Subliminal Advertising Works

Interesting.

My feeling was that there never had been convincing evidence that subliminal messages were effective in persuading us to do or buy something, but I needed to update my information. Now, I have. So, if you've ever wondered about the dastardly practice of directing messages into our brains underneath the radar of consciousness, here is the story.

It all started back in 1957, when a man named James Vicary claimed that he had slipped subliminal messages into a movie being shown at a New Jersey theatre. The messages, which appeared so briefly on the screen that patrons were unaware of them, were "Eat popcorn" and "Drink Coke." Vicary claimed that sales of popcorn rose an incredible 58 per cent and Coke 18 per cent.

His announcement created an immediate furor. Mere months later, The National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters commented that "there may well be grave concern over the idea of advertising, which affects people below their level of conscious awareness, so that they are not able to exercise conscious control over their acceptance or rejection of the messages."

The initial research turned out to be meaningless, but several studies since then have shown that subliminal advertising works, although only slightly. As we understand the human brain better, it will problemably become possible to improve subliminal advertising techniques. But that just raises the larger ethical question of… if we can manipulate the biological basis for decision making, should we? Some would argue that marketing is just that, already. Others would say that the difference is one of resolution, and that being able to fine tune marketing tactics to individual brains would be unethical. The future holds some difficult decisions for business leaders.

  • Lisa

    “But that just raises the larger ethical question of… if we can manipulate the biological basis for decision making, should we? Some would argue that marketing is just that, already.”

    While marketing is just that, the difference is that we are aware that we are being marketed to. We see or hear the message being sent to us and have the choice to accept it or reject it (even if acceptance is passive).

    Subliminal messages don’t offer us a way to reject the message. If this was legal, I wonder which company would cross the line into brainwashing first? :)

  • If you study the (new) science of heuristics you’ll realize that most people are not aware that they are being manipulated through their cognative biases.

    Forget subliminal ads. Worry about how opinion shapers (including marketers) use the flaws in your reasoning to sway, convince, and even brainwash you.