The Hidden Persuaders on Stage and Screen

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Master Persuaders lurk in the pages of many good stories.

Think of King Henry’s Call to Action in the Saint Crispin speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V , when he must goad his English few into fighting the many French:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother …

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here

Or Harold Hill’s Agitation of the Problem in the song “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man.

Harold Hill sells the dream of a boy’s band to little towns across America.

Bu first, he must create a need for the band.

HILL

Marc, I need some ideas, if I’m goingto get your town out of the serious trouble it’s in.

MARCELLUS

River City aint’ in any trouble.

HILL

Then I have to create some.

(Yeah, he’s a little out of integrity here at the beginning … but by the end of the story, Hill finds his soul – and helps the people of River City reclaim their spirit.)

And here’s another one, for today’s featured lesson: the great use of Future Pacing in the musical Oklahoma!

I love musicals, especially Oklahoma!, ever since I landed a part in the cast as a 13 year old cowboy.

Early on in the musical, the hero Curly must convince headstrong Laurie to go to the box social with him.

She likes him, but she’s put off by his big-headedness.

To break past her defenses, Curly spins a romantic future about a ride in a surrey (a fancy carriage) in the song “Surrey With a Fringe On Top.”

Here are 3 lessons of future pacing we can discover from Curly’s song.

#1 Shower your audience with vivid, relevant details

When future pacing, it’s important to use details that are both vivid and compelling to your audience.

Curly knows his audience: Laurie is a farm girl who desperately needs a little excitement in her life. Something pretty. Filled with Romance.

So he paints a future of a gallant night on the “town” for her, filled with relevant details that he knows Laurie will respond to.

First, he describes the product itself:

“the wheels are yellow, the upholstery’s brown

the dashboard’s genuine leather”

So far, so good. She can begin to see the surrey come to life. Second, he pictures the surrey in action, encouraging her to see what it will look like:

“watch that fringe and see how it flutters

when I drive them high steppin strutters”

and again:

“the wind will whistle as we rattle along

the cows will moo in the clover”

And notice these are all details of the life Laurie knows well: the wind, cows, clover — Curly makes use of features of their country life, artfully assembled to showcase the romance of the surrey.

At this point, Laurie begins to be swept up in Curly’s vision. Next, she’s ready to be wowed.

# 2: Bring in an audience

Sometimes we don’t know how to feel about something until we see how someone else reacts.

Like in wine tasting: studies have shown that sippers enjoy a wine more when they know it’s expensive, or endorsed by an expert. Even our taste buds are susceptible to social influence.

It’s the magic of Social Proof. (As Robert Cialdini reminds us in Influence, “… one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other peole think is correct.”)

Curly’s been reading his Cialdini.

He starts with describing how animals will react — a good, subtle start.

“chicks and ducks and geese better scurry

when I take you out in the surrey”

His message is clear: we’re going places, baby, and the little ones had better watch out and make way.

Next he ups the ante and brings in people:

“Nosey folks will peek through their windows and their eyes will pop!”

Astonishment. Awe. That’s what Laurie has in store for her when she rides in Curly’s surrey. Those neighbors (and aren’t they just such nosy busybodies?) will get an eyeful when they see her riding in her royal rig. How do you like that!

He even elevates his picture to the giddy heights of fancy, when he imagines how the animals will jump in and celebrate the glorious ride of the surrey.

“When we hit that road hell for leather

dogs and cats will dance in the heather

birds and frogs will sing altogether

and the toads will hop!”

Cats and dogs dancing together? This is one magic Surrey.

Curly’s got some great momentum going, but in a fit of wounded pride he taunts Laurie and tells her that he’s made the whole thing up. This enrages Laurie, so she whacks Curly with her carpet sweeper.

Curly defends himself with this charming justification: “Making up a few purdys [i.e. lies] ain’t against no law I know of.” (Apparently frontier Oklahoma was outside the FTC’s jurisdiction.)

But Curly manages to calm her down and resumes his narration, asking her to imagine what if the surrey were real, purring to her softly: “I can just picture the whole thing.”

# 3: Show ’em how they’ll feel

Once you’ve painted the picture of how the product works and demonstrated how others will react, it’s time to tell your prospect how they will feel when they use it. If you’ve established the first two, the prospect will be ready to believe.

Here’s how Curly first does it, mesmerizing Laurie with repetition of the promise:

“don’t you wish you’d go on forever

don’t you wish you’d go on forever

don’t you wish you’d go on forever

and it’d never stop”

He says this in a whisper, inviting her to join in — which she does. He gets her “nodding yes” to his offer.

Then he completes the romantic picture with this next bit of imagining, as he moves in for the close:

“I can feel the day gettin older

feel a sleepy head near my shoulder

noddin — droopin –close to my shoulder

till it falls ker-plop!”

Laurie is entranced. She can picture the scene — in fact, at this point in the song she has her head on Curly’s shoulder, so caught up in the dream he’s weaving.

Then comes my favorite lyric of the entire song. Curly teases with just a taste of something grander that waits around the corner:

“And just when I’m thinkin all the earth is still

a lark wakes up in the meadow.

Hush you bird, my baby’s a sleepin’

maybe’s got a dream worth a keepin‘”

That “dream” is a hint at more to come. What dream, we wonder?

Curly doesn’t say, but I’ll take a stab at it: love, marriage, and a baby in a baby carriage. A baby carriage with a fringe on top.

By the end of the song, Laurie is ready to set aside her misgivings for that trumped up, smart-alecky, too-big-for-his-britches cowboy Curly, just so she can just get her tiny little tush into that surrey.

Desire has been fully inflamed.

(Of course, Curly fatally weakened his pitch when he said earlier that he’s making the whole thing up. Not an especially good trust builder. But even when Laurie knows it’s all a lie, she still wants to believe. In a complicated twist, we learn later it isn’t a lie after all — he really did hire the surrey. But by then it’s too late.)

Now, Curly has the benefit of Rodgerian melodies and Hammerstenian lyrics, which help weave the romance of the picture. Most of us marketers won’t have that benefit.

Because outside of advertising jingles, sales messages don’t rhyme and they don’t sing.

Not anymore, anyway. Eugene Schwartz informs us in Breakthrough Advertising that at the turn of the (20th) century, many ads were written in verse, rhyming all the way to the bank.

But then fashions changed, and rhymes fell out of favor.

Too bad. (Maybe it’s time for a revival?)

But the elements that Curly delivers are alive and well in future pacing:

#1: Shower your audience with vivid, relevant details

# 2: Bring in an audience

# 3: Show ’em how they’ll feel

The MORAL

Look for the hidden persuaders in stories you love, and model them in your marketing.

Is there a big Persuasion moment in of your favorite stories? Share it in the comments below.

And Stay Tuned For Next Time,

When I mull over the importance of a visible goal for your story’s hero.

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.
Showing 2 comments
  • Luke
    Reply

    Great article Scott.

    I loved this part…

    “Once you’ve painted the picture of how the product works and demonstrated how others will react, it’s time to tell your prospect how they will FEEL when they use it.

    If you’ve established the first two the prospect will be ready to believe”

    Huge ah ha for me.

  • Scott McKinstry
    Reply

    Thanks, Luke — glad you dug it.

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