Evolutionary Biology to Psychology Analogy: From Mario Batali to Don Draper




My recent post that touched on the evolutionary applications to marketing was revelatory. Though it received fewer public comments than other posts have been getting recently, there was an explosion of sincere and interesting private messages related directly to that it. And hey, that’s cool too; I enjoyed everyone’s messages. I’m just not sure what that “means” in the long-run; I just hope to keep things interesting! For today, I’d like to take another stab at broadening the umbrella to those who might not fully get the connection between the evolutionary biology side (health, exercise, paleo, etc.) and the evolutionary psychology side (relationships, marketing, branding, business, etc.). I’ll attempt this by way of analogy… enter the prototypical chef and the stereotypical advertising creative…

Steven Pinker introduced the concept of the evolutionary “cheesecake” in reference to evolutionary psychology. Adherents to the paleo lifestyle will recognize this as the evolutionary hacking of our sensory preferences for all things fatty, sweet, and salty. He started at the point of the view of the already created cheesecake, and that was good enough for his point. However, we need to take it back another step… back to the chef. The job of the chef is to continually orchestrate a range of flavor profiles to titillate our sensory biases. As any respectable chef knows, this can be accomplished with more nuanced approaches than fat, sweet, and salt. How could we forget umami? And obviously, there are more ways to accomplish amazing dishes than cheesecake.  So how do we get from Mario Batali to Don Draper?

Effective advertising works in quite the same way, actually. Rather than pull out the butter, salt, cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, et cetera, we think about the evolved tendencies of the human brain. We think about the signals a purchase sends to your friends. We think about the environments and tools that shaped our aesthetics over millions of years. We think about the social aspects of play and humor in hunter-gatherer societies. We think about what an object or association says about our individual personality and what signals that sends to potential mates. We think about evolution’s proclivity for visual novelty. Then, just like the chef, we take the leap of faith that suspension of disbelief will lead those who experience our creations will taste cheesecake, and not a list of ingredients. Did I mention that it’s not always easy to bake a mental cheesecake?

And if we’re extra lucky, we cut a dashing figure in a suit and trade the puffy white hat for a fedora.