A subliminal message is a signal, as in a sound, a word, or an image designed to pass right below or under (sub) the normal limits of human perception. This is a message we may not hear or see at the conscious level but can be heard and seen in the unconscious or deeper mind. Think of it like an image that is shown to us very, very fast and is unperceived consciously and yet perceived subconsciously. Or perhaps a sound played at a different frequency, that may be so low that we don’t consciously hear it, but our subconscious mind does.
In the everyday world, it has been suggested that subliminal messaging techniques are used in advertising by the big marketing companies, however those companies don’t come out directly and admit to using subliminal messaging because of the ethical discussion about the use of these type of messages that are being imposed on the consumer without their being aware they have received those messages. So, is subliminal messaging manipulation, or is it simply an advertising tool? And, does it really work?
The term subliminal message came to the public’s attention in a 1957 book entitled “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard. At that point in American history, during the Cold War, this book exposed what looked like psychologically manipulative methods that marketers were using in advertising. This book exposed a detailed study of movie theaters that supposedly used subliminal messages to increase the sales of popcorn and Coca-Cola at their concession stands. This information left consumers wondering if the government was using the same kind of techniques to create political propaganda. Or maybe some cults could be using these techniques to brainwash people into becoming their members. Following the release of Packard’s book on subliminal messaging, it was clear that this type of messaging was not received in a positive way and as a result, in 1958, the American television networks and the National Association of Broadcasters completely banned these subliminal ads. Just a few years later, in 1962, James Vicary, a market researcher who initially claimed that during an experiment with subliminal advertising in a movie theater, they saw an 18% increase in Coke sales and a 57.8% increase in popcorn purchases, but he eventually admitted that the study and the results were in fact, fabricated.
Not long after that, the American Psychological Association indicated that subliminal advertising is not necessarily bad but is ambiguous and not as effective as traditional advertising. Following the Association’s report, the subject of subliminal messaging was not given much attention, However, in 1973, a new book on the subject was published. The book “Subliminal Seduction” by Doctor Wilson B. Kay claimed that subliminal techniques were in fact being widely used in advertising, creating another wave of public concern. Enough concern to lead the Federal Communications Commission to hold hearings and to declare subliminal advertising “contrary to the public interest” because it involved “intentional deception” of the public.
Later, the Federal Trade Commission got involved and confirmed that subliminal ads can cause consumers to subconsciously select certain goods or services or can change otherwise normal behavior, which might constitute a deceptive or unfair practice. However, the keyword here is might – and because of this ambiguity, there is no ban in the United States or many other countries, against subliminal messaging in advertising.
Digging a little deeper into human psychology, subliminal perception is a subset of subconscious cognition. An example of this could be responding to just one subconsciously recognizable sound or signal in a noisy environment while keeping track of other noises or signals as well, like “hearing” distinctively, one voice out of many in a crowded and noisy room. It could also be hearing or seeing something at the subconscious level while performing tasks consciously but done automatically like what occurs while driving a car.
Many people think of subliminal perception as an extra sense or an unprovoked inspiration to go buy something or do something when in fact, they may have been exposed to subliminal messages.
There have been many studies conducted about subliminal perception. There were studies done on patients under full anesthesia, asleep and unconscious, who were exposed to certain sounds or images and when they woke up, they could recall some of the sounds and information that was given to them while they were under the anesthesia, which confirmed that information can be perceived by human brains without any conscious awareness.
Here is a personal example of how subliminal messages seem to work. As a child, while attending school, long before any understanding of subliminal messaging, studying was required for different tests and exams. During the day the chapters would be read however it was discovered that if the content was spoken out-loud and recorded, and the material was played during sleep, much more information was retained for the exams.
Another example is listening to the sacred solfeggio frequencies to help with healing and improved state of mind. Solfeggio frequencies make up the ancient 6-tone scale, thought to have been used in ancient sacred spiritual music, including the beautiful and well-known Gregorian Chants. The chants and their special tones were believed to impart spiritual blessings if they were sung in harmony. These frequencies are often used for reprogramming the subconscious mind and are most often listened to while meditating or sleeping. The use of these tones and frequencies are influencing our brains at a subconscious or “subliminal” level.
According to an article posted on neurosciencemarketing.com more than ten years ago, two marketing researchers conducted a study in which the participants were briefly exposed to images of smiling or frowning faces for 16 milliseconds – which is so fast that it’s not long enough for the people participating in the study to consciously register the image or to identify the emotion that the image portrayed. This study was conducted in a pub environment and what was observed was that when the individuals we’re seeing smiley faces, they were doing two things: they were pouring themselves significantly more drinks from a pitcher that each had in front of them and they were willing to pay twice as much for those drinks, compared to when they were viewing the angry faces.
The marketing researchers called this the “unconscious emotion”, which meant that while being exposed to those images an emotional change had taken place in the individuals without them being aware of the stimulus that created this emotional change.
When translated into buying power, smiling faces can subconsciously get humans to buy more, suggesting that the strategy of maintaining a positive attitude and providing exceptional customer service, especially if you are selling something, will get people to more fully engage. On the other hand, if a consumer engages with someone who is rude, disconnected or seems unhappy or angry, they are much less likely to buy or engage in business.
So, let’s summarize. Subliminal messages are believed to have influential power as they can by-pass the critical functions of our conscious minds and therefore can be just as powerful as ordinary suggestions we make to each other, or we see consciously in commercials and advertising. Arguably, subliminal messaging can be even more powerful. This type of influence and persuasion works similarly to auto suggestion or hypnosis, because when our brains are exposed to these subliminal messages we are encouraged to act or think in a certain way.
Subliminal messaging involves the existence of “hidden” messages in videos, images and sounds that we experience on radio, television, on social media as well as on the big screens that are linked to different marketing campaigns.
So, to answer the previously posed question, “does subliminal advertising work?” The answer, according to the many studies conducted on the subject, is simply yes and does so very well.
Author: Sanda Kruger
Sanda is an entrepreneur, real estate investor, health coach and professional dancer. Sanda is an entrepreneur with more than 20-year experience in business development and project management in the fields of life, health and fitness coaching. She is also a real estate investor and a banker, who learned outstanding adapted business strategies, sales and marketing techniques, communication, and goal setting skills, hands-on, through life and work experiences. She is a certified fitness professional and is the creator of two original fitness programs, called BellyCore® Fitness and AquaCor®.