I have always imagined that my life would be considerably enhanced by longer legs.
I’d acquire a dash of elegance, a certain swagger. I’d walk down the road with a more confident gait. I’d dance with more grace, jog with more poise. I’d all of a sudden look good in loose linen suits and loafers. And I’d enjoy curling up comfortably on the sofa, tucking my long legs beneath me. Everything would be in proportion. All would be well with the world.
I recently found myself trying on a new pair of jeans. Examining the available sizes, I noticed that they didn’t come any shorter than a 30’’ inside leg. I was convinced that I couldn’t possibly reside on the absolute extreme of short legs. (I may have short legs, but I’m not a short person.) So I selected a 32’’ pair. I tried them on and took a brief glance at my reflection in the changing room mirror. On a cursory assessment, this pair seemed fine.
‘Yes. They’re OK. Let’s buy and be gone.’
Back at home, in the privacy of my bedroom, the jeans gathered horribly round my ankles. I found myself examining their length in the wall mirror, trying to hike my belt further up my waist. When out and about I took to scrutinising the ankles of fellow pedestrians, assessing them for hangs, folds and crinkles.
My concerns were confirmed. With the exception of a few East London hipsters, most people’s jeans stopped appropriately half way down their heels. When I did see someone with a similar ankle-gather to mine, they looked wretched - sort of juvenile and unkempt.
I determined to have my jeans adjusted at the local dry cleaners. I was aware that this was no straightforward task as my mother had butchered several pairs of flairs when I was a kid – too much fabric left folded inside above the hem; no tight brown stitching to finish them off.
Ali is a gentle Turkish chap whose English vocabulary is limited to those words he needs to sustain him in his work. Looking him straight in the eye, I said:
‘Take up 2 inches, Ali? Is OK?’
‘Yes, is good.’
‘With brown stitching like this?’
‘The same’, I said, pointing at the hem of the jeans.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘Not the same. But similar.’
Clearly Ali, though he had few English words, had learned that it was important never to promise the same. That was a claim that could come back to bite you.
Not the same. But similar.
Many’s the time in my advertising career that we were approached by Clients wanting the same. The same as Levi’s, or Boddingtons, or Audi. The same as the one we did for the UK market. The same as the mood edit. The same process, the same team, the same ad. The same as before.
I confess I often found it easy to say: ‘Yes, of course. We’ll give you the same. No problem at all. We can do that.’
But I knew deep inside that you can’t deliver the same chemistry, the same magic, the same impact; at a different time, in a different place, on a different category.
Teams must find their own way of doing things. Sectors require their own language. Brands need their own signature style. And campaigns have to evolve and move on.
So we should all take a tip from Ali’s book. Never promise the same. It fool’s gold. All we can do is disappoint.
But perhaps we can do something similar.
Ali did an excellent job on my jeans. I guess, if you look closely, you can tell that the stitching sits a little too far above the hem - just marginally. But then again, that’s what we had agreed: not the same, but similar.
'You always won every time you placed a bet.
You're still damn good, no one's gotten to you yet.
Every time they were sure they had you caught,
You were quicker than they thought.
You'd just turn your back and walk.
And you're still the same.
I caught up with you yesterday.
Moving game to game,
No one standing in your way.
Turning on the charm,
Long enough to get you by.
You're still the same,
You still aim high.’
Bob Seger, ‘Still the Same’ (Seger Robert Clark)