Take a look at this diagram…
That goes back 3.5 billion years to the dawn of time.
When the only living thing on this rock was cyanobacteria.
In all that time we homo sapiens have been around for about a blink of an eye.
This path of evolution has shaped both our bodies and minds.
You can’t ignore it, if you want to succeed in advertising.
It’s been found that the same brain circuits that exist within us today also existed in animals dating back over 300 million years. Like something out of a sci-fi novel the latest research is showing that we are also commanded by the earlier forms of life such as the bacteria and microbiome that live inside us.
Trying to understand how the past has shaped us can help us understand why certain things might work better than others in marketing. Knowing how the past programmed us will help to make better decisions on making campaigns as effective as possible.
Ready to go back in time and look at some of ancient mechanics that run us?
More adaptable than a Swiss army knife
One key that’s allowed us to to get this far (further than the now extinct Neanderthal) is the ability to adapt. From the coldest darkest places to the hottest arid deserts you can see human beings not just surviving in the four corners of the world, but thriving.
Charles Darwin defined evolution being “not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”.
This formidable capacity for adaptability for adaptability has shaped our brains to approach the world in certain ways. One of those lenses is information seeking. The more information we have the better we can adapt, and the more likely we are to survive in the future. Science is now revealing just how much energy mammalians devote to information seeking behaviours.
In Jungian psychology universal and instinctive behaviours like information seeking are often called archetypes.
We can see manifestations of information seeking and its value at the top of societal hierarchies being reflected in forms of cultural mythology and our institutions.
Very often manifesting as a seeing eye or entity. Like the Egyptian Eye of Horus gifting the ones who see, the Eye of Providence located on the every dollar bill or Zazu in the lion king. These symbolic representations make clear just how hard wired this is.
Having our brains primed this way is the reason why information gaps in marketing are so strong!
There is one way to use this and capture attention of prospects.
That’s with using it to develop a powerful hook for your product or service. A hook is a irresistible message that communicates a big idea or offer in a way that “hooks” peoples attention.
Head-turning hooks take time to develop but once ready they force people pay attention to your message usually due to the biological and psychological benefits they promise.
Are there three people inside you?
There is more to our brain than meets the eye. Neuroscientist Paul MacLean generated the first model of the Triune brain. The Triune Brain is a widely cited model of how the brain evolved and how it works. Joseph Ledoux advises we should think of the brain as systems rather than individual components.
At the base we have the reptilian brain. This is the ancient part of our brain home to the basal ganglia and cerebellum.
A lot of these control what’s known as our autonomic nervous system (ANS) or unconscious body processes.
The ANS is made up of three related systems, the parasympathetic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system and enteric nervous system. The first is your fight or flight response to survival, the second looks after rest-and-digest functions for survival and reproduction.
The third is the most interesting which provides the connection between the mind and body/gut via the vagus nerve.
Perched on top of that is the Limbic system.
The limbic system is contains areas for our behavioural and emotional responses.
Focused around motivation, emotion, learning, and memory and giving influence to the autonomic nervous system described above.
Finally there is the neocortex that handles more complex thinking such as sensory perception, cognition, motor commands, spatial reasoning and language.
This part separates us from any other species making us the apex predator on earth. Here is what typical advertising tries to communicate with, but first we must realise there is a catch….
In the emotional brain Ledoux writes “the wiring of the brain in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are much stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems.”
…That’s ivory tower talk for we are controlled by emotion much more than rationality.
It’s understanding this that is so important. Because your advertising messages first go through the emotionally charged Limbic system (not the neocortex) as we like to idolise it doing. It means emotion, not logical is what initially drives us, even if we make Decartes error and think it just ain’t so.
Leduex outlines the process of incoming visual auditory stimulus to look something like this:
Ever heard the saying people buy on emotion and justify with logic?…
It’s because of this system.
Often advertisers want to just layout the facts and talk directly to the rational brain, or possibly believe that their audiences are too sophisticated for harder emotional hooks. This is dangerous thinking unless we want messages to be ignored.
One way to get emotions flowing is with a good story.
Stories have been our way of communicating and passing down information before papyrus, libraries or the cloud.
Biological & Psychological Drives
Daniel Starch practically invented the field we know today as market research.
He would regularly produce Starch Advertising Readership Reports which outlined findings of what advertising worked and more importantly why.
His overwhelming finding back then is still true today. People mostly care about themselves. That’s because our biological drives are hardwired this way.
Some one who understands this better than most is Drew Whitman. He put together a list covering eight foundational “desires” that every marketer can use to tap into mother nature:
- Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension
- Enjoyment of food and beverages
- Freedom from fear, pain, and danger
- Sexual companionship
- Comfortable living conditions
- To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses
- Care and protection of loved ones
- Social approval
Creating campaigns around the most suitable of the 8 for your product creates a direct connection into our biological drives.
Like pushing a plug into a live outlet it’s a quick way into gripping the attention of the limbic system.
There is another thing that can help us here.
It’s a 5 letter word that can instantly multiply the effectiveness of your advertising.
The 5-letter word is SCARF.
Never heard of SCARF?
This one is a real gem and can make your marketing more magnetic than the north.
SCARF is an acronym created by David Rock. It stands for the five key “domains” that underpin our behaviour in social situations. Look at the following list:
- Status – the relative importance to others.
- Certainty – the ability to predict future.
- Autonomy – the sense of control over events.
- Relatedness – the sense of safety with others.
- Fairness – the perception of fair exchanges.
Both these models can help us tweak and tune up angles and hooks to get advertising operating like a well oiled machine.
We are mostly driven to move away from the negatives of each and towards the positives.
From now on, remember that it’s not the economic human that we are communicating with but one that has a history attached going back further and more complex than we can presently fathom.