Seducing The Hippocampus

Body of Truth
By Dan Hill
267pp. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. $29.95.

There seems to be a perennial discussion in marketing over whether to appeal to consumers’ intelligence or emotions. While the simple answer may be “both,” it proves difficult in practice. Marketers have instead adopted an approach based on the product. Purchases that demand a high level of consumer involvement generally receive in-depth treatment, while impulse sales get emotional bells and whistles.

Starting with a scientific discussion of the brain, psychologist and marketer Dan Hill argues in Body of Truth that all good marketing should push the emotional buttons. Long copy and rational appeals may be of interest to a select few, but the average consumer reacts better to less subtlety. The key to all this, Hill argues, is the part of the brain that creates a “sensory-emotive connection with consumers.”

“The hippocampus is vital,” Hill writes. “It’s the screen door to a person’s psyche. It lets in what it deems to be shocking, novel, emotionally significant, or networked to the familiar. Therefore, successful marketing seduces the hippocampus.” That’s all well and good, the marketer may say, but how exactly do we go about targeting that lump of gray matter?

The value of emotional advertising is hardly novel in marketing. The old saw that kids-and-dogs will appeal to any consumer is time-honored. Some may remember a soda commercial from years back that combined a toddler and a pack of puppies. Heart warming and memorable, to be sure. But did it move the product?

Hill spares no effort detailing the steps required to engage in what he calls “emotional positioning.” Entire chapters are devoted to discussions of images and colors that will best snare typical buyers. At times, Body of Truth reads more like a psychology textbook than a marketing manual. It begs the question, who at an advertising agency is likely to absorb all this interesting advice?

To be sure, Hill makes a valuable point. In an increasingly cluttered marketplace, it takes more than a celebrity and a smile to create effective advertising. Whether or not marketers can consistently penetrate deep recesses of the brain in the manner Hill advocates remains to be seen, but it’s worth the attempt.

If nothing else, following Hill’s advice virtually guarantees more interesting advertising.

Jonathan Jackson is an independent consultant based in New York City. He has written extensively on internet advertising and email marketing since the inception of the internet. A frequent guest speaker, Jonathan has addressed global audiences on marketing and advertising topics and also teaches marketing at colleges around the world.

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