Subliminal Messages in Advertisements
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Subliminal Messages in Advertisements

It is important for consumers to understand the methods advertisers use to impact customers and influence behavior.

Advertisements use some very sophisticated channels to promote their products and to sway the behavior of potential customers. Subliminal means the message is below the threshold of awareness, and the person who receives the message may respond to it without being aware of it.

• In the pictures and logos that advertise products, there are often images and suggestions that people do not recognize. A great deal of media attention has been drawn to the Walt Disney movies for the emphasis their subliminal messages are giving to children regarding sex. Sometimes the word “sex” is spelled out in clouds or smoke and no one even realizes it. In movies one frame will be so quick that the audience does not know they saw it. The brain records a picture of popcorn and sales go up at the intermission. Pictures in the background of an ad will not be the focus but still carry a message, and the suggestion is recorded at some level of the brain.  Even the shape of a Coca Cola bottle is a subliminal message.

• The writers of ads describe their product to fill a need for a certain population. The subliminal message is directed to “women of good taste,” “men who value the best cars,” “the sports fan who wants the most for his money,” or “the cook who gets the most compliments.” The consumer who hears these kinds of statements automatically includes him or herself in that group. These are called commonplaces. If the advertiser connects with the viewer/customer on a commonplace, then it follows that this is the product he or she will see as the best buy.

• The human voice is a subliminal message. Sincerity and authority are convincing. It is difficult to believe that actors do not really believe their scripts. In an ad their sincerity comes through as convincing even when we know they are being paid large sums of money to give endorsements. We also believe that because they are famous and sound sincere, they carry an authority that supports the truth of their statements.

The psychology behind using subliminal messages includes both suggestion and pleasure. If the message is suggestive, it prompts the viewer to buy a product. If the message is promoting pleasure then it associates the product in the ad with a sensation of pleasure. Sex is the ultimate pleasure according to the industry, so any reference to sex connects the product with the pleasurable sensation. There are many examples on the Internet, TV ads, and movie and magazine ads..

There are a few places where subliminal messages have been taken to ridiculous levels. A psychological study found that people find it reinforcing to hear their own names. Some advertising guru carried this piece of information to the people who do phone and mail sales. I find it absurd to hear a salesman on the phone repeat my name every five words in his spiel or read it in a piece of mail trying to sell me insurance. The object is to make the prospective customer feel comfortable and the salesman seem friendly and familiar. The result of hearing my name repeatedly makes me think one of us has a memory deficit, and I just want to forget about the call and the product.

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