Marketing Book Worth a Look: ‘Lemon,’ by Orlando Wood

November 25, 2020

Closeup of lemons on a tree

Something is wrong with modern advertising. Orlando Wood knew it, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on the disconnect.

In 2018, he read an enlightening work from the renowned psychiatrist and neuropsychologist Iain McGilchrist that opened his eyes, and led him down the path to writing his own book exploring the science of creativity in marketing.

What’s the big idea behind "Lemon. How the Advertising Brain Turned Sour," and how can marketers use its insights to turn the tides on a pervasive decline in the effectiveness of ads? Orlando was kind enough to share the answers with us in his own words.

Marketing Book Worth a Look: Lemon. How the Advertising Brain Turned Sour, by Orlando Wood

As Chief Innovation Officer for System1 Group, Orlando is always focused on identifying the next big thing in marketing and customer engagement. But in this case, to find a way forward, he found himself looking backward. What has gone amiss since the golden age of advertising, when creativity led the charge? He argues that our analytical culture is “reducing what was once dazzling art form to dreary science.”

If you’re a B2B marketer, you might find yourself nodding in agreement. The field could use a fresh squeeze of energy, and Orlando seeks to provide it in this expansive, deeply researched dissertation on where advertising went wrong and how we can fix it.

Orlando touched on many of the core principles of Lemon in his guest post on our blog early this year, outlining what advertising should look like during a recession. In his piece, he talked about how the world has become increasingly left-brained, and this has resulted in a reduction in right-brain qualities -- “intuitive and empathetic ... a community connector and social animal” -- that make content compelling, engaging, and entertaining (especially in a time of widespread duress).

We asked him to share the inspiration behind his book and the biggest revelations he uncovered along the way. Here’s what he had to say.

Orlando Wood Explains Why Marketers Should Read Lemon

LI: What inspired you to write Lemon?

Orlando Wood: In December 2018 I read The Master and His Emissary, by Iain McGilchrist. Iain is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on brain lateralisation. Iain is a psychiatrist and neuropsychologist, but began his professional life teaching English literature at Oxford University. 

Frustrated by the over-analysis of the great works, he decided to devote the rest of his life to understanding the brain, and how it attends to the world, responds to and shapes culture. He begins by explaining that the brain is asymmetrical and divided, and asks why this might be. The idea that the right and the left brain might do different things has been long dismissed. But McGilchrist cleverly reframes the question, and asks not what the two hemispheres do, but instead, ‘how they do it?’ 

He finds something quite remarkable: that it’s not that the two halves of the brain do different things, but that they do things differently; have different takes on the world – different attentional priorities. This was a book that helped me to understand a great many things in my life that had always puzzled me, that gave me a new understanding of the people around me, that gave me a new appreciation of history and culture. But it was also a book that helped me to see and articulate something in my professional life that I hadn’t until that moment been able to explain: What is happening to advertising and why is it less effective today than in the past? Where have all the great characters gone, the catchphrases, the jingles – the things we know make advertising work?

“What is happening to advertising and why is it less effective today than in the past? Where have all the great characters gone, the catchphrases, the jingles – the things we know make advertising work?”

LI: Why should marketers read the book?

Orlando Wood: The last 15 years have seen a decline in advertising effectiveness and a rise in short-termism, but very few commentators have examined the advertising creative itself. Lemon has been described as advertising’s ‘repair manual.’ It is a unique blend of neuroscience, cultural history and advertising research that describes a recent shift in societal attention that is responsible for a new advertising style – one that undermines advertising effectiveness. 

Drawing on a groundbreaking theory of how the brain attends to the world, the book explains why we have seen this shift, what we might do about it, and points to a more effective style of advertising. This kind of shift – towards a left-brain dominance – has happened before in history, as I show through art and sculpture from the late Roman period through to the present day. Indeed, in this digital age, we are not so much experiencing a creative Renaissance, as a creative Reformation. The book provides evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of advertising that entertains and elicits an emotional response in the viewer; it underscores the importance of humour, characters, metaphor and place.

“In this digital age, we are not so much experiencing a creative Renaissance, as a creative Reformation.”

LI: Without giving too much away, what are some of the trends and underlying issues you identified that have contributed to a gradual decline in creative effectiveness?

Orlando Wood: I show that, in the last 15 years, advertising has become flatter, more abstract, more rhythmic, more self-conscious and more reliant on the word. It has become devitalised, dislocated from time and place. We are much less likely today to see a scene played out in lived time in a real location; but instead to see a succession of short, sharp cuts. We are less likely to see characters and people interacting with each other – this sense of ‘betweenness’ has gone. We are less likely to see metaphor, music, wordplay, parody or pastiche and humour. 

“In the last 15 years, advertising has become flatter, more abstract, more rhythmic, more self-conscious and more reliant on the word.”

Instead, advertising has become literal and didactic. The features we have lost are more associated with the right brain’s attentional priorities, those we have gained are more associated with the left brain’s priorities. I show that this shift is happening more broadly in society; advertising both reflects and leads culture after all. If this were just a change in aesthetic style, it might not matter, but this shift in advertising style has a real bearing on its ability to connect with audiences – to attract and sustain attention and to elicit an emotional response. The right brain is responsible for broad and vigilant attention, yet we are not creating work that appeals to it. It is not enough to be relevant, you need to entertain.

LI: What is the one thing that marketers should do right now (other than buying your book) to start turning the tides?

Orlando Wood: A wholesale shift in attention and working practices is required. At the end of Lemon, I provide an agency manifesto which provides some helpful clues as to the kind of work and ways of working that will help you get to great advertising. But if I had one piece of advice to marketers, creatives and planners today, it would be to spend a day watching the great Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons. The creators of these wonderful pieces of entertainment understood the importance of the individual over the generic. They understood the importance of recurring devices, catchphrases, music, sounds and voices. They understood how critical character is, how to develop and explore it. They had an eye and an ear for the unusual, the out of the ordinary and the ridiculous. These are also the hallmarks of great advertising; the features that make advertising noticeable and memorable, but that have been lost. It’s time to bring them back.

“If I had one piece of advice to marketers, creatives and planners today, it would be to spend a day watching the great Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons.”

A Book for Brainy Marketers

If you’re like me, and you love delving into the psychological and cognitive aspects of marketing, then you’ll find plenty of food for thought in Lemon. You might just walk away from it ready to take what you’ve currently got and make some lemonade.

Lemon is available on Amazon and also via the IPA

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