Advertising and the Two Gateways to the Brain

ear-eye-300x154Which is more powerful, the eye or the ear?  If you could keep just one of these two senses, which would you choose?

Strange questions to ask, but stay with me for a moment.

We don’t give much thought to our senses; we just use them. Hearing, sight, smell, and touch all affect how we perceive our environment and the people with whom we interact.

In advertising, we’re concerned primarily with the first two, hearing and sight. Which of these, if it came down to it, would you give up first?

Whenever I’ve asked this question of different people, I’ve heard both answers. But I’ve also noticed a tendency among those who answer without hesitation to say they’d give up their hearing to save their sight, while those who take more time to think about the ramifications tend to favor preserving their hearing.

Strangely, we sometimes confuse them in our everyday speech. For instance, a friend tells you about something he’s learned and you reply, “I see what you mean.” Or we see (read) something interesting on the dinner menu and say ‘that sounds good.’” Why is that?

Al Ries and Jack Trout, co-authors of Positioning: the Battle for the Mind, one of the most influential advertising books of the 20th century, conducted extensive research in an effort to learn how the human brain responds differently to ear-oriented stimuli and eye-oriented stimuli.

EyevsEarThe March 14, 1983 issue of ADVERTISING AGE carried the article that detailed their findings: “The eye vs. the ear.” (It was subsequently reprinted as a chapter in Jack Trout’s excellent follow-up book, The New Positioning.

“Written language,” they said, “is recoded by the mind into an internal form of oral language. It seems that your mind must translate printed words into their spoken equivalents before it can understand them.” 


When people communicate with one another, the ear is the preferred avenue of entry, either in person or over the phone.

When people turn to one of the senses for pure pleasure, the sense they generally turn to is the ear. Compare, for example, the time spent listening to music with the time spent looking at art or photography.  There’s no comparison.  The ear wins by a huge margin.

What are the implications where advertising is concerned?

Clearly there is a striking inconsistency between advertisers and the target of their advertising, the prospects.

Prospects spend 85 percent of their overall media time immersed in ear-oriented media…and only 15 percent of their time with eye-oriented media such as newspapers and magazines.

Advertisers, on the other hand, spend 55 percent of their dollars on eye media (print), and only 45 percent of their dollars on ear media (broadcast).

It’s worth repeating: Consumers spend 85 percent of their overall media time immersed in ear-oriented media, and only 15 percent of their time with eye-oriented media such as newspapers and magazines.

The emergence of the Internet and new media has added more variables to the equation, but the central fact remains: the mind works by ear.

Speech remains our primary form of communication. Print, in any form, is an imitation of speech. The only pure-speech mass medium is radio.

P.S. You remember Paul Harvey, don’t you?  For my money, he was radio’s most trusted voice. Got a minute and 12 seconds to hear his take on all this?



About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He joined the Pullman (Wash.) Radio Group in 1979, where he worked until his retirement at the end of 2022. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales (, providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. Rod also operates an independent advertising, marketing, and communications consultancy for small business owners and professionals, An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at and on his Viewbug gallery.
This entry was posted in Advertising (General), Branding, Business, Communication, Consistency, Consumer behavior, Copy, Copywriting, Demonstration (demo) tapes, information overload, Jingles, Magazine, Newspaper, Positioning, Print, Problem-solving, Professional Services Advertising, Radio Advertising, Radio Commercials, Radio Copywriting, Radio Production, Sales, Sales & Marketing, Slogans and taglines, Storytelling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Advertising and the Two Gateways to the Brain

  1. Chris Gould says:

    Great read, Rod and thanks especially for the reminder of Trout and Reis’ seminal work on advertising and the power of hearing. I read that book 25 years ago and I still reference it regularly.

    Liked by 1 person

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