6 Ways to Get Your Client's Reptilian Brain Interested - Irina Khomutova, Khomutova & Partners

6 ways to interest your client's reptilian brain

When you create an ad product, you probably aren't thinking about your client's reptilian brain. You traditionally ask the question "What makes the buyer buy?" instead of the most important - "What can attract his attention?" According to the triune brain theory, the reptilian region is the gatekeeper of the brain's attention and decision-maker. If your ad, website landing page can grab the attention of the reptilian brain, you have a much better chance of the sale going through.

Fortunately, there are certain techniques you can use to get your value proposition to target that brain area directly and give you the advantage of engaging your audience on the first contact.

While the triune brain theory is controversial by some experts, it provides a useful, simplified view of how the brain as a whole responds to stimuli and brilliantly demonstrates the dominant role of the reptilian brain. In his book Fast and Slow Thinking, Kahneman describes two large decision-making systems in the brain: the first system includes the middle and reptilian, and the second, respectively, the neocortex (cortex). 

What is a Reptilian Brain?

The brain is divided into three parts: outer, middle, and reptilian.

  • The youngest part of the brain is the outer layer. He is in charge of things like processing written language, complex thinking, calculating and rationalizing your decision.
  • The middle part of the brain processes emotional responses. This gives us an inner sense of our decision.
  • The oldest part of the brain is the reptile area. She is responsible for instinct and survival. Its main focus is on avoiding danger and pain. It is this area that makes our decisions.

A lot of energy is required for the brain to function. Representing only 2% of our body weight, it burns 20% of our energy. Our brains are optimized to conserve energy. Therefore, he is not going to waste expensive energy, involving other areas of the brain to process information, if this is not necessary for survival. If you can prove yourself worthy of attention, then and only then will other parts of the brain be involved.

How to Get to the Reptilian Brain with Your Value Proposition

You don't have to threaten the immediate survival of your audience to get their attention (although that will work, too). There are certain marketing techniques that you can use to grab attention. They include:

  • Touching your audience's pain points.
  • Conversion to their innate selfishness.
  • Demonstrating importance through contrast. Emphasizing the tangibility of value.
  • Focusing on the beginning and the end. Using a visual metaphor.
  • Emphasis on an emotional chord.

We'll go over them in more detail, with specific examples of each.

Talk with the pain of your audience

The reptile brain is more concerned with avoiding pain as a means of survival than getting pleasure. Therefore, talking about the direct benefits of your product does not immediately grab people's attention.

For example, in our practice, when creating advertising messages, we first attract the attention of the "reptile" by acting on the pain points of the consumer of the product we advertise, and then we offer ways to alleviate this pain through our value proposition.

Let me give you an example of how we promoted the diagnostic programs of one medical center. First, we identified the risk group based on the profile of the cardiovascular system (55+ men) as the target group for promoting specialized check-up programs. At the same time, it was revealed that men are not decision-makers in obtaining medical services - this role is taken by women (according to VTsIOM, 83% of women consider themselves responsible for the choice of medical services for themselves and their environment). As the core of the target audience in the advertising campaign, the age group of women 30+ was identified as the most involved in the information field and being at the same time initiators of receiving medical services, decision-makers and often payers. The main pain of the core of the audience was the fear of losing a loved one (in our case, the father), and, as a consequence, the desire to take care of his health in order to preserve family well-being. When developing semantic and visual images, we took into account the need to moderately use the factor of fear about the death of loved ones, since excessive fear blocks the perception of information (this, by the way, is a traditional mistake of marketers, who often scare a person to such an extent that the audience ignores their messages). We used life-affirming images, which captured moments of joy from life, from the fact that all loved ones are healthy and still with us: from the play of a grandfather with a grandson, from the hugs of a daughter with a father, etc. is very dear to our core and stimulating its active actions towards the health of the people most important to them.

Thus, by focusing our efforts on a strategy of moderate use of the fear factor, based on neurobiology and behavioral reactions of the core of the audience, we have multiplied the sales of diagnostic programs. So, the steps: first, you define the core of the audience, then find its pain points (what worries and frustrates) and give solutions.

An appeal to the egocentric nature of the reptilian brain

Because he is strictly responsible for his own survival, the consumer's reptilian brain becomes more alert when talking to him about his favorite subject: himself. Within the first few seconds, the reptilian brain will recognize if the incoming information is about him personally and what you plan to do for him. Therefore, make sure that your offer is addressed personally and is extremely clear to the consumer, otherwise he will not be interested.

A common mistake made by marketing is using abstract, non-personalized statements and visuals of an audience that is inappropriate. So, for example, when conducting marketing audits of sanatoriums, we often identified a typical mistake of marketers, answering the questions why there are no guests, no sales. The promotional layouts aimed at the target audience (80% of guests aged 55+) used images of tanned young people under the age of 25, swimming and sunbathing in pools with refreshing cocktails. At the same time, the target audience 55+ itself and its values, such as specialized health programs, competent medical personnel and effective treatment methods, remained ignored. Such an approach could not attract anyone's attention, since on the one hand, only the audience of the corresponding age group could react to the image of a girl in a red bikini, and on the other, she could not be impressed by the action "Pensioners 10% discount". Here you have to choose - either a bikini or benefits for retirees. You cannot address two mutually exclusive audiences with one layout: retirees do not want noisy neighbors and are focused on calm, healthy rest, and an audience of 25+ does not want to relax in a sanatorium with pensioners. A sanatorium can interact with each of these audiences, but only by separating targeted messages and using the appropriate targeted promotion channels (I'll talk more about this in another topic).

How to properly handle a prospect's reptilian brain? Let me give you an example of an effective advertising campaign that we conducted for one travel agency. Where did we start?

We determined the target product in the form of a honeymoon trip. For an effective advertising campaign, it is very important to accurately define the product, since it is this stage that makes it possible to work with the meanings. You can't sell everyone just vacation and travel. This is not enough to understand who we are addressing and what solutions we give them.

Based on the product, we formulated avatars (archetypal customer models). The “bride” was identified as the core, since it is she who is the initiator, decision-maker and sponsor (or the one who finds a sponsor to implement their plans). Our goal was to sell her a wedding ceremony or a romantic trip to the Cote d'Azur.

As semantic and visual images, a reference was made to her selfish dreams, in which there is only a place for herself, everything is concentrated on her personal happiness and long-standing desires. Visual row: a fragile and romantic figurine of a bride stands alone on the snow-white sand with an endless blue ocean. We see from the back how she peacefully and contentedly looks into the ocean, immersed in herself, her happiness and the opportunities that open up before her. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we didn’t show her face, so that everyone would think of herself in her, playing out the incompletely revealed image. We used the slogan “you dreamed of such a wedding since childhood” and agency contacts. Nothing superfluous, leaving a lot of room for the selfish thoughts and fantasies of our bride-consumer (all the rest of the work will be done for us by her reptilian brain - it will find arguments for the sponsor).

In this advertising campaign, we directly addressed the self-centered needs of the reptilian brain of our heroine, formed the fear that her childhood dreams would never come true (if not now) and gave a solution in the form of travel agency contacts that would make her fairy tale come true.

So, in order to interest an egocentric reptile it is necessary: ​​to use a direct appeal to the consumer “yours” (“yours” depending on age and status) and photographs that accurately reflect the lifestyle and image with which the client associates himself. It is very important that he gets to know himself and understands that we are addressing him personally.   

Demonstrate Importance Through Contrast

Contrast is perceived by the reptilian brain extremely easily. Easily understood messages are more likely to be rewarded with attention. It will also speed up the decision making process. Contrast builds on the before and after state, on the comparison between each other and competing products.

We often use the contrast effect when promoting expensive invasive or hardware cosmetic services, after which the client can observe significant improvements in a very short time. So, for example, during the promotion of non-surgical hardware blepharoplasty (correction of excess skin and fat deposits) for one cosmetology clinic, a series of advertising layouts using photographs of clients (40-55 years old) before and after procedures proved to be extremely effective. Considering that the result is visually obvious, the procedure is painless and there is no need for a postoperative recovery period (as in plastic surgery up to 12 days), the service received a huge demand, and the clinic records for this service 3 months in advance within a week after the ad campaign snack.

So, you can try for a long time to explain in words the benefits and effect of your service, or you can show it in the format of an obvious contrast "before" and "after", while giving a simple solution: where and how you can get such an amazing result. 


Understanding the decision-making processes and the limitations in the perception of the reptilian brain makes it possible to avoid many mistakes. The optic nerve goes directly to the reptilian brain and is therefore primarily influenced by visual imagery. Your reptilian brain will register the presence of danger at a distance before other areas of the brain can process this information. It is a survival mechanism that provides responses in a fraction of a second.

He responds well to photos and videos, responds worse to simple short texts (up to 7 words) and does not react at all to complex intricate names and descriptions. If the reptile is not interested, then it will not invest energy in the rest of the brain to study your proposal.  

For example, we often used this property when working with a cafe, replacing text menus with food compositions, which, according to our practice, increased the sales of expensive and signature dishes by an average of 70%. This growth effect is explained by the fact that the previously used complex text descriptions and the author's unfamiliar names of dishes did not help guests in understanding what awaited them in the finished form. No understanding - no orders. And, on the contrary, due to the delicious presentation and attractive photographs that best reflect the advantages of the promoted dishes, we aroused a burning appetite and a desire to taste the dish. It is important to note that visualization demonstrates its effectiveness not only in HoReCa. This rule works for everyone: the reptilian brain reads images well and perceives text poorly. So, when developing any advertising tool, we have always adhered to the following rules:

  • Visualized or helped the client to visualize our offer (for example, in an audio advertisement).
  • We focused on a real, concrete, and familiar image that demonstrates the value of the product we advertise.
  • We used simple and short sentences.

Don't try to talk about important things in the middle: focus on the beginning and the end.

Since the main focus of the reptilian brain is survival, it is incredibly alert to change, as it always judges the likelihood of danger. To save energy, it directs attention at the beginning and end of your video, ad article, landing page, and more. This means that the middle of the message is much less likely to grab attention. Realizing this, we have always placed the most important thought at the beginning of any advertising material and always repeated it at the end. And to maintain attention throughout the material, if, for example, we were dealing with an advertising article, we split the information into mini-segments in order to return attention with new input data that the brain is forced to follow. Moreover, large material divided into segments is easier to remember.  

Play an emotional chord

Our decisions are mostly made subconsciously, as they do not initially affect the cognitive parts of the brain. This means that usually consumers do not understand what caused the concern and why they want certain things. We use pain points to drive consumer behavior. Triggering positive emotions can also be effective, but the reptile's brain is more drawn to negative emotions.

Any advertising messages and visual images that we use, we always endow with emotional stories, because it is through the stories that the consumer understands that we are addressing him. For example, in an advertising campaign for a travel agency during the low season, we used an emotional chord and contrast, visually showing that "autumn is different" and "winter is different." At a time when in Moscow the heavy gray sky, chilly rain or even dirty snow underfoot, sagging from reagents, shines somewhere in Moscow, a bright sun is shining and a completely different life awaits. We made a series of layouts that showed a moment of life, another autumn and another winter, which could be spent in a completely different way. Visual vivid images, emotional contrast, annoyance in the slogan from elusive opportunities and the fact that somewhere another life awaits somewhere - all this translates into a strong incentive to go in the low season to where it is definitely better. The formula for a successful layout: a visual metaphor, an emotional chord on pain points, a variant of the outcome (it was - it will be), a clear three-word text message and a solution in the form of travel agency contacts.

Make friends with reptiles

The entire brain plays a role in consumer decision making, but the reptilian brain is a force behind the scenes. You must address this area first in order to effectively influence your audience. Speak the language of the reptile, its fears, pains and values ​​in a way that is simple, emotional and understandable for this part of the brain. By perfecting the art of reptilian communication, you too will increase sales and improve your ability to positively influence your customers over and over again ... Now has this reached your egocentric reptilian brain?

Scroll up