Sometimes you come across lessons or tips in the least likely places.  For instance, check out this scene (here is the video clip) from the 2007 film American Gangster:

Frank Lucas: What is that you got on?
Huey Lucas: What? This?
Frank Lucas: Yeah, that.
Huey Lucas: This is a very, very, very nice suit.
Frank Lucas: That’s a very, very, very nice suit, huh?
Huey Lucas: Yeah.
Frank Lucas: That’s a clown suit. That’s a costume, with a big sign on it that says “Arrest me”. You understand? You’re too loud, you’re making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.

So how is this related to marketing? 

For those who haven’t seen the movie, Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington) is the mastermind of a massive heroin-dealing operation – he is smart and a self-made man, albeit one that deals mostly in illegal activities (kids, don’t do drugs).  Anyways, during most of the film his style is subdued and quietly confident, nothing flashy or blingy.  He had a certain elegant power and he did not need to be the center of attention.  And his downfall begins when he forgets his own advice and wears a showstopping chinchilla coat and sits ringside at a fight, and therefore catches the eye of law enforcement, and it all goes downhill from there. 

Of course, part of the reason that Frank Lucas didn’t want to draw attention to himself is because he was doing things that were illegal; also, his product was the sort that sells itself.  But when he says that “the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room”, well, he has a point.  The product that has the most gimmicks or the person that is always trying to “network” and to brand him/herself and generally makes it all about them – the loudest ones in the room – are usually the least useful (the gimmicky product) or come across as pushy or desperate (not exactly attractive qualities). 

Obviously this doesn’t mean that all marketing or promotion is bad, or that you should rarely speak, but rather that there is a lot of power in simply having a superior product, a better price, or an impressive skill set (Frank Lucas’s product, “Blue Magic”, was both stronger and cheaper than the heroin currently on the market).  Granted, heroin is dangerous and addictive and such, but the concept can be applied in a positive fashion. 

There is a lot of noise out there about advertising, branding, marketing, search engine optimization (as well as a lot of sites that are basically well-optimized ad-stuffed crap) and other forms of promotion – some of it is valuable and a lot of it is bullshit.  The good advice tends to focus on adding value and telling people how you can improve their lives in some way; the bad advice tends to focus on simply getting attention.  Well, the loudest or flashiest person in the room gets attention too – but if it is not positive, then what is the point?

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

                                                           – Ernest Hemingway

The global opinion of the United States is currently…well let’s just say it is not all that positive, thanks to the current administration (2009 can’t come soon enough) and a host of other factors.  However, Americans (and people in general) can learn a lot from joining the international dialogue, so to speak.  The filmmakers who created The Listening Project get that – they traveled to fourteen countries around the world and listened to people from all walks of life as they shared their views and answered the question: “What does the world think of America?”

Click on the link to find screenings, share your thoughts with the crew, and more.

 

A Map For Saturday On MTV

February 28, 2008

It appears that MTV has decided to take a break from broadcasting mostly lame reality TV and is showing A Map For Saturday this Saturday (March 1st, starting at 10:00pm EST in the United States).  This wonderful travel documentary follows backpackers and long-term travelers around the world.  From the synopsis:

“A MAP FOR SATURDAY is the product of a year’s travel through 26 countries on four continents. Emmy winning producer Brook Silva-Braga left his cushy gig with American TV network HBO to travel the world with five pounds of clothes and 30 pounds of video equipment.

The barebones production set-up yields an intimate window onto the world of long-term, solo travel; moments of stark loneliness and genuine revelation.”

Here’s the trailer:

The Writer’s Strike

November 5, 2007

Is it evil that I’m glad about the Hollywood writers strike?  Although we might miss out on new episodes of the Daily Show and such, anything that gets writers in general more respect is A-Okay with me, and after all, without the writers, most TV shows wouldn’t even exist.  Perhaps it’s time to remind people that Jon Stewart, as brilliant as he is, is not the sole genius behind his show; also, popular dramas like CSI and Lost didn’t just spring up out of out of the minds of cast and directors.  Somebody wrote all those lines and created those plots (hint: it wasn’t the much more highly paid actors).

In case you’re unfamiliar, the reason why writers are striking is because while they’ve been negotiating for ages over proper payment and residuals for new media writing (think DVDs, internet downloads, etc.), the studios and networks haven’t been able to agree on these issues.  As Gawker says, the rage of the creative underclass finally boiled over.  So what does this mean for the average viewer?  More reruns, reality TV (ahh, horrors!) and possibly imports of British shows (which might not be that bad). 

Besides, maybe it’ll remind people in general that quality writers are essential to a great product- Hollywood isn’t the only place that tends to forgot their importance (cough, cough, magazine publishers and website owners, cough*).  In the mean time, and we can always turn off the television and (gasp!) read a book or engage in some of entertainment that isn’t entirely passive.  Or you can check out an insider’s point of view on the Artful Writer, a blog penned by two screen writers, Craig Mazin and Ted Elliot.

Hey, maybe all those striking writers will start blogs and we’ll have all sorts of new and interesting websites and content to read.  After all, while striking is almost always a last resort, perhaps while they’re doing it, the smartest writers might figure out how to beat the Man (big television media) at his own game.  Either way, it is clearly a critical time in the industry and whatever decisions are reached will have a lasting impact on the way that the media, or at the very least Hollywood, works. 

 *I’m not referring to any of my current clients, they are all fabulous.

1975 Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech – The Rudy Play


I dare you not to get a little choked up when Rudy finally gets to play.

“You’re five feet nothin’, and hundred and nothin’, and you’ve got hardly a speck of athletic ability, and you hung in there with the best college football team in the land for two years! And you’re also going to walk out of here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothing to nobody except yourself.

“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Fight Club premiered the same year I turned sixteen.  Chuck Palahniuk’s message sliced through the bubblegum of teenage consumerism like a knife through butter.  I remember the first time I saw it, sneaking into the theater to see the forbidden R-rated movie, and later renting it and watching it repeatedly with a few friends who loved it as much as I did. 

What’s funny/sad is that now most of my paid writing gigs center around fashion, beauty, entertainment, and enabling people to buy more “shit they don’t need.”  So occasionally I go on an anti-clutter warpath and donate or throw away everything in my apartment that I don’t need. 

“You need a bigger apartment.” said one of my neighbors.  “Then you won’t feel crowded.”

“I don’t think that’s the problem.” I replied.  “My place is small, but I don’t think need a bigger one.  Then I would just fill it with more crap.”

So I made an on the spot resolution – no more buying superfluous crap.  No disposable fashion from H&M and Forever 21.  There is no reward for collecting every shade of MAC eyeshadow.  Besides, having fewer but higher quality items is more wallet- and eco-friendly.  After all, “the things you own end up owning you.” And there is a distinction to be made between having style and being a mindless consumer.

But getting back to Fight Club.  What I liked so much about the movie was not the violence or destruction, but the emphasis on living, on using your time and not being another mindless drone.  It was the alarmingly simple and obvious concept that only you could define your own success and personal fulfillment.  And of course, I love how the movie and book ruthlessly mock the hollowness of contemporary American culture.  But it’s one of those movies that everyone experiences differently.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it with an open mind and zero expectations.  I doubt you’ll regret it.