Subliminal Messaging

subliminal messaging
Subliminal Messages in Advertising: The Case For and Against Lisa Caswell Syracuse University Running Head: Subliminal Messages Subliminal messaging and subliminal perception are controversial topics in the field of psychology. Many studies have been conducted to determine if subliminal messaging does in fact work. Many people think that subliminal messages in the field of advertising are much more successful than subliminal messages for self-improvement, such as tapes sold to help the consumer lose weight, gain intelligence, or do something else to improve themselves simply by listening to a tape. Subliminal advertising can be defined as "embedding material in print, audio, or video messages so faintly that they are not consciously perceived." Rogers and Smith (1993) surveyed 400 households. When asked if they believed advertisers deliberately included subliminal messages, 61.5% responded \'yes\'. A 72.2% \'yes\' answer was obtained when asked if subliminal advertisements were effective. Based on these results, it can be concluded that consumers are aware of subliminal advertising, and believe it is effectively used by advertisers to influence their decisions. The term "sub-threshold effects," first popularized by Packard in 1957, preceded the popular notion of "subliminal advertising," whose originator is James Vicary. Subliminal advertising first came to the public\'s attention in 1957 when Jim Vicary conducted a subliminal advertising strategy of interspersing "drink Coca-Cola" and "eat popcorn" messages on a movie screen so quickly that they could not be seen consciously by the audience. His research initially reported increases in the sales of both Coca-Cola and popcorn as a result of the subliminal messages. Later, however, when he was challenged and could not replicate or even produce the results, Vicary admitted that the results of the initial study had been fabricated (Weir, 1984). Key (1989) has more recently claimed that hidden or embedded messages are widespread and effective. Key\'s theories have been widely discredited by scholars who have examined marketing applications scientifically (Moore, 1982). Although a few scholarly studies have reported certain limited effects of exposure to subliminal stimuli in laboratory settings (Greenwald, Klinger, and Liu, 1989), most academic researchers on the subject have reported findings which indicate no practical or predictable effect in an advertising setting (Dixon, 1971). The 1957 Vicary study has been largely disregarded in the scholarly community due to lack of scientific documentation of methodology and failure to replicate. However, scholarly findings and industry assertions may have had little or no effect on the average American, who has been exposed to popular articles and books promoting the notion that subliminal advertising is used and is effective. In addition, Americans have been exposed to advertisements claiming that self-help audio-tapes and videotapes containing subliminal materials can help the purchaser with weight loss, better relationships, an improved golf game, quitting smoking, and even birth control. Awareness of Subliminal Messaging by the Public Many in the public are aware of the term "subliminal advertising," understand the basics of the concept, and believe it not only is used by advertisers but is also successful in influencing brand and purchase choice. Shortly after the Vicary study was brought to the public\'s attention (Brean, 1958), Haber (1959) sought to discern "exactly what the public believes about subliminal advertising when so little factual information is available." Results of this study determined that 41 percent of 324 respondents had heard of subliminal advertising, and although half believed it to be "unethical," 67 percent stated that they would still watch a television program even if they believed subliminal messages were embedded in the commercials. Two decades later, a survey of 209 adults conducted by Zanot, Pincus, and Lamp (1983) reported double the awareness levels of the Haber study. The Zanot survey concluded that 81 percent had heard of subliminal advertising and that "respondents believe that subliminal advertising is widely and frequently used and that it is successful in selling products." The same survey determined that educational level is the demographic variable most highly correlated with awareness of subliminal advertising; the more educated the respondent, the more likely he or she is to be aware of the phenomenon. A study by Rogers and Smith (1993) found that the more education a person has (and therefore the more opportunity to learn of the limitations of the subliminal persuasion phenomenon), the more