The woman seated next to me on the plane told me her name was Stefanie but that she went by Adventure Girl. This was a moment I had been prepared for since I got married, thanks to Hall and Oates. But it turned out, I discovered without asking, that Adventure Girl was just her Twitter name. It also turned out that she had 1.5 million followers. Eventually, I told her that I too am on Twitter and waited for her to ask how many followers I have. When I told her I have more than a million, her eyes got wide, and she leaned in, listening closely. This, I realized, must be what it's like to have money.
Then Adventure Girl asked me what my brand was. No one had ever asked me that before. "My brand used to be 'Finding the adventure girl in you,'" she said. "Now it's 'Living life's adventures.'" After a career as a model for tool companies and as a freelance writer, she became "funemployed" in 2009 and trademarked the name Adventure Girl™. Now she's paid for speaking gigs, for public appearances and by the Cherry Marketing Institute to brand cherries as a natural cure for jet lag. Meanwhile, I was running around yelling random stuff like a brandless idiot, sleeping in and paying for my cherries.
So Adventure Girl™ tried to help me find my brand. She started by asking me what my passion was. Now I didn't have two things. "Until you figure out what gets you up in the morning, you're throwing money away," she said. I had no idea I was already throwing money away on this. I was getting scared.
Back at home with my baby and lovely wife Cassandra, I realized that I was sometimes funny, sometimes serious and a lot of the time staring at the television. This was not a brand. So I called Adventure Girl™, who was in Rwanda giving the tourism authority advice on rebranding the country as a tourist destination instead of a genocide destination. She had already come up with an angle: "'The Switzerland of the African countries.' It's incredibly clean. There isn't a paper on the ground." If it was this easy for Rwanda, I was sure I could do it too.
Adventure Girl™ suggested I ask my Twitter followers and Facebook friends to help me find my brand. This, it turns out, was not a good idea. Many people thought I was looking to create a line of products to sell, and one woman suggested toilet-seat covers with people's faces on them, like Sarah Palin's. Another guy came up with "Joel the Mole." The nicest observations anyone made involved the words snark and self-deprecating. I hope for Rwanda's sake that it didn't try the same experiment.
I called Sandra Carreon-John, senior vice president at M&C Saatchi, the advertising and public relations firm that handles Coke and Reebok, for advice. She thought I needed a handle, like Bill Simmons' Sports Guy or Howard Stern's King of All Media. We came up with the Sultan of Snark™, since we both felt sultan is way underused. If I branded myself correctly, I'd soon be selling a line of Sultan of Snark™ T-shirts, hats and key chains that said things like "Yeah ... in 1997!" The first step, Carreon-John said, was to call myself the Sultan of Snark™ a few times. Once the Sultan of Snark™ had done that, the Sultan of Snark™ should try to get other people to call the Sultan of Snark™ that too. "Insult someone on Fox, like Bill O'Reilly, so he'll say, 'The Sultan of Snark™ talked about me in his column,'" she said. The Sultan of Snark™, I let her know, has no interest in starting a fake fight with a balding, jowly gerbil whose job has been reduced to wiping Glenn Beck's whiteboards.
To get my brand out there, I consulted Amy Jo Martin, whose company, Digital Royalty, creates social-media strategies to increase the reach of people like Shaquille O'Neal. Martin wanted to define my brand further and asked me to describe myself. I told her I was lazy, self-involved and sexually frustrated. Martin, who is very good at her job, turned "lazy" into "needing stimulation," which she then turned into "dynamic" and finally "rock star." She transformed "self-involved" into "open." Starting to get it, I suggested that "sexually frustrated" is really just "sexy." "I think the first two for sure," she said.
By the end of our conversation, Martin had convinced me that in the age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, putting out an exaggerated version of your personality is necessary. Sure, we want the people in our lives to have a full understanding of us, but controlling our shorthand is a good idea. It's like our superhero costumes, only not necessarily supergay. If you don't give your brand some thought, you become the guy whose funeral is all about how much he loved the Mets. "A funeral is the ultimate brand evaluation," Martin said. Luckily, it's not hard to find a rabbi who is into snark.