Is Subliminal Influence Used in Advertising?
© 2/1999 ToddStark@AOL.COM
If we use
the term subliminal in the way that it is commonly used, to mean any sort of hidden
message, then yes, advertisers do
frequently hide their message. size="3" face="Georgia">This might even be considered a standard advertising practice.
Advertising agencies are paid to effectively craft the message "buy
this." And we know that historically, they haven't found it effective to simply
inform us of the benefits of the product. They rely strongly on emotional appeal and
reinforcement principles of various kinds.
also sometimes use subliminal priming in the more technical
sense, as a subtle influence on our emotions. This seems to be more rare, and less
effective in general.
Advertisers "hide" messages in a number
of different ways, by crafting a non-verbal story into the advertisement that is meant to
be meaningful, inspiring, and memorable to the target audience. One of the most
common and most effective techniques is to construct an interaction between people in a
scene, where their nonverbal communication gives an impression carefully crafted to have
an emotional impact that will make their product more memorable.
Common and effective advertising techniques combine the use of
HREF="affectpersuasion.htm">reason and emotion for persuasion, and the
emotion-triggering aspects are sometimes not explicitly noticed. That's the hidden
This is not much different from the way an artist,
photographer, or author crafts their message for impact, except that a lot more money and
consulting effort goes into creating a powerful message in an advertisement. And the
message is intended to produce a specific action, not just a general sensation in the
viewer. The perceptible, the imperceptible, and the symbolic are combined to create
a lasting impression on the audience.
Does it work ? It is a trivial exercise to compare
a generic, purely informational message with one crafted by a skilled communicator to
appeal to our emotions and unconscious biases. Of course it works. Not always
as well as the advertiser would like, and sometimes it backfires, but there is little
doubt that people's preferences can be manipulated by subtly manipulated images.
This might be extended further by the use of
embedded images or messages flashed at a fractionof a second duration, but it isn't clear
that those hidden messages would make the technique significantly more effective.
In an ad where a scantilly clad model is bending over and
winking seductively, does it really matter whether the word "sex" is concealed
in a tiny image in her hair ? The real impact of carefully chosen symbols and
aesthetic qualities is "hidden in plain sight," not hidden from sight.
Most messages crafted by advertisers are intended
to trigger powerful instintual drives, and they hope, associate those drives with their
They can often (though not always) get the desired emotional
response, but making sure it is associated with a product is more tricky.
This is where the "subliminal" techniques sometimes backfire, just
as blatant messages can sometimes
What about briefly flashed messages,, and other technical
tools for delivering unseen messages ? Current technology makes it very difficult to
completely hide such messages, but it may soon become possible, and the spectre of
tachistoscopic "eat popcorn, drink coke" may again be raised.
Various techniques could be implemented in movie editing, although their influence beyond subtle emotional
effects (much the same as music is used to influence emotion) is questionable.
It is also conceivable that someone could come up with a
subliminal audio technology that works through widely available media, although no such
technology appears to be available yet, as far as any published scientific literature
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