Scary Subliminal Advertising And Why It Works


According to an April 2006 issue of the New Scientist, research has proven that subliminal advertising messages work… and that if conditions are right, using this kind of advertising to promote a brand can be made to work.

Previous experiments claiming this were debunked. But in a recent experiment, scientists found that eighty per cent of volunteers who had been exposed to the subliminal advertising message chose that product, compared to only 20 per cent of the controls. Those are scary stats indeed.

The term “subliminal message” was popularized in 1917 (World War I), when the US army would sneak messages into songs and put such messages in posters trying to get people to join the army.

A subliminal message is defined as a signal or message designed to pass below the normal limits of perception. These messages target the subconscious mind and may be generated in the form of an image transmitted briefly and not perceived consciously and yet perceived unconsciously.

While the conscious, rational mind acts as a filter and screens out messages not consistent with our beliefs, the subconscious mind accepts messages without filtering them – rather like the mind of a child.

The effects of subliminal television advertising could be even more powerful on children. It’s been found that for each additional hour per day that a child watched television an average of one additional request was made for an advertised product.

But then it doesn’t take a scientist to tell us what most parents know anyway. Most of us have experienced pester-power first-hand.

The researchers also found that priming only works when the prime is goal-relevant. In plain English, this means you’re likely to buy a product that quenches your thirst only if you were already thirsty anyway.

So, subliminal messages could be more useful in priming a target audience to choose one brand over another, rather than in creating an actual need for the product.

What if politicians started using it to influence our choices? Well, it’s very likely they do already.

Do subliminal messages violate the code of advertising? Will this change the way advertising is regulated? How could we detect such messages inserted into creatives?

And, in our opinion, what is “wrong” – the fact that they actually work, or that advertisers would be sneaky enough to use them? But far better uses have been found for such messages than advertising. In personal transformation, for instance.

As we learn more about the way our mind works, it will become clearer how subliminal messages really affect our decisions and whether they should or should not be allowed in advertising.

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