I so love being right.

For many, many years now, I have been contending that the reason many good taglines are effective—get noticed, processed, evoke some kind of emotional response, and sometimes even get remembered—is that they involve some kind of play on words, some double meaning, where both meanings are relevant to the brand’s message.

Furthermore, it has been my naive, intuitive, common sense speculation that the reason such taglines work so well is that the two meanings tickle two different parts of the brain, causing those two parts of brain to get together and confer and come to some agreement on the meaning and emotional effect of these two conjoined bits of input. It’s not just that these taglines are, in some vague sense, clever, whatever that term means. There is a brain-science-based explanation for how and why most good taglines work so well.

But I’ve had no objective, empirical basis for holding to this theory. Until now.

I will spare you the technical details, but a study published earlier in 2016 in the journal Laterality:Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition essentially confirms what I’ve been contending lo these many years. The study is about how puns are processed. I prefer not to refer to the word play in taglines as “puns” because that term is so loaded with negative baggage. The point is, the pun-processing phenomenon is the same as what goes on in the brain with taglines that involve word play—the left side processes the meaning, then, a fraction of a second later, compares notes with the right side as it assesses the emotional/reactive aspect, which results in a “surprise re-interpretation” wherein the brain gets tickled. This evocation or emotional reaction to a good tagline is what forms the neurochemical basis for it being relegated to the memory rather than being tossed out with the trash, as most information or input gets tossed. The brain can’t simply dismiss the “clever” tagline input as it does with so much boring advertising, including boring or stupid taglines. It is compelled to take the time and trouble to work out what’s going on inside the tagline, and by doing so, creates the opportunity for the tagline to cause an emotional reaction and then get seeded in the memory.

Pretty cool, eh? In the early stages of forming this theory of how and why wordplay-based taglines work, I characterized the process metaphorically. I liked to say that the tagline sends out two fish hooks and both of them sink into the brain in different spots. This was admittedly a primitive, oversimplified metaphor. Now, armed some scientific evidence to support my long held contention, I can make my argument with genuine confidence, rather than the illusion of confidence I had leaned on in the past.




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