This advertising CEO uses neuroscience to sell you stuff

Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, 40, is chairwoman and chief executive of Hawthorne Direct, an 85-employee advertising agency that uses "neuromarketing" to generate a stronger and quicker response from consumers. This year, Hawthorne-Castro was the winner in the transformational leader category of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards of Greater Los Angeles. Hawthorne Direct's clients include Apple, Nissan, Spectrum Business, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and the U.S. Navy.

Rocket science

Marketers have always tried to tap into consumers' subconscious, Hawthorne-Castro said, but her company uses neuroscience to enhance campaigns so that they are more likely to resonate with the audience and employs detailed analytics to measure what is working. "Neuroscience aims to go beyond figuring out what people want or like and dives into the underlying forces that shape consumer decision making," Hawthorne-Castro said. For instance, she said, neuroscience explains that testimontials work by exploiting humans' need for social validation, and products and services that help consumers avoid a bad outcome are leveraged by humans' "pessimism bias" that helped our ancestors survive.

Realistic approach

The Philadelphia native grew up in Iowa and later became a fine arts major at UCLA, showing talent for painting and photography. But it can be very hard to pay the bills with the usually uncertain income stream that comes with being an artist. "I was an artist, but I was also a realist, right? So, I thought 'Well, I'm good, but I'm not great.' Nor is it a really good career to go into," she said.

Intern inspiration


An internship during her UCLA days provided a better idea for a career. It happened when she was working for music video and film director Bille Woodruff. A member of his crew made an important suggestion. "He said, 'Have you ever thought about becoming an agent?' I had not. Of course when I heard that, then I started reading all about it. I knew artists so well, that representing them, whether they be actors, writers or directors, was actually just a natural fit," Hawthorne-Castro said.

Prime time

In 2001, she joined what is now known as William Morris Endeavor, remaining there through April 2007 as a television literary agent. "I represented writers, directors and producers for TV," Hawthorne-Castro said, helping clients work on shows including "Lost," various iterations of the "Law & Order" franchise, and "Entourage." She was particularly fond of the latter because she had "lived that real-life story, because I had worked for Ari Emanuel as an assistant." Emanuel, said to be the real-life inspiration for "Entourage" character Ari Gold, is now the co-chief executive of William Morris Endeavor.

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