The Triune Brain Theory & Advertising

The Triune Brain Theory

You may or may not have heard of the Triune Brain Theory. Each one of us has three parts to our brain. Picture a large box. Inside of that box, a smaller box, inside of that box yet a smaller box. Essentially that’s the way our brain is set up. We have a small part of the brain surrounded by a larger part and a larger part surrounding all of that.

Here is the marketing importance of the three brains from the greatest to least. The first part is the R complex or commonly referred to as the reptilian brain. That is where the Amygdala is located, they are one in the same. The second is the limbic brain. The third is called the cortex brain. Let’s take a look at each one of these individually.

Brain #1: The Reptilian Brain, or R Complex

The Reptilian brain is only accessible through our subconscious. It holds the key to human behavior. The things that make us buy and love as we do are encoded in the most primitive part of our brain, the reptilian brain. Of all three brains, the reptilian always wins. The best advertising appeals to all three brains. But the reptilian brains always wins. What are in there are silent cultural codes that shape our motivation, desires and behaviors. These are emotion-based messages that have been imprinted on our brain during the earliest part of our lives, during moments of first impression.

We have all heard that phrase, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The point of first imprint is critical in marketing. Being first, or first in the category or first with a new service to fill a void in the market is beneficial to the business owner. The key with the group you’re trying to influence is that you’ve got to find out what their earliest reptilian associations are and what it means to be part of that group. Then you have cracked the code.

For example, say your sporting goods store sells mainly hunting goods. A television ad that opens up right away with a hunting item and price won’t appeal to the reptilian brain. What you want to do in the first 3-5 seconds of the video is to get attention, show, for example, a father and son hunting in the woods together, or the son as he bags his first buck.

You show bonding. With the smiling faces of the father and the son, high fives, your ad promotes a warm, fuzzy feeling. Any hunter, no matter what age, will sit up; take notice, and responds to those images. That’s when you can show the product and prices.

The reptilian brain doesn’t think in abstract terms; it doesn’t feel complex emotions. It’s developed from our prehistoric past. We share it in common with reptiles like alligators and Komodo dragons. The reptilian brain is wired by primal biologic needs like reproduction and sex, survival, anger, avoidance defense, and territorial defense. The reptilian brain doesn’t respond to language. It responds to images; it acts on stimulus and response, nothing more.

Triggering the Amygdala results in an unconscious physical response. That’s the part that expresses negative emotions. It acts instinctively with quick decisions when you don’t have time to think. Survival is paramount in terms of how your reptilian part of your brain thinks. It’s concerned with getting food and not becoming food.

Your reptilian brain is fear-driven and takes over when you feel threatened, when a fight or flight response comes in. It also stores memories and visuals and images associated with emotional events. The notion of first imprint has huge ramifications in sales and products and services.

Years ago, a biologist named Conrad Lorenz did experiments with baby geese and demonstrated this point well. He showed that newly hatched goslings will accept as their mother the first living thing they see, whether it’s the mother goose or not.

Human beings’ first imprints are powerful mental reference systems that determine what we like and how we act. We don’t know why. We only know we want a certain type of thing or product once we see it advertised.

Take coffee. About 95% of the people love the aroma of coffee, but only 45% like the taste. You may or may not like coffee, but if you love that smell, you might go in and buy a cup. You wouldn’t sell as much coffee based on taste as you would on aroma. Most of us have the aroma imprint from when we were young. At home in the kitchen with our mother while she made breakfast, we felt happy, loved and safe. Accompanying those feelings was the aroma of coffee. Now, every time we smell coffee, those same feelings are triggered.

To go back to the sporting goods commercial, when you were young, you may have experienced your first hunting experience with your father. When you see the first 3-5 seconds of that hunting commercial, all those happy, warm feelings come back to you. Then you transfer those emotional feelings to the sporting goods store, because of that ad. Though there could be 3 or 4 similar stores in the market, you are now drawn to that particular store, though you’re not sure why. Frankly, most people don’t contemplate why. They are happy just to know what they want, not why. The sub-conscience mind has that much power.

Most advertising and branding techniques operate below the conscious and rational awareness. Think about this: What are the top two reasons customers buy from you? Go even further. How do they feel? What emotions go through their minds when they do business with you? What are their emotional feelings when they interact with you? Once you tap into that, use it in your marketing.

An effective brand promotes the emotional essence of the product or service. That’s what you need to do in your video. You need to feel and understand the emotions your customers are feeling when they think about buying your product. Touch those feelings in your televisions commercials.

Brain #2: The Limbic Brain

The limbic brain, a.k.a. the mammalian brain (because we share it with mammals) is located around the reptilian brain. The limbic brain is our brain’s emotional factory and handles complex emotions like love, indignation, compassion, envy, hope; it governs our relationships with children, with our parents, and with our mates.

Anyone who has worked with animals or has a pet knows that mammals share some emotions with humans. Reptiles don’t feel shame or enthusiasm, but those emotions are natural for mammals, for your pet dog or cat.

The limbic brain expresses itself exclusively in the form of feelings. It is felt in the heart and not in the gut like the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain doesn’t understand emotions; it only understands images, survival, and basic instincts. The limbic brain, however, feels emotions in the heart. The limbic brain collects and screens sensory information for emotional relevance.

Retention of new information significantly increases when it’s presented in an emotionally charged context, as I described before. The limbic brain is oriented towards our children, which is common to all mammals.

Limbic brain hot buttons: Babies – show a baby smiling and cooing and you’ve got women hooked immediately; Puppies – an adorable puppy flopping around in a laundry basket will hook viewers; Attractive, muscular men, the same response occurs.

These images generate strong, positive emotional feelings.

Brain #3: The Cortex Brain

Only humans have a cortex brain. It rests over the limbic brain, which is on top of the reptilian brain. The cortex is the largest part, totaling 80% of our brain. The main difference between us and mammals and reptiles are that we humans have the capacity to reason. The cortex brain is home to reason. It’s where we process abstract thoughts and words and symbols logic and time. It governs the ability to learn. Action, planning, reading, and writing are all functions of the cortex brain. The experience of all five senses occur there – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.

You might think most of the ad should speak to the cortex brain. In reality, if you’re competing against a company communicating at the reptilian level, which most corporations do, you don’t have a chance if your communications focus on the cortex brain. The reptilian brain always wins. When all three Brains are in sync we feel harmony, we feel good. But in a three-way battle between the cortex (reason), limbic (emotion), and reptilian (survival), the reptilian brain wins because survival comes first. These days, people focus on both physical and financial survival. When you tap into the reptilian brain you learn what a product or service or business means to a consumer at the most fundamental level.