How Subliminal Perception Works in Advertising
Professor Michael Robbins has studied the concept of subliminal perception in advertising for over a decade and has given presentations on the topic (http://www.poleshift.org/sublim/ntro/About_Me.html). The key to subliminal messages is to evoke an emotional response that may lead to a physical reaction later on as an individual subconsciously intuits his or her initial response. Robbins stated that the successful advertiser incorporates this response-reaction sequence by using a set of techniques that focus an individual's awareness on the subliminal message while defocusing attention from the obvious aspects of a commercial (http://www.poleshift.org/sublim/ntro/The_Advertiser%27s_Problem.html). Since an advertiser only has a few seconds to make an impression, it must be a powerful and lasting one that will evoke a later delayed response.
In order for this process to work at an optimal level, the wise advertiser should follow strategic steps in designing and conveying his or her messages, according to author and writer Gregg Frost (http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/the-phenomenon-of-subliminal-advertising-explained):
Research: Identify and analyze target market; determine which images and messages will most effectively snag that demographic's attention and provoke the required response of later purchases. Determine location of message: Make sure to effectively place the subliminal message in a way that won't overshadow the main commercial or ad, and make best use of either image, text, or both. Keep legal issues in mind: Ascertain that the message and all its components don't cross any legal boundaries. Keep moral obligations intact: Don't use negative messages that can adversely affect or exploit consumers. Originator and Development of the Concept of Using Subliminal Perception in Advertising
Vance Packard, author of the 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders, is credited as the originator of the concept of subliminal perception in advertising, although he did not coin the phrase. What he did do was reveal the sly but effective marketing techniques used by advertisers to impact consumers in order to evoke responses to buy products and services (http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/archives/22/subliminal-advertising.html).
James Vicary took this concept to the next level and coined the actual term subliminal advertising following his studies of women's shopping habits and his later debunked experiment at a movie theater, also in 1957, where popcorn and cola images flashed rapidly throughout a movie and allegedly increased sales above average. In spite of Vicary admitting he falsified his findings, Dr. Wilson Key resurrected the concept of subliminal advertising in a series of books, beginning with his 1973 book entitled Subliminal Seduction, which was a scathing indictment of unethical advertisers who allegedly used sexually laden subliminal messages in their commercials (http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/archives/22/subliminal-advertising.html; http://www.businessinsider.com/subliminal-ads-2011-5?op=1).
Landmark Experiments Validating the Concept
Two landmark experiments conducted over the past few years seem to prove that subliminal perception in advertising does in fact influence the buying decisions of consumers:
Ice Tea experiment (http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/psychologie/ae/Ae01/hp/scharlau/lehre/karremans.pdf) -In 2008, two independent research studies demonstrated how subliminal images and text successfully prompted test subjects to choose a specific brand of ice tea. The first study focused on that task, while the second study replicated the first study's findings, and added the dimension of thirst. The greater the level of thirst of the subjects in one test group, the more likely they were to choose the ice tea than the subjects in the control group. Political advertising-voting experiment (http://www.saybrook.edu/forum/univ/subliminal-advertising-has-gotten-more-powerful-its-time-fcc-keep) -In another 2008 experiment, researchers Joel Weinberger and Drew Westen recorded results from two groups of television viewers who viewed political advertisements with subliminal messages that flashed selected words coinciding with different politicians. The results revealed the subliminal messages influenced each consumer's voting preferences and choices. Common Uses and Trends of Subliminal Advertising
The most common use of subliminal advertising is to entice consumers to purchase products or services. This may be a positive or negative use, however, as published media author and researcher Martin Howard identified what he referred to as "10 disturbing trends in subliminal advertising" in his article for Mind Power News (http://www.mindpowernews.com/SubliminalAds.htm):
Point of sale mind control scripts: scripted questions, comments, and "pokes" that nearly all salesmen use, in person, on the phone, and online, to entice or provoke consumers to complete sales. Doctor-patient drug kick-backs: suggestions to try new medications for an existing condition or even suggest a patient has a disorder or malady that could benefit from a certain drug--just so the doctor can get a cash bonus or other incentive "perk." Store sensory manipulation: strategic visual displays, mood music, lights, scents, planograms--all enter into enticing buyers to make purchases. Private conversation rental: using consumers to effectively "trick" their own family and friends into making purchases in exchange for some free or reduced product or service. Neuromarketing: brain scans on test subjects to understand buying patterns of behavior on consumers, in order to help corporations devise even stealthier advertising. Chatbots and stealth voicemail: virtual customer service automated voice interaction to communicate and "buddy up" with consumers. Real-time bugging of personal data: browsers, "cookies", and other datamining techniques to store and analyze the buying behavior of consumers. Sidewalk stalkers: covert agents cover the sidewalks as tourists, corporate promoters, or other "innocent" bystanders in order to approach unsuspecting consumers to ask questions about products or services. Planted news stories: corporate promotions and political news promoted as Video News Releases (VNRs) taking over authentic community and national news and reporting. Government propaganda: opinion engineers, spin doctors, and public relations wizards use their tactics to manipulate public opinion.
Why the Concept is Important for Advertisers to Understand
The importance of understanding how this concept works should be clear to advertisers. In order to gain the advantage over the competition, savvy advertisers should strategically design and incorporate subliminal messages in their advertising campaigns, commercials, and marketing materials. Once consumers receive the subliminal message, studies have shown consumers become loyal to those brands of products and services. It is essential, however, that advertisers use subliminal perception in a positive way, rather than in a negative or dangerous way that may adversely affect consumers.
Positive and Negative Uses of Subliminal Perception in Advertising
As with many areas in life, one can find both pros and cons. The same holds true for subliminal advertising, which may be some variation of "good, bad, or ugly."
Perhaps one of the most positive ways subliminal perception can be implemented is to help consumers overcome physical or psychological problems. Dr. Phil Bate, a psychologist and neuromolecular engineer, uses principles of subliminal messaging, or what he calls neuroliminal training, to help his patients overcome addictions, achieve weight loss, find relief from chronic conditions, and reduce effects of developmental problems such as ADD and autism (http://www.drbate.com/content/about.shtml).
An example of a negative, and potentially dangerous, use of subliminal perception in advertising is a whiskey ad shared by Robbins (http://www.poleshift.org/sublim/pov/Power_of_Perspective3.html). In the ad, Robbins pointed out what is portrayed as an obviously cold, snowy day (http://www.poleshift.org/sublim/pov/warmbig.jpg) and the one person not dressed appropriately is the only one holding a glass of whiskey (http://www.poleshift.org/sublim/pov/warmcu). While the ad hints that whiskey provides a warming sensation, makes the imbiber the center of attention, and is fun to share, it also sends a dangerous message that people may misunderstand about cold weather and alcohol--and furthermore, the man with the whiskey is the only one drinking, and NOT sharing, therefore contradicting the ad's upfront message!
The Ugly: "Sex Sells"
It seems the most popular use of the concept of subliminal advertising is to integrate sexual innuendoes into nearly everything, since "sex sells" or so advertisers want consumers to believe: from alcohol and vehicles, to self-care products like deodorant, shampoo, and fragrances; and of course, the famous evocative Go Daddy commercials for domain names and Internet services. The implication seems to be if one buys that product or uses that service, he or she instantly becomes attractive to other people in some way and/or that all his or her fantasies will come true.
Numerous orgnizations and universities have conducted studies and legislators have offered their opinions on the matter of subliminal perception in advertising.
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James Scott is the CEO of Princeton Corporate Solutions, a corporate globalization and political strategies firm, PCS offers a unique blend of think tank, corporate and governmental communication strategies to expedite the facilitation of long lasting relationship building in these necessary sectors. http://princetoncorporatesolutions.com
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