Minimal Subliminal Advertising

Subliminal Advertising and placing hidden messages has received much attention over the last few years, most of which have been negative.

But there are signs that it can work.

So it’s worth taking a closer look.

Do subliminal messages work in advertising? Now that’s a question.

Born within the US in 1957 in a hoax by market researcher James Vicary, “subliminal messages” have received a mixed reception throughout the world and have since been banned in some areas (that includes UK TV). 

This alone would suggest it has some effect on our perceptions, right?

Take a classic study on cigarettes for example.

Smokers were shown two sets of photos.

The first was of old cigarette advertisements that had images of cowboys from the American West along with Formula 1 and NASCAR images based on the Marlboro adverts.

The second had photos of general advert-style images of logos and product photos, basically all of the ingredients a generic advert would include.

To everyone’s surprise, the first images that were in no way tied to smoking were the ones that triggered cravings.

On the other hand, the vast majority of previous research has shown that subliminal messages don’t produce any significant or long-term changes in behaviour.

Albeit that this experiment is something that is hard to argue with even on this topic of massive controversy that is the marketing of cigarettes.

Even the warnings of the dangers to health on cigarette packs prompt activity in the brain’s craving centres by unintentionally triggering all the cues that smokers associate with – not that those smokers would ever realise this.

Therefore subliminal messaging is an essential weapon in the unorthodox marketers’ arsenal but proceed with caution.

Consumers aren’t stupid.

They see advert after advert on TV and naturally switch off.

But once a message gets displayed differently – just like in the Marlboro experiment – they find themselves interested (and exposed).

This is because consumers aren’t consciously aware that what is being displayed is a piece of well-thought marketing communication with minimal coverage.

Which is all it needs.

You have been warned.

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5 thoughts on “Minimal Subliminal Advertising

  1. Nell Minow co-authored the textbook, “Corporate Governance,” now in its fifth edition. The opinions expressed are her own.

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