Insane in the Membrane – By @Mr_Shankly

By Alex Morris


Insane in the Membrane


It was Patrick Collister’s workshop last week which reacquainted me with the old ‘left brain, right brain’ dichotomy. It’s a topic that neither sides of the ol’ grey matter had considered for a while. To be honest, I’d discarded it, as surely it was a gross oversimplification of our always-whirring internal processor.

The synapse sparking sentence from P.C however, was that, rather than there being differences in what each side of our divide brain does, more revealing is that both sides have different things they pay attention to, or prioritise.

Both hemispheres have since united in their interest to send me down a proper rabbit hole.


First stop was Orlando Wood’s new book for the IPA, ‘Lemon: A Repair Manual to Reverse the Crisis in Creative Effectiveness’.

His analysis was of 620 ads (appearing in Coronation Street, prime real estate I guess?!) between 2004 and 2018. He highlighted a significant shift in the style of advertising we are exposed to – and provides us with a fascinating neurological insight.

It reveals ‘a decline in the use of characters, sense of context, distinctive accents, ambiguity, wordplay, double meaning, and metaphor’. ‘Advertising today’, he said, ‘Demonstrates less self-awareness, is less self-referential, employs less implicit communication between people, deploys less cultural references, and fewer stories with a beginning, a middle and an end.’

And by contrast, it reveals a greater use of  voiceovers, monologues and more of a focus on things than people; more people as props not characters.

Sound familiar?

The shift is significant. This is advertising designed for the left-brain.

This is the part of the brain that prioritises utility, power and control, whose principle tool is language, that is concerned with cause and effect, that likes clarity and certainty, that is literal and prefers the literal over the implicit. It’s advertising designed for that part of the brain that is flat and simplified, lacking in depth and nuance.

Advertising that neglects the right hemisphere of the brain. This is the part of the brain which understands the world through connections and relationships between things (rather than cause and effect), that’s rooted in bodily or visceral experience, that’s empathetic, understands the feelings of others, and understands what’s implied. It’s the part of the brain that understands metaphor, humour, and irony.

In other words, we are creating more and more advertising which neglects that part of the brain we must engage if we want to create the associations and connections that lie at the heart of long-term brand building.

It means that we are giving up on advertising that seeks to influence behaviour not simply through the conscious processing of verbal or factual messages.

And it means that we are giving up on advertising that treats implicit communication and execution as vital, not merely the means of conveying the message we want. You know, the Rosser Reeves school of shouty USPs.

Wood concludes that work that builds and sustains brands takes time to develop. It takes time to develop because its creation does not follow a linear step-by-step process. It arises out a journey of play and of exploration. 

So for the sake of right brains everywhere and indeed our future clients’ businesses, play and explore we will continue to do.

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