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Subliminal Messages

 

Explanations > Theories > Subliminal Messages

Description | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

In the late 1950s, James Vicary’s marketing business was on the rocks, so he made up the idea of subliminal advertising. He claimed that putting a very short message in a film, ‘drink Coca-Cola’ resulted in increased sales of Coke. It was very successful for him and fooled a whole generation and maybe more.

Thus the field of subliminal persuasion was born, with the promise that a message that is not consciously noticed will have a significant effect on the subconscious.

Although some experiments got limited success, the big claims came from improperly conducted experiments, for example with no controls.

More recent experiments have shown that there is some effect, although not excessive. Subliminal advertising will only be effective if the person is already motivated to pursue a goal. 

Research

Verwijmeren et al (2011) found that in using subliminal advertising for a soft drink:

  1. When a person is not thirsty, the subliminal message has little effect and they pick the drink they usually prefer.
  2. If they are thirsty and they already have a strong preference for the brand that was shown subliminally, then of course they will choose that drink.
  3. If they are thirsty and have no real preference, then they will likely pick the subliminally-advertised drink.
  4. If they are thirsty and a less-preferred drink is shown subliminally, they will tend to choose the subliminally-advertised brand.

So what?

This is still a controversial area and

Using it

Be very careful. Avoid the 'magical' claims that are still found in all kinds of products. Use it when it is (a) legal, and (b) where people are already likely to want the sort of thing you are selling.

See also

Mere Exposure Theory

http://alpha.fdu.edu/~gradford/subliminal.html, http://www.snopes2.com/business/hidden/popcorn.htm

References

Zanot, Pincus and Lamp (1983)

 

Verwijmeren, T., Karremans, J. C., Stroebe, W., & Wigboldus, D. (2011). The workings and limits of subliminal advertising: The role of habits. Journal of Consumer Psychology.

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