Subliminal Messages in Advertising is a Powerful Marketing Technique – Fact or Hoax?

In Advertising Skills, Business Skills
Subliminal Advertising

Most marketers believe that subliminal advertising (subliminal messages) is a powerful marketing technique to influence the mindset of the consumers. With such a powerful technique, makes subliminal advertising either hated or loved by anyone who understands or just receiving such messages. Most marketers think that if the message is delivered deep enough in the unconscious mind, then the message is able to change the behavior of the consumers. The worry towards the negative impact of subliminal advertising, a number of countries prohibit the practice of subliminal messages in advertising. However, is it true that if the subliminal message which appears at first glance has a tremendous power to influence consumer? To discover more about subliminal messages in advertising, firstly, let’s we describe the meaning of subliminal messages.

What are Subliminal Messages?

Subliminal is the process of the delivery of a stimulus or message in the forms of voice or text which is elusively received by the ear or eye, so it’s instantly captured by the subconscious mind. There are two types of subliminal, namely: Audio Subliminal and Visual Subliminal.

So, subliminal messages refer to the stimulus or messages (either visual or verbal) that are purposively designed to pass below the level of conscious awareness and sent in a method to be grasped by the subconscious mind.

Subliminal Advertising

Subliminal advertising is a marketing technique to include subliminal messages that are inserted into an object to influence the people who read or see. This marketing technique first introduced by an American researcher, James Vicary. In 1957, James was doing a research in a cinema by showing Coca-Cola and Popcorn subliminal advertising which were presented repeatedly with duration of 0.03 seconds. The subliminal advertisement contains a call to “eat popcorn” and “drink Coca-Cola”. In that research, James claimed that there was sales increase, about 57.5% for PopCorn and 18.1% for Coca-Cola from 45,699 people who saw the subliminal advertisement.

When he was challenged to prove the second trial, James failed to prove it. Then in 1962, James apologized for the lies of research he made on a television show. Although it’s proven that research of James is a lie, the efficacy of subliminal advertising technique is still believed by most marketers.

There was an interesting research which was done by Professor Gavan Fitzsimons from Duke University. Fitzsimons stated that each day Americans are exposed to more than 3,000 brands, through advertisements either directly or indirectly. However, are the brand’s exposures affect the thought of consumers?

Fitzsimons conducted a research by dividing participants into two groups to see a box that was randomly appearing from different directions on a computer screen. Each participant must mention where the box is coming from, whether from the top, bottom, left, or right. At the same time, the participants were also asked to pay attention to the numbers that appear on the screen. Without the consciousness of the participants, Fitzsimons slipped the Apple and IBM logo (each participant was only exposed by a logo) lasted 0.03 seconds; which is impossible for the brain to process the message consciously and it’s slow enough to be detected by the eyes. In other words, the brand is inserted subliminally.

Then, Fitzsimons conducted a creativity test for those two groups. As a result, the participants who subliminally exposed to the Apple logo answered 30-35% more creative than those who were exposed by the IBM logo. Fitzsimons assumed that these results were influenced by the Apple brand which is perceived as a creative brand that motivates the participants unconsciously think ‘out of the box’.

Subliminal Messages Indication

To increase the validity of his research, Fitzsimons then performed the same test, but by using the logo of Disney and E! Cable Network. Furthermore, Fitzsimons perform an honesty test for the participants of the research. As a result, the participants who were subliminally exposed to the Disney logo answered 15% more honest than those who exposed to the logo of E! Cable Network. Fitzsimons assumed that such results are influenced by the Disney brand which is perceived as an honest brand by many Americans. Thus, such a way is motivating the participants to be honest unconsciously.

Although Fitzsimons research gives a hope towards the effectiveness of subliminal marketing, the research has been able to indicate that the brand is able to influence consumer behavior, but does not specifically affect consumer purchase behavior.

So, what do you think? The subliminal advertising is a powerful marketing strategy to boost up sales. Is it fact or hoax? This could be a good idea for an advertising research to improve your advertising skills.

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