Subliminal Messaging: Draft 1

How subliminal messaging works:


The term “subliminal” is defined as “(of a stimulus or mental process) below the threshold of sensation or consciousness; perceived by or affecting someone’s mind without their being aware of it.” A subliminal message is an “affirmation or message either auditory or visual presented below the normal limits of perception.”

                 Subliminal messaging in advertising and other forms of mediums has been a topic of concern for a very long time. Research of subliminal messaging can date back to the 1920′s. There is no official scientific proof that this form of messaging and persuasion is necessarily real, but it has shown some real effects. Subliminal messaging is a series of mind control techniques based on the belief that it can persuade people to do things they would not normally do. This has been around since the 5th century B.C when the early Greeks used the rhetoric as a way to influence people.


In the 1920′s when BBC tried to launch on the radio people did not react well. Radio audiences felt that it was the voice of the devil speaking to them so BBC then turned to subliminal messaging in order to gain the interest of the public. BBC added “this is not a noose, no really it’s not,” in a jingle which can be heard when played backwards otherwise called “backward masking” which is a form of subliminal messaging.


In 1957 there was great concern about the use of subliminal messaging in movies. James Vicary flashes the phrases “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Eat popcorn” 1/2000 of a second in a movie and this led to a 35% increase in the sale of popcorn and Coca-Cola. Disney has been said to have used subliminal messaging in their films as well for example a scene in the very popular “Lion King” when Simba lays down and the pollen blows off into the wind forming the word “sex” if you look closely. That is not the only instance in which Disney has been accused of subliminal messaging. It can also be found in movies such as “The Little Mermaid”, “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast”. Perhaps these messages were added to draw the attention of an older crowd as well as a younger crowd? It is an interesting question but one we will probably never get answered.



                Neuromarketing is the study of how the human brain responds to marketing stimuli.” This study is a very important aspect of marketing which provides all the answers as to why and how, we as consumers react the way we do to certain forms of marketing and advertising. Neuromarketing alone may be the answer to why marketers and advertisers turn to subliminal messaging to persuade us. Some people believe that neuromarketing is an evil tool used to persuade and subjugate us against our will and should be banned, while others believe it may be very useful. Martin Lindstrom, the author of “Buy.ology” uses the analogy of a hammer to argue the positives of neuromarketing stating “Yes—in the wrong hands a hammer can be used to bludgeon someone over the head, but that is not its purpose, and it doesn’t mean that hammers should be banned or seized, or embargoed.” (Lindstrom, 4) He argues that neuromarketing is merely just an instrument to help decode what we as consumers are already thinking. Yes, it is true that such a study may provide very valuable information that could potentially be used for harm if used by the wrong person; however this is not what it is intended for.

                Neuromarketing is done in two ways: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fmri) and electroencephalography (EEG). FMRI is done by using a very strong magnet which can track the blood flow of the brain while subjects respond to various visual and audio cues, giving access to an area of the brain known as the “pleasure center.” EEG is done by using a cap of electrodes which are attached to the subjects scalp. The electrodes measure the electrical waves which are produces by the brain and can be used to track emotions based on the fluctuation of brain activity.

                In 2004, Martin Lindstrom conducted a $7 million study comprised of multiple experiments and thousands of subjects from all over the world resulting in findings that he claims will “transform the way you think about how and why you buy.” The main goal of the study was to “overturn some of the most long-held assumptions, myths and beliefs about what kinds of advertising, branding and packaging actually work to arouse our interest and encourage us to buy.”

                One of his subjects named Marlene was a smoker and had been smoking 15 years prior to the study. She was asked to fill out a questionnaire, one of the questions being “Are you affected by the warnings on cigarette packs?” her response was yes. 5 weeks later results shows that warning label on cigarette packs had little to no effect on smokers. What was even more surprising is that informing smokers of the risks of contracting deadly diseases caused by smoking stimulated the area of the smoker’s brain that causes cravings.




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