Fear sells.  Studies show that the Surgeon General’s warning on the cigarette packs actually INCREASED sales of cigarettes. How can this be?

The amygdala

The fact is that our decisions are being made by a part of our brain that is so primitive that it doesn’t even understand speech and language. This part of the brain is called the amygdala.

This area is pure instinct: more lizard like than human.  It only asks simple questions.  Are you suitable to mate with?  Are you edible?  Can I escape from you if you try to eat me?  Are you a species that I can recognize?


This part of the brain also manages the stress response also known as “fight, flight or freeze.”  It is the part of us that can go into action without thought or analysis so that we can survive if we are confronted by danger.

Interestingly it also governs the human tendency to bond with other humans.  Maybe this ability to bond with our kind is part of the secret to our survival as a race.

This could be why make up sex is so powerful as the bonding instinct follows conflict.  Advertisers use imagined danger to evoke the bonding instinct in relation to a particular brand by first triggering the fear response.  This is why you see commercials for gasoline additives showing a dragon chasing a car down the street.  Because the amygdala sees an unknown species of wild animal posing a danger and we take notice of the advertisement at a deeper level.  The next reaction is a tendency to bond with that brand of gas which will “save” our car from having clogged fuel injectors.

Decisions start in the amygdala and then later we justify our choices with the neocortex: our human brain.  For example a great looking automobile showcases the quality of being a desirable mating partner.  We have an instinctive reaction to the beauty of the car.  Later we read consumer reports to gather facts in order to satisfy our rational thinking mind.

Normally our brain is trying to filter out all kinds of media that bombards us daily.  The only things we really notice are things that trigger the amygdala.  So in order for your advertising to stand out from the rest it must connect higher order reasons for purchasing with the instinctive values of the amygdala.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs


An example would be that human needs such as self-actualization can be connected to the fear that time is indeed running out in life as a person ages.  Powerful advertisements activate the amygdala and then connect the brand to solving that issue: such as the idea of buying more youth.

Brand Fractals can assist you in finding the “why’s” of your brand as explained in this awesome video by Simon Sinek.