. They like branding.
Have you gotten blowback from guys who resent being categorized?
At first we thought we were going to run into some incredibly negative stuff, because men really would not like this. And sure, we’ve had a few people who didn’t love it, but for the most part, men are fine with being known as a certain kind of guy.
What about the innate sexism of “brand guy” theory? That men can be stereotyped so easily?
A few people asked us that, and we were worried it might be an issue. We had a lot of guys read the manuscript, and they’d start off with doubts, but once people saw that every category of guy has positive traits, they were fine with it. It helped explain them and their behavior.
Have any women been angry about it?
Not really. Just about any advertisement or marketing effort is always based on filling needs. The motto is, “You’ve got to know what the consumer’s problem is and how your product solves it.” So, if there wasn’t a problem with dating, there probably wouldn’t be a need for a book like this. Men – I don’t want to say they’re skilled liars, but they’re kind of building up a persona that seems to work for them, but doesn’t always show the whole picture. You often find out a lot of things after you get married that you wish you'd known sooner.
Well, there’s definitely also a weird human compulsion to categorize yourself. People are really comforted by labels.
Absolutely. It’s about group think: “I want to belong to a certain group. I want to belong.” Like those guys who drink Budweiser in the commercial, they throw Frisbees to a dog and stuff — every guy wants to be in those commercials. Or the guy who drives a Beemer. Why does he drive it? He wants to be that guy. He sees himself as a corporate killer. And Nike is the best. Sometimes Nike will have those commercials without any copy at all, just the music and stuff, and it really is about being that attitude of Nike. And guys who wear the swoosh are saying, “I'm that guy and it represents a commitment to looking a certain way, and being competitive, and that sort of thing.”
I’d also argue that men aren’t lying on purpose – they’re just trying to present their best selves. Women do the same.
Exactly. It’s not malicious. The scenario is: You’re on a date and she’s cute and she’s nice, and you don’t want to say too much and screw it up. And the guy is thinking, I want to present something nice to this woman. So, you think, I’m not going to tell her about x, y, or z. And eventually she finds out whatever you’re trying to hide, but by that time, people have fallen in love and physical things have happened, and you’re on this train and it’s heading down the tracks. And so, armed with some knowledge of a guy’s brand, a woman can make better decisions.
What brand is Claire’s husband?
Scott is a bright guy, and he’s the most reliable guy that you could ever meet. So he’s Bud Guy, but he’s also kind of a Nike Guy. He will ski the black-diamond slopes and he’ll demolish everyone. So you know, everyone’s a combination of other aspects. In my opinion, and I don’t know if Claire would feel exactly the same way, but I think he’s great for his solidity and his sense of what’s right. They’ve been married for 30 years.
Have you ever been married?
Yeah, I’ve been married twice. I think I was married to the wrong brands of women. Or more likely, I was the wrong brand for them, you know? It’s interesting because we talked about that as well. I think the reason that I have a good relationship now is I think I am the right brand for my girlfriend, and she’s the right brand for me. We play off each other, and we’ll say things at the same moment. But mostly it’s about being able to complete what the other person needs in her life.
Do you worry about the oversimplification of equating people with material things? Like I, for one, would not want to be a Q-Tip.
We’re not trying to make people into products. It’s just an analogy — you’ll stay with a product if you feel good about using it, and if you trust that it’s right for your needs. Brands are what make us trust products. Again, we’re not equating products with people, but we are saying that the qualities of a product that you like are the same with the types of people that you like.
This book obviously is designed to work for heterosexual couples. Could it work for gay couples too?
We actually spoke to some gay men, and it works fine for them. Because, reality is, they’re gay, but they’re men. While shopping habits may be a little different for certain gay men, they’re very similar for a lot of gay men. It’s something that I discovered when I lived in the West Village. There were a lot of gay men in the building where I lived, and I quickly found out that gay men are very much like straight men in their habits. And so the book can help a gay man find a partner who will match him.
Is there a reason why branding women wouldn’t work?
I think it would, but I think we’d have to go at it from a slightly different angle. With guys, it’s really all about how they love specific things and that defines them. They want to be defined as the car they drive. And women, they’ll try a different shampoo. They’ll try a different toothpaste. They’ll say, Oh, I was doing that look last year, let me try this now. They won’t settle in necessarily, the way a lot of men will. So I think we have to go about it a slightly different way. I mean, in a way, it’s sort of a compliment to women. They’re a little bit more difficult to figure out from the point of view of, Okay, what exactly represents you?