Subliminal Advertising is something that always draws attention. But, what is it?
‘Subliminal’ – is quite a mouthful isn’t it? Well, former president George W Bush definitely thought so, calling it “Subliminable”. But, what is subliminal Advertising? It is something that is perceived by the viewer or listener; affecting her mind without her being aware of it. It is something that is inaudible to the conscious mind but is yet perceived by the unconscious mind.
Many psychologists believe that our day-to-day actions are sometimes governed by our unconscious and subconscious selves. It has been suggested that advertisers use subliminal messages to persuade us to purchase the products they are trying to sell.
Subliminal messages were made popular in the book “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard. The book contained a study authored by James Vicary. According to the study, subliminal messages shown as flashes (usually 5-10 milliseconds long) during movies in movie theaters led to a direct increase in sales of popcorn and coca cola.
James Vicary called these flashes “Subliminal Advertising” in his popular conference which was held in 1957. He astonished reporters at the conference by claiming that sales of coca cola due to these flashes had risen by 57%
Absurdly, the conference was met with outrage. “Welcome to 1984” was the rallying cry being thrown around. Vicary later acknowledged that he hadn’t done enough research to go public and many people now consider the study to be wholly fabricated.
The Orwellian fear reached a new high in 1973, when a book called “Subliminal Seduction” claimed that advertisers regularly used/sent messages as flashes to influence our choices when it comes to daily use products. There was such paranoia surrounding Subliminal advertising that it was labelled “Contrary to public interest” by the Federal Communications Council of USA due to its “deception” of the general public.
In 2006, an experiment was performed by a couple of social psychologists, Johann Karremans and Wolfgang Stroebe. The point of the experiment was to see if subliminal advertising actually works. They found that it works only to a certain extent under certain limiting conditions (the experiment was performed in a lab) and particularly with brands that people actually knew about or sometimes liked. Nevertheless, the experiment was inconclusive for its consumption by the mass public.
In 2015, BBC conducted a test to finally settle this. 98 people volunteered for the test. The volunteers were shown flashes of Lipton Ice Tea. They were made to feel thirsty and were then asked in a questionnaire later if they wanted to drink ice tea or water. The result was not significant at all. The experiment could not disprove the effect of subliminal advertising. (The details of the test can be found here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30878843)
Clearly, such a space requires more research and study. But let’s consider an example before signing off: In 2000, during the USA presidential elections, an ad released by the republican side, had the word DEMOCRATS written in such a way that RATS was highlighted in RED. The republicans were accused of using subliminal advertising, which they claimed was false. The republicans ended up winning that year. And for those who don’t know, that was the year George W Bush was elected president.