Smooth Fabric, Wrinkled Flesh

Two weeks ago, I spent a couple of hellish days flying to and from a friend’s wedding in Cape Cod. An entire day getting there, a day of wedding festivities and an entire day getting back. Somehow that seems out-of-balance, but that’s the way it was.

As in most situations, if you look for it, there’s an upside. The vast pageant of people being themselves in all their human weirdness is in full swing in airports and on planes. So, I got an eye-full. Not to mention any number of blog post ideas.

An example –

On one of the two flights required to get to Providence, RI from Nashville, I sat next to a nice woman – quite peasant, but not intrusive – who appeared to be in her mid-to-late 60s. Her look was – how shall we say this? – ornate. Lotsa orange hair, lotsa lip liner, lotsa manicure – you get the picture. And the clothes were on the youthful side – tight jeans, big earrings, bright colors.

You know the type. Trying – a little too hard maybe – to hang onto youth. With guys it often results in sad maneuvers like comb-overs and tight jeans under a beer belly. This gal was doing better than that. She had it together … or so I thought until I saw her thigh.

After I was seated and settled – as much as one can settle into an 18” wide seat with at least enough legroom for a 6-year-old child – I noticed that her jeans were of the distressed variety – the kind with strategically placed raggedy holes. And through one of those holes I was treated to a peek of her naked thigh. And that thigh was wrinkled!

Ewwwww! So wrong!

On one level, there’s the question of taste. I simply cannot see why anyone over 28 with a shred of sense or self-respect would walk around with holes in his or her clothes. Especially holes you have to pay extra for. But, then again, it’s her nickel. So, have at it, sister!

The second, and more ridiculous, issue is this: Why would anyone who has gone to all that trouble to look young give it away with a shot of her otherwise hidden wrinkles? That one glimpse of wrinkly leg skin blew her whole image. It actually caused me to look more closely at her face and reassess her probable age. Upward. Like past 70.

Marketing lessons? Several.

Know when to quit. One fashion detail too many – the raggedy hole – blew this gal’s look all to hell. This sort of thing can, and does, happen in marketing. Overwritten brochures and web sites. Awkward information revealed, unsolicited, at a press conference. Too much detail on a web post. Know when to stop talking.

Stay on message. This woman’s message to the world was, “I’m young (well, young-ish) and perky.” By giving us a peek behind the curtain, so to speak, with a view of her wrinkly thigh, she got off-message. Way off. You can’t outright lie about an uncomfortable truth (see below), but you don’t have to lead with it either. If the message is young and perky, keep it young and perky.

You can’t lie. In the final analysis, the truth will out. This lady was getting pretty old. If she’d stayed on-message, she could have pushed the young and perky thing a little farther, but eventually she’ll have to give it up and face the facts. The same is true in marketing. You can hang onto a brand for a while with clever marketing, but eventually, if things are not as you present them, people will figure it out. And they’ll punish you. If brand and reality don’t match up, fix it. Fast.

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One Response to “Smooth Fabric, Wrinkled Flesh”

  1. David Says:

    I just love this! David, you’re a genius.

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