This article was originally published on reverb, Drake Cooper’s reflections on advertising, creativity, and trends. Read more.

How Marketing Can Best Engage the Full Brain

It’s interesting to think about the brain and how, perhaps, a better understanding of how we make decisions could lead to better marketing.

If you don’t know much about the brain or neuroscience (as I didn’t) a great book on the subject for the purposes of marketing is A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink.

According to Pink, the brain basically works like this…

“The left hemisphere handles logic, sequence, literalness and analysis. The right takes care of synthesis, emotional expression, context and the big picture.”

And the two need each other.

Pink goes on to say…

“Logic without emotion is a chilly, Spock-like existence. Emotion without logic is a weepy, hysterical world where the clocks are never right and the buses are always late. In the end, yin always needs yang.”

Today, most of us know, in general, how the brain works. But we didn’t always.

And before talking about engaging the full brain for marketing, it’s interesting to look back into history and see how the understanding of our brain parallels with the development of the advertising industry…

When advertising got its start it was all logic. Advertisers went to great lengths to convey the practical reasons to buy. At the beginning of the 20th century industry pioneers like Lasker and Hopkins began creating ‘salesmanship in print.’ Ads like this one for Pepsodent (via 20 Ads That Shook the World) were the result…

During the time of the Pepsodent ad we only had just started to study the brain. But what we did know then, thanks to neurologists like Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke, was that the left side of the brain controlled many of the key functions that separated us from other species, like speaking and understanding language. We were logical beings and logic was how we moved through life and how we made our decisions. Hence the ads of the day.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that we learned the right side of the brain has a role too. It helps us understand patterns, interpret emotions and be able to absorb non verbal expressions. This was thanks to Roger Sperry who received a Nobel Prize in medicine for that discovery.

Somewhat ironically, advertising then began tapping those right brain functions in the 50s…

This was great.

But then, during the 1960s, something terrific happened: we atom-smashed both logic and emotion together for the first time. Thanks Bill.

This was terrific.

And then we never fully went there as an industry. Didn’t go 100% down the road that the creative revolution paved. Many became overly wrapped up in creativity for creativity’s sake. Went for shock. Wanted to “stand out.” Others thought we needed to be fully logical.

Cut to today…

It seems what’s really working is communication that, once again, fully atom-smashes both logic and emotion together at once. Like this recent ad for Jeep:

Or this…

And this…


They all work because they play to an audience whose brains are far more alert than ever before.

And a lot of this is due to the sharable nature of the web, of course.

One of the best things the shareability of the web has brought us is the desire for marketers to work harder and give us more. Engage us emotionally and factually. Give us more information to talk about. More things to feel. More succinct pieces of communication that matter rather than volumes of generic marketing-speak. Things that make us smarter: that little bit of information that we can tell others…

The ones who do that stand out. It’s the reason this works so well…

And why ads like this have helped Ford achieve record quarterly profits and, most recently, Marketer of the Year

All of which brings me back to logic, emotion and the brain…

There are certain categories where emotion obviously trumps logic (fashion) and others where emotion is a bit of a force-fit (interest-based financial products). But achieving both is what really engages us. It draws us in more effectively for a strong brand minute, as Simon wrote about.

So it comes down to addressing two questions early on in development:

What’s the key super interesting and relevant logic point that people can carry around and spread? And then, what’s the desired emotion that makes people relate?

We should strive to always do both.

After all, as Daniel Pink stated in A Whole New Mind…

“Put the two (sides of the brain) together and one gets a powerful thinking machine. Use either on its own and the result can be bizarre or absurd.”