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How Often Are We Subjected to Subliminal Messaging

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 2

We are subjected to more subliminal messaging than most people think.  Subliminal messaging works by using hidden messages in ads to sway people to buy certain products or think in certain way.  It is generally considered to be a deceptive practice, but continues to happen daily.

One example of how this is used is by the types of music that is played in stores.  For instance, a recent study shown that when French music was played in the grocery store, 80% of wine shoppers chose a French wine.  Only 2% of customers stated that the music affected their choice of wine.  Other studies have shown that classical music inclines shoppers to buy more expensive wine.  Classical music played in restaurants has also proven to make diner's spend more money. 

Music also affects how employees work.  Certain types of music stimulate the senses,  and is relaxing.  Some also claim that music with many references to drugs or alcohol increases use in teens.

Skittles subliminal message

Burger King message
Commercial advertising is also found to contain subliminal messages.  Several experiments were performed in the 1950's.  The British broadcasting corporation projected subliminal images on television, and the test was followed by Canada, Mexico, Bangor, and the United States. This works by flashing something so quickly, that our minds subconsciously pick it up.  One major message sent today is sex, because that's what sells.  It is found in many commercials, that unless paused at the right second you would not knowingly realize it was even in the commercial.  The skittles ad above discreetly spells out the word 'sex', by using a red skittle in front of the word 'explosion'.  The Burger King ad to the left is subtly sexual in nature.  So were these two examples purposely designed to appeal in that way?  I don't know, but it sure looks that way.  But by simply glancing at each ad quickly for a second, consumers would probably not consciously even pick up the hint.

According to some, subliminal messaging is just a hoax started by James Vicary, a marketing consultant, in the 1950's.  He believed that by flashing 'drink coca-cola' or 'eat popcorn' in a movie theater, people would be more likely to buy coke and popcorn while watching the movie.  Twenty years later he admitted that he faked the experiment to promote his marketing firm, but the public didn't buy it and still believe to this day in subliminal messaging. 

In 2006, New Scientist magazine published an article about how subliminal messaging may truly work.  It was based on one study performed to try to get consumers to drink Lipton Ice Tea.  However, the study shown it only worked in cases where the consumer was already very thirsty.

Flashed images can influence a person, but no one is sure of how much of an impact it actually has in making the person go out and purchase the product.  Several studies and research have been done to try to prove or disprove the effect, but have mostly been inconclusive because for each study showing it works there is one to disprove it.   This is one reason why people still believe that it works. 

British researchers who support the fact that subliminal messaging works mostly agree that it was more effective when negative images or words were displayed.  Supposedly this is not allowed to be used on television in the UK, even though most researchers do not believe it is strong enough to send someone on a shopping spree.

Others believe subliminal messages are even used in radio on the airwaves.  Commercials promoting fast food restaurants will have background noises such as the sound of someone pouring a drink, or hearing the person say 'ah' insinuating the taste was so good.  As with music and television, ads are used on the radio to promote products in an effort to get the consumer to buy them. 

Conspiracy theories are also an example of believed subliminal messaging.  One example is an ad by former president George W. Bush, in a commercial for prescription drugs and the elderly.  When the phrase 'bureaucrats decide' begins to fade into the screen, letters forming the word 'rats' is briefly shown before the whole phrase appears.  When asked about the word, Bush denied and intentional manipulation of the words.  Others questioned this, stating it was a cheap way to manipulate the screen and that the only way it could have happened was deliberately.

Another popular theory is the use of sexual suggestions used in Walt Disney films and shows, including movies such as 'The Lion King', 'The Little Mermaid', 'Aladdin', and 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'.  In the 'Lion King' movie, it was believed that in one scene the clouds spelled out "s-e-x".  Tom Sito, a writer of the film, claimed that the letters were intended to spell SFX, in regards to special effects.  Disney also denies other allegations to images in other movies.

Self help tapes are also available, which are filled with subliminal messaging for consumers who want to get motivated, lose weight, quit smoking, etc.  In this manner I suppose it could be helpful or beneficial to a person, because they are purposely and knowingly trying to change something about themselves.

Some believe that after WWII, the United States wanted soldiers who were more likely to kill without remorse, because there had been several reports of soldiers shooting to miss or having issues dealing with killing the enemy.  One remedy that was used was to subject soldiers to violence on television, in an attempt to make them not as sensitive to killing and death. 

It is also believed that watching television creates a type of hypnotic state for the viewer, and susceptible to suggestions.   Studies have also shown that the the body releases endorphins while watching television, which feels good and can actually cause an addiction like reaction when a anticipated show does not come on the air.  Studies have also shown that your brain is a lot more active when sleeping than when watching tv.  Researchers believe television is the perfect way to program the mind, because you have no control over what is being put into your mind and the mind is constantly exposed to it on a daily basis.  Even though we know most things on television aren't real, our body doesn't always perceive that it is fake.  That's why you get scared in horror movies, or your heart starts beating faster.  If this is the case, I can certainly see how one could easily be manipulated with subliminal messaging while watching television.   Studies show one way to reverse subliminal messaging is to watch less television and to spend more time reading.  Reading stimulates the brain and is very beneficial. 






Mar 26, 2012 12:05pm
Wow! This was very interesting. I didn't notice the Skittles subliminal message until you pointed it out - which makes the point. I wonder what other products contain these subtle messages. Good job, ksilvers!
Mar 26, 2012 5:24pm
Thank you!
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  1. "Subliminal Manipulation." Subliminial Manipulation. 25/03/2012 <Web >
  2. "Subliminal Advertising." Sutherland Survey. 26/03/2012 <Web >
  3. "Subliminal conspiracy." BBC news. 26/03/2012 <Web >

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