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January 15, 2009

The Loudest is the Weakest

This is the fifth in a series of posts sharing business lessons learned from the movie, AMERICAN GANGSTER.


Setting the Scene:
The big city street life was new to Frank Lucas’ brothers and cousins. They were used to country life in the backwoods of North Carolina before being recruited into Lucas’ drug empire. Once in the game, these young men had instant status and inordinate wealth thrust upon them. It’s hard to stay humble when fame and fortune comes so easily.

Huey Lucas, Frank’s oldest brother, became friends with the flamboyant and always dapper Nicky Barnes. Soon after their friendship was formed, Huey began to dress less like his conservative brother and more in the superfly style of Nicky Barnes.

The Loudest is the Weakest
Much of Frank’s success as a drug lord can be attributed to his conservative and sophisticated outward appearance. He dressed like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Tailored suits. Crisp shirts. Sharp ties. Classy, without being attention-hungry.

The one quality, above all, Frank wanted to instill with his brothers and cousins was to stay humble in appearance so that one’s actions would always speak louder than one’s clothes.

When Huey Lucas flaunted his Nicky Barnes-like superfly outfit at a nightclub, Frank stepped in and dressed down his dressed-out brother. Frank told his brother he was “making too much noise” by wearing a “clown suit” that acted as a billboard to the police advertising, “Arrest me.

Listen to me,” Frank said to Huey. “The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”

Wow! Great line and so applicable to marketing where the loudest advertiser in the room, probably has the weakest product in the room.

It’s reasonable to assume weak and unremarkable products/services need the loudest advertising because it’s the only way they will get remarked about.

We’ll be seeing lots of “loudest in the room” advertising during the 2009 Super Bowl.

Most Super Bowl advertisers make lots of noise showcasing their “clown suit” gimmicky advertising with the hopes of grabbing our attention. The louder these companies talk, the weaker we can assume their product/service is.

Perennial “loudest in the room” advertisers are the major beer companies. The only thing worth talking about Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light is their loud advertising, certainly not their boring beer.

A recent example of “loudest in the room advertising” comes from Toyota. Their “Saved by Zero” campaign played incessantly during October and November of 2008. No one I knew was talking about how great the Toyota Tundra is or how unique the Toyota Camry is. Everyone was talking about how obnoxiously loud the “Saved by Zero” campaign was.

Think about this … when people talk about your brand, do they talk about the products/services your company does? Or, do they talk about the advertising it did? If people are only talking about the advertising your company does, then your “loud” advertising is potentially hiding a weak product.

Like Seth Godin, Frank Lucas believes in spending money to make products stronger and more remarkable rather than spending those same dollars to make the “loudest in the room” advertising messages.

For Frank, as we learned in an earlier lesson, this meant spending time, money, and action to make his brand of heroin, Blue Magic, more remarkable.

The marketing adage of Actions Speak Louder than Advertising fits right in with the Frank Lucas way of doing business.


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Title is awesome just like content of the post.

Like the post John...on a similar note that I think you should mention is the fact that it was because of his huge fur coat he wore to the boxing match that got the attention of Russell Crowe's character and eventually brought him down -- he had strayed from his advice once and it destroyed him. He even realizes this after he senses the trouble coming and burns the coat.

Additionally, the mac commercials played on this very idea. When the PC guy is separating money into fixing vista and advertising piles and the advertising pile is huge while the fixing vista is small. He eventually just puts it all into advertising...

Great series, keep it up!

Travis Dahle

I saw this clip on a morning show and that was what made me want to see the movie. I remember taking that advice to heart.

Great comparison. It really applies to all aspects of life. The most confident people are rarely the loudest ones in the room.

This has been my argument for some time, with respect to the advertising industry. There's an interesting article by David Baker in the current issue of Communication Arts that further addresses the destructive path the advertising industry is taking at this time.

It's interesting how many view the forces of "Free Markets" to only apply to those on Wall Street, and the common man is only relevant from the perspective of a consumer. The lessons learned from this movie and shows like "The Wire" are more relevant to the market than understanding why we are no closer to an electric car than discovering hyper-warp technologies.

This is a great series.

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