Instant Appeal: The 8 Primal Factors that Create Blockbuster Success
By Vicki Kunkel
Author Vicki Kunkel heads a branding agency that employs a suite of quasi-scientific tools to predict the success or failure of communications messages. Working with politicians and corporate spokespeople, she uses neuroscience to help them adapt their communication styles to specific targets. She has identified trigger words, images, and actions that routinely prompt negative or positive responses in virtually any culture or context.
For example, Kunkel tells us that pretty women have a selective advantage over their less attractive counterparts in getting nonmanagement jobs, but as responsibilities rise, so does the “conspicuous flaw” advantage the more beautiful, the more disadvantaged. Does the same principle hold true for men? Not exactly. Handsome men beat out the average Joe for most executive jobs, but plain-looking guys are preferred for positions of trust. That is why Kunkel recommends that politicians highlight an asymmetric feature, such as the oversized ears of Presidents Obama and George W. Bush. In fact, she posits that Al Gore and John Kerry lost to Bush because they were too well turned out and their diction too perfect.
Kunkel goes on to cite studies of “face shape relevancy.” Leaders with very masculine features tend to be elected during wartime, leaders with feminine or erudite faces during times of peace or economic stress. This can be a challenge for people whose physical appearance clashes with audience expectations of their role. However, all is not lost, apparently. If you look out of whack, change your hairstyle, she writes: “Hair trumps everything.”
From a marketing perspective, the most interesting and readily applicable chapters are three short ones in the middle of the book, where Kunkel gets to the meat of her message: Fine-tune your communications to the subconscious needs of your target’s reptilian brain. In order to do this, Kunkel tells readers to understand the principle of “least effort” and the power of “kinship relevancy.” You will have to read the book to fully grasp these concepts, but these little tidbits explain why resolutions fail and corporate goals are seldom met and for that alone, the book is worth buying.
Caveat: Some of what you read might be hard to digest. Many of the author’s assertions are debatable (conjectures based on unproven causality); nevertheless, the concepts are an excellent starting point for market testing. After all, if the communication techniques work, why argue with the pseudoscience behind them?
Kunkel accomplished what I imagine she set out to do tantalize readers to hire her firm to show them more communications strategies. My regret is that she did not narrow her scope and deepen her discussion of the most compelling ideas; then, her personal infomercial would have been a feast for the marketer.