It’s Not the Big Idea That Matters — It’s the One Before It

December 7, 2017 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Throughout the summer of 1975, millions of Americans found themselves terrified by two simple things they never would have anticipated – an F and an F sharp. Two notes that had been sitting side by side for hundreds of years. Two notes included in thousands and thousands of pieces. And yet, it wasn’t until John Williams put them together in an alternating pattern, dropped them into a Tuba and coupled them with a vengeful great white shark that they became the very definition of relentless terror.

The signature music from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is a great example of a concept psychologist Robert Cialdini calls “Pre-Suasion,” the idea that what we present first, highly influences the reception of what comes second. Cialdini tackles the Pre-Suasion concept in his new bestseller of the same name and in fascinating ways that each of us who work in a marketing agency, or an advertising agency, would do well to explore.

With every pitch, every presentation, every piece of work we create, we use information to elicit a desired effect. To astonish. To be funny. To land a particularly emotional point. To get the viewer to remember the phone number. But often, there’s nothing intentional about the order in which the communicative elements are assembled. They end up the way they end up because they look right. Or they sound right. Or they feel right. The client likes the talent’s voice. The music is cool. The cutty edit gives the spot some extra energy.

The question is, are any of those things helping you do a better, more intentional job of selling?

In Cialdini’s book, he tells the story of a wine shop that was shocked to discover when they played German music in the store, customers who had heard the music while shopping were more likely to purchase German wine. Likewise, when the owners played French music, customers were more likely to purchase French wine. The idea that was presented first (hearing a musical style), influenced the reception of what came second (buying wine).

It’s a simple, fascinating concept. And one that presents a ripe opportunity for us marketers willing to think through our information and intention. Our minds – and those of consumers – are constantly and imperceptibly trying to connect the dots to make meaning of the influences around us and what Cialdini shows us, is that ORDER MATTERS. With no perceptible “marketing” other than French music, customers found themselves buying French wine. Forty summers ago, two relentless notes played on a Tuba made an entire generation question whether it was safe to go back in the water. What comes first, influences what comes second.

As media agencies, marketing companies and advertising firms, if we want to give ourselves the best chance to influence consumers, we need to learn how to “PRE-suade” those audiences to be sympathetic to the information we’re about to deliver. When that happens, messages aren’t just received. They land. Connections are made. Trust is established. And that once full, impenetrable consideration set, is suddenly open for business.

MIKE SULLIVAN is the President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency. For more about challenger branding, subscribe to our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog

advertising agencychallenger brand marketingchallenger brandinginfluenceJawsJohn WilliamsLoomismarketing agencymedia agencyMike SullivanPRESuasionRobert CialdiniSteven SpielbergThe Loomis Agencyvoice of the underdog

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.