The Power of Subliminal Advertising

Back in 1957 James Vicary, a market researcher, conducted an experiment in a movie theatre using subliminal messages. The messages were flashed on the screen so fast that no-one knew they were there. He claimed, that by flashing the subliminal messages “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Eat Popcorn” he was able to influence the adience and increased sales.

Once his findings were published the general public were, understandably, outraged and this lead to the practice being banned in the USA, the UK and Australia. However, Vicary later admitted that his findings were completly fabricated and that the study was a hoax. Even after Vicary’s confession many scientists have attempted to replicate the experiment in the hope that they could prove once and for all that subliminal messages do work. Unfortunately these studies have mostly failed to produce any sufficient empirical evidence to support the claim.

However, lately researchers have shown that if you can take advantage of, or create, the correct conditions then subliminal messages can be highly effective and even subliminal advertising can work! . Johan Karrenmans, of the Department of Social Psychology in Radboud University, Holland, along with his colleagues devised and conducted a study that has shed some light on what is a hotly debated subject. In 2006 Karremans and his colleague conducted experiments to ascertain the effectiveness of subliminal messages in advertising. The results of these studies shocked and suprised a lot of people.

They wanted to see if they could persuade volunteers to favour one brand of drink over another merely by using subliminal suggestion. The drink chosen was Lipton Ice and for comparison they chose Spa Rood, a brand of mineral water. Each drink was as popular as the other in Holland being rated for taste and its ability to quence thirst and relieve a dry mouth.

In every scientific study there are at least two groups. One group are chosen to be the “genuine pigs” and test the scientist’s theory (the “test” group”) and the other are given nothing or a placebo (the control group). The two groups are then compared to see if the “test” group show any measurable difference due to the scientist‘s input.

Karremans and his group devised a study in which they requested that 61 volunteers performed a meaningless task. The task that the researchers assigned to the volunteers involved a simple counting task. The volunteers were asked to count how many times they saw a lower-case letter b inbetween a string of capital Bs. It really didn’t matter how many instances of the lower-case b was observed as this was just a means of occupying the conscious mind.

The string of individual letters appeared for threehundred milliseconds each. Before these strings were shown, a string of Xs always appeared. These Xs were flanking a 23-millisecond subliminal message! The “test” group were given the desired subliminal message “Lipton Ice” while the “control” group were given a string of jumbled letters that made up the non-sensical word “Nipeic Tol”.

After completion of their visual task, both sets of volunteers were asked to press a key indicating which drink they preferred between Lipton Ice and Spa Rood. They were then asked to rate how thirsty they were and how likely they would be to order either of these drinks if they were sitting on a terrace. They were informed that these questions were a part of a completely separate study.

The researchers found that volunteers who rated themselves as thirsty were more likely to choose Lipton Ice but only if they were in the “test” group (those that had received the Lipton Ice subliminal messages). It seemed that the subliminal message only had an effect if it was directly related to the volunteer and was relevant to him/her i.e. they were thirsty so they picked up on the subliminal message “Lipton Ice” and chose that product to quench their thirst.

There was obviously something going on. So in a second study they created a more ideal environment by splitting the 105 volunteers into two groups. They made one group thirsty by giving them a very salty piece of candy just before they had to perform their task.

Out of the thirsty volunters who were exposed to the subliminal message “Lipton Ice” a huge 80% chose Lipton Ice as their preferred beverage. While out of those who had not received the Lipton Ice subliminal message only a mere 20% chose it.

This deserves repeating!

Only 20% of the “control” group (who didnt receive the subliminal message “Lipton Ice”) chose Lipton Ice while a huge 80% of those that did recieve the subliminal message chose Lipton Ice! What’s more, when the volunteers were asked to rate their level of thirstiness, the study showed that the thirstier they were the more likely they were to chose Lipton Ice! It seems that subliminal messages do have a profound impact on our behaviour when they are relevant to us! Karremans sums this up by saying, “Priming only works when the prime is goal-relevant.” The researchers are have plans to create a study to determine how long lasting these subliminal effects are on our behaviour.

This offers support to the view and belief that subliminal programming does indeed work. After all a subliminal message recording is simply chosen because it IS relevant to the purchaser. If it wasn’t relevant and “goal-driven” you wouldn’t buy it!