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Orlando Wood: “Marketing Today Tries Too Much”
January 20, 2022

Orlando Wood’s acclaimed advertising research has led him to realize that our emphasis on the left hemisphere has a societal impact. Not least because it fosters a desire to dominate and shock people that extends beyond marketing: “It’s similar to surrealism from the 1920s,” he explains in our most recent interview series.

Orlando Wood had nothing to lose when he published Lemon – How the Advertising Brain Went Sour nearly two years ago. It can be read as an attack on the advertising world, a document of an industry that has become generic and frightening over the last 15 years. Constantly hampered by tight budgets and inefficiency. Whipped by dogma.

Or, as he puts it, today’s marketing, advertising, and communication are a reflection of a society that is undergoing a much broader trend. A society that is beginning to stiffen. A society that cements the truth and lies and is unaffected by nuances.

Orlando Wood questioned brain research

Orlando believes that marketing moves at the pace of society, and you can see how it is becoming less mobile and more black and white. He describes it as “fascinating” but also “disappointing.”

To comprehend Orlando Wood’s book and the study that preceded it, it is necessary to examine the neuroradiology research of psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist. According to him, the right and left hemispheres serve two distinct functions, the right hemisphere having a broader interpretation, sees context, understands metaphors, and can perceive time, space, and depth. According to him, the left is logical, rule-governed, and controlling.

Orlando: Iain McGilchrist takes the example of a bird whose left hemisphere is responsible for categorizing and picking up seeds from the ground. It knows what to eat and what not to eat. It is the right hemisphere that ensures that the bird does not become someone else’s lunch. It is open to contradictions and new things happening around the bird. The right hemisphere is open to what is happening around it.

Orlando: Then I could not explain why we lost the traditional advertising campaigns. What I managed to show was that the creative style had changed and that short-term effectiveness was rewarded while the campaigns did not elicit an emotional response from the audience.

“We see parts of a body but never a whole person”

Iain McGilchrist’s research put his own results into perspective.

Orlando: One night while watching TV, I thought to myself, “Oh my god, what he writes about how the brain works can actually be seen in the commercial.” People are no longer seen in situations where interesting things occur. Today’s advertising consists of short, fast clips. We frequently see close-ups or advertisements with words telling us what to do or how to think, accompanied by rhythmic music, he says.

People are frequently absent in advertising, he claims, and when we do see a human being, it is only in close-ups of individual body parts.

Orlando: We see parts of a body but never a whole person and once we see a whole person he or she looks lifeless.

When Orlando Wood read Iain McGilchrist’s book, he was able to place his own specialty within a broader cultural context. According to Iain McGilchrists, the different halves of the brain have dominated humanity’s way of thinking over time. Back and forth swings the pendulum. From the Roman Empire to the present. One example is architecture, where we have transitioned from asymmetric shapes to straight lines and geometric efficiency. From the “beautiful” to the “rational.” And the creators of the campaigns have followed suit.

Nervous before the book was released

Over the last 30 years, Orlando Wood has developed models that divide commercials based on the theory of the two halves of the brain. They demonstrated a trend break in the agencies’ creative style.

Orlando: It revealed that the properties that had vanished were also the most effective, while the properties that were on the rise were the least effective, which is what my book Lemon is all about.

Judy: Why do we still see this type of advertising if your research shows that it is losing its effectiveness?

Orlando: I wish I knew the answer. I hope the book is useful. There are agencies that have figured out how to make marketing successful over time and have a long-term impact, but doing anything other than what the current culture dictates is extremely difficult.

Judy: Were you nervous before the book was released?

Orlando: I suppose I had very little to lose when I published it because it was my first book and had never been published before. I was nervous, but I was confident in my findings and what I wanted to say. People are sometimes grateful when someone shouts that the emperor is naked. Many people have told me that I have captured a feeling, which has made me realize that I am not the only one who has felt this way.

“Today’s marketing tries too hard.”

His research has led him to realize that the rational trend is not limited to advertising and communication. He believes it can be traced all the way back to the beginning of time.

Orlando: Western culture has lost its vitality. Society has become rigid, fearful, and aggressive. And it’s something that comes after great technological advances. People are focused on the tools that have been created and feel cut off from the world. Since nothing is anchored in the right hemisphere anymore, we see that there is a desire to dominate and shock people.

Orlando: Marketing today is trying too hard. It is similar to the surrealism of the 1920s in advertising and strives to shock.

If Orlando’s last book, Lemon, was the wake-up call for those who champion effectiveness, then Look Out is the playbook for rebuilding the effectiveness that advertising has lost over the last decade, which was published during autumn 2021.

Orlando: It is a very effective tool to communicate with. Advertising that is fun is very effective. But today, people are afraid to use humor because they can step on people’s toes. I want to build a robust defense of humor and explain what humor is for something, he says.

Judy: I guess a society that can not laugh at itself is not a society and it is a problem.