The first known example of advertisements with subliminal messages dates back to 1957 when a man named James Vicary inserted the words “eat popcorn” and “drink Coca-Cola” into a movie at very high speeds that was barely visible to the naked eye. He claimed that after the movie ended, popcorn sales increased a 57.8%! He confessed some 20 years later that it had been an elaborate hoax. But is it enough to dismiss the danger of misusing subliminal messages as fables or conspiration theories?
If advertisements with subliminal messages do not exist or do not work why United Kingdom and Australia prohibited their use? And why the United States never did it? It might be that some unethical companies use them every day without anyone knowing. If they work no one can be sure that they are not used to influence customers’ behavior and expanding their use they might be used everywhere for every reason. It’s a threat if you live in a country which hasn’t explicitly forbidden them but you can’t be safe even if they have because they are nearly impossible to catch without the right instruments.
Video and Audio Advertisements with Subliminal Messages
In reality, there have been quite a few ads, both print and animated, that have contained hard to see images. Most are suggestive, sexy and done as practical jokes by the graphic designer who apparently needed to assert self-expression for some reason. Take a look at the Dodge logo of a Ram’s head and compare to a diagram of a woman’s reproductive organs: coincidence or deliberate? On a Food network channel on TV, a McDonald’s logo with the words “loving it” underneath shows up quite clearly when the taped show is slowed down to frame by frame play. McDonald’s has proclaimed it a “glitch,” some anomaly unexplained. If it doesn’t work, why would people still be trying it?
The actual definition of a visual subliminal message is experiencing a message, by visual means, while you are otherwise distracted or preoccupied and not aware of it consciously. This is usually done at a very high speed. The principle is an extension of Pavlov’ studies: if a stimulus, even if subtle, gets repeated enough frequently then it can provoke changes in behavior.
A more recent study in 1999 by Harvard researchers, inserted words into a computer game and let people play it. One set of people had positive words like “wise,” “astute,” and “accomplished.” The other group had negative words like “senile,” “dependent,” and “diseased.” Their findings are that the group with positive words exited the room much more eagerly, ambitiously and faster than the negative group. That does make one think that probably subliminals work. But advertisements with subliminal messages can be done also using audio files played at a very low frequency, the same technique used for personal development subliminal messages.
The audio frequencies (or video images) of repetition can definitely influence mood and a feeling of familiarity, but can it really cause someone to buy a product? Kentucky Fried Chicken was the first to advertise a subliminal message publicly as a contest. They offered $10.00 gift certificates to the first 1000 children who “heard” a mosquito ring-tone in an advertisement video. Obviously, their ploy was just to have their ad listened to over and over, and were relying mostly on good old fashioned marketing. However,isn’t it a bit scaring?
So, advertisements with subliminal messages are a reality? We can’t know unless we use specific instruments to check every song or every video around but given how easy it is to insert them in any file they can be a real threat because who knows if someone is using them? Subliminal messages are a good toll if someone use them for personal development, not so if they go against people’s will.
What do YOU think?