Advertising Subliminal And Motivational Messages
The advertising industry, considered to be a prominent and powerful industry, engages in a deceptive subliminal and motivational advertising which most us are unaware of. By bypassing our unconscious mind using subliminal techniques, advertisers tap into the vulnerabilities surrounding our unconscious mind, manipulating and controlling us in many ways. Subliminal advertising blossomed since the 1940's until now, when you can find subliminals in every major advertisement and magazine cover. Legislation against the advertisers has had no effect in curbing the use of subliminals. In this Information Age, it seems people are no longer in control of the people. The ones in control are the ones with knowledge, as usual. In this case, the advertisers have it; common people don't.
Subliminal advertising has been a controversial topic since the 1950's: it was when the first experimental tests in subliminal persuasion were conducted. Subliminal persuasion was defined as involving "words or pictures, flashed on a movie or television screen so rapidly, played on an audio channel so softly, or disguised in a magazine ad so skillfully that viewers or listeners do not consciously recognize them" (Larson, 1992, p. 42). Although these subliminal messages are not consciously recognized, it is believed that they are "absorbed subconsciously by the receivers" (p.42). In this way, the subliminal messages are presumed to influence the unconscious impulses of consumers. The topic of subliminal persuasion is controversial because some people do not believe it is really possible to influence buying behavior on an unconscious level. In addition, the topic is controversial to those who believe in it because it raises a number of ethical questions regarding fair practices in advertising.
Subliminal Advertising through Product Placement
Although the morality and effectiveness of subliminal advertising are contentious (Kathryn, 1994; Klass, B, 1958), it still continues to be used or employed by advertisers especially in "product placement" where products are 'seen' as an integral part of movies or TV dramas without being specifically referred to as such by the actors in the movies or dramas. Furthermore, product placement was neither a well-organized nor a high-profile growth area until the late 1970s. Since 1982, when sales of Reese's Candy Pieces increased by 65% following placement in the movie E.T., this advertising strategy began to attract the notice of advertisers and marketing managers. Another successful example of 'placing' a product in a movie or drama was Ray Ban's Wayfarer Sunglasses that became enormously popular when the actor Tom Cruise used them brand in the movie Top Gun. Moreover, product placement and commercials differ in that it is possible for consumers to change to another channel or not look at the advertisement-before a movie-whereas product placed in movies or TV dramas cannot be avoided in these simple ways. When consumers watch movies or TV dramas, they perceive the placed product whilst watching the movies or dramas, as an integral part of their experiences, without being aware that these are 'advertisements' at all. When watching a movie or TV drama, our defenses are weakened and we become more receptive to the messages, often making this kind of product placement is both an effective advertising tool as well as being a bit unnerving at the same time (Chris et al, 2003; Sharmistha & Kathryn, 2002; Schacter, 1987).
Subliminal advertising works by affecting the consumer-member of audience-subconscious attitude toward received material in a movie or TV drama, towards the product in the movie or TV drama (Martha & Kirk, 1994). According to Mei-Ling, some researchers contend that such subliminal stimuli or material are usually so weak that not only is the recipient (as a member of the audience ) unaware of them but the stimuli do not have any sensory effect at all, thereby making the effect of the advertisement negligible (2007). Other researchers however believe that "subliminal advertising" can actually work and that its use by advertisers to try to influence purchase decisions is justified (Cristel, 2002; Moore, 1982).
Cristel (1998), argues that product placement differs in term of three dimensions: (1) Screen Placement (2) Script Placement, and (3) Plot Placement. Cristel reported that transformational and affect transfer processes operate in subliminal advertising to establishing 'linkage' between a movie or television show and the product placed in it. While there is little evidence of product change resulting from product placement, people do recognize or recall brands so promoted. In this respect, Pola & Kenneth (1998) found that prominent product placements did better in inducing recall among audiences than normal or traditional television advertising in inducing recall.
The "mere exposure effect" was first demonstrated in the late 1960s by Zajonc (1968). He argued, from his experimental results, that preference for something can be created simply from repeated exposure of that thing, with no associated cognitive activity. According to Mei-Ling, this suggests that perhaps the effect operates at some preconscious level, and not just because subjects preferred one thing to another, say one brand to another brand of a product (2007). Mei-Ling suggested that although consumer awareness of advertising of a brand should enhance the buying of that brand, those consumers who have bought the particular brand are more likely to be aware of the advertising after doing so, suggesting a conceptualization of advertising as having a circular rather than a linear effect. This implies that how an advertisement or advertising campaign is "received" by a user is very different from how it is received by a nonuser. In addition, Mei-Ling suggested that the 'relationship' between consumer and product brand depends on the propensity of the consumer to receive the advertising, the probability that the advertising will be "liked", and also the perception of the advertising message on the part of the consumer (2007).
Subliminal Strategies and its Effects
To be able to understand the impact of subliminal advertising to the consumer behavior, one must be able to know the different strategies used by the advertisers. According to Lechnar, graphic design artists have a wealth of tools at their hands to expertly embed subliminal messages into their pictures. At the start of subliminal advertising, graphic artists painted on photographs. That was very difficult to do without ruining the picture. Later, with bigger budgets and better equipment, graphic artists used airbrushes to craft their design onto billboards and then take a picture of it. Furthermore, he suggested that everything is done digitally on the computer with perfection (1998). Key has said there are six general subliminal strategies: figure-ground reversals, embedding, double entendre, low-intensity light and low-volume sound, tachistoscopic displays, lighting and background sound. Graphic artists can take advantage of multiple techniques to produce the desired effects. In addition, Lechnar explained that to protect the brain from sensory overload, our perceptual defense mechanism distinguishes every perception into figure (foreground, subject) and ground (background, environment); that we consciously notice the figure, while the ground floats around it unless something there brings it to the foreground. Perceptual psychologist Dr. E. Rubin created his famous Rubin's Profiles that can be found in almost every psychology text book today. His profiles, the faces and vases, old women and young women, duck and rabbit, are syncretistic (two sided) illusions. Noticing one set of features, you see one thing, while noticing another set of features, you see something else. Advertisers take advantage of this to paint subliminal messages into the picture's background. They are usually cultural taboos, making it even harder for the audience to perceive it (Lechnar, 1998). There are many more strategies that advertisers use to secretly invade the minds of the consumers which affect consumer behavior.
Lechnar emphasized that many images, phrases, and slogans have hidden double meanings behind them. This is called double entendre. Symbolism can also go into this category. Often, their hidden meanings have sexual connotations. For example Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today?" and American Express' "Do more," when taken out of context, could have sexual implications. Key writes: double meanings appear to enrich significance in virtually any symbolic stimuli. Unconsciously perceived information of this taboo nature ensures a deep, meaningful emotional response, and continued memory. In addition, another example of advertiser's exploitation of double entendre is Crown Royal's holiday whiskey ad. “The whiskey bottle is completely wrapped in a purple bag, with a card that says "To: Dad" on it. At the bottom of the page, big bold letters say "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Below this in smaller letters there is the phrase, "Those who appreciate quality enjoy it responsibly." The double meaning behind this ad is the call for Dad to have sex. During the holidays, Dad will open the bag (condom) uncovering his masculinity and consequently enjoys sex even more.” (Lechnar, 1998) Moreover, Lechnar explained that there is a plethora of other symbolic imagery that advertisers take advantage of. Advertisers often use lemon and oranges to portray fertility and women. Ties are a common phallic symbol. Through these symbolic images, advertisers can present a seemingly harmless ad while entrenching your subconscious mind with deeper meanings. Moog writes about symbolic imagery: Symbolic communications bypass the layers of logic and cultural appropriateness and head straight for the unconscious, which is then free to find an equivalence between what is symbolized, in this case sexual arousal (1998).
Another technique advertisers use is low-intensity light and its auditory equivalent low-volume sound. “Graphic artists paint faint subliminal images below the conscious threshold of perception but above the unconscious perception threshold. By far the most commonly embedded image is the word SEX”(Lechnar, 1998). Key said that "advertisers have indiscriminately sexualized virtually everything they publish or broadcast with subliminal SEXes." Often, graphic artists mosaic SEXes onto textured surfaces or in edges, shadows, and highlights. Picking up any major magazine, relaxing, and staring into it for a couple of minutes, people will soon find these SEXes popping out at you. Other commonly used words are FUCK, DIE, and KILL, among other emotionally loaded four letter words. Such subliminal instructions are dangerous indeed. Dixon writes, "It may be impossible to resist instructions which are not consciously experienced." These subliminal techniques are proven to affect consumer behavior in such a negative way that messages that hidden are not good motivations.
Subliminal advertising is a very effective way of manipulating people’s minds in very subtle ways. This can be a good thing; however, it is unfortunate to know that the hidden messages embedded in the advertisements are negative things such as women, sex, and death. This is very alarming because advertisements are a part of everyone’s lives. Watching, hearing, seeing advertisements such as these will create a negative impact in the behavior of consumers.
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Cristel A. R. (2002), "Investigating the Effectiveness of Product Placements in Television Shows: The Role of Modality and Plot Connection Congruence on Brand Memory and Attitude," Journal of Consumer Research, 29, 3, 306-318.
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Kathryn T T. (1994), "Subliminal Advertising and the Psychology of Processing Unconscious Stimuli: A Review of Research," Psychology & Marketing, New York: 11, 3; 271-290.
Klass, B. (1958), "The Ghost of Subliminal Advertising," Journal of Marketing (pre-1986), New York, 23; 146-150.
Dr. Lechnar. (1998), " Subliminal Advertising: 20th Century Brainwashing and what's hidden in the Microsoft's logo," Fravia's pages of reverse engineering. Retrieved on November 21, 2010 from <http://www.searchlores.org/realicra/sublimi.htm>.
Tsai, Ming-tiem "Effects of Subliminal Advertising on Consumer Attitudes and Buying Intentions, ". International Journal of Management.
Sharmistha L, Braun K. (2002), "I'll have what she's having: Gauging the impact of product placements on viewers," Psychology & Marketing, 17, 12, 1059-1074.
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