What Does This Small Part of the Brain Have to Do with Digital Advertising?

What does a small part of the brain have to do with digital advertising?  


There’s this small part of your brain called the reticular activator.  It’s a small part of the brain, but it plays a HUGE part in how you remember pieces of information.  McKay talks about the reticular activating system by stating that “Activation of this reticular system is necessary for higher states of brain activity. Think of the reticular activating system as a sentry constantly looking out for conditions which require a conscious response.”


You might be wondering what conditions require a conscious response? Well, think about it logically. In your day to day life, what things catch your attention the most? Things that are relevant. But also things that surprise you, shock you, or get you thinking. Things that appear out of the ordinary. Not only is your brain is drawn to what’s relevant, it’s also drawn to the unknown and the uncommon.


McKay confirms this when he says that “Familiar is only one of the conditions the reticular activator watches for. It is also ready to draw our attention to unusual, problematic or threatening conditions. Essentially, the mind decides what it wants to focus on, and when it deems what’s important, it also decides what’s not important. That means the brain is selective. It limits itself to receiving certain messages. It is not interested in everything it is presented with.


So what is the brain not interested in? The answer is simple. The brain does not pay attention to things that that do not stand out or “things that don’t directly apply to them.”

What does this mean for advertisers?


Advertisers need to know their customer. They need to know what affects their customer, what interests their customer, and what gets a reaction out of their customer. Because ultimately, standing out is the only chance to get inside someone’s head a make an imprint. With tons of ads going out each and every day, it’s impossible that every single one is going to leave a lasting impression on each person.


McKay also talks about different levels of consciousness and how a person in the alpha state could be doing a repeat activity that causes him or her to be “relaxed” and comfortable with his/her settings but the beta state puts a person into “peak concentration.” For it is in this state that a person is brought out of his or her comfort level and becomes present and perceptive. This also means a lot to an advertiser because it’s crucial that ads reach the target market at the right times. If not, the ad might simply go over a person’s head with no second thought.


Effective advertising takes a lot of thought and understanding of the human brain. An advertiser must understand the way the mind works in order to effectively reach the desired target market.



  • Advertising needs to be eye-catching to draw attention.
  • Ads should be different and creative.
  • Ads that are out of the box do well in a sea of monotonous ads.
  • Attention to detail in colors, fonts, and design matter!  Don’t skimp on your graphic designer!