The Monday Morning Memo: Wernicke and Broca - A Scientific Memo from The Wizard of Ads


By Roy H. Williams

Visual images are processed in the brain’s visual cortex, located at the base of the scull, just above your spine. Immediately above the visual cortex, at the back of the cranium, is the visual association area, where visual memories are stored. (Stay with me, this gets interesting.)

Sound is processed in the auditory cortex, right above your ear. The memory of sound is stored in the auditory association area, which occupies most of the sides of your head. It’s here that words and sounds are stored.

Strategically located where auditory association meets visual association is Wernicke’s area, the spot where objects are named. When you imagine a golden, four-legged, African animal with irregular brown spots and an extremely long neck, it’s Wernicke that attaches the word “giraffe” to the image. When you think of a famous landmark in Paris, a graceful metal structure known throughout the world, it’s Wernicke that whispers, “Eiffel Tower, stupid.” Wernicke is the king of nouns.

At the other end of auditory association lies Broca’s area, a powerful extension of auditory association into the motor association cortex. The motor association is the center of all physical action and Broca’s area the center of action words. Broca energetically generates verbs, enthusiastically constructs sentences, and anxiously anticipates what others are about to say.

The objective of advertising is to influence the prefrontal cortex, the seat of emotion, planning and judgment, located just across the motor association cortex, right behind your forehead. And the shortest leap to it is from Broca’s area.

Vision and “vision words” happen at the back of the skull, action and action words happen at the front, in Broca’s area, right next to the prefrontal cortex. The ear is right in the middle, the key to everything.

Describe what you want the listener to see, and they will “see” it. Cause them to imagine taking the action you’d like them to take, and you have brought them much closer to taking the action. The secret of persuasion lies in our skillful use of action words. The magic of advertising is in the verbs.

Just ask Broca.