Despite all the questions about the effectiveness of subliminal messages, several companies are actually spending millions on marketing strategies involving the use of these hidden messages. So how effective are subliminal suggestions embedded in marketing communication materials?
According to many professionals in the marketing industry, branding is really all about creating associations in people’s minds.
1. Does it really work? Several studies have shown that subliminal marketing communication indeed works. However, people don’t always agree, so news of it always die down. Despite this, it has proven itself effective time and time again.
2. How does it work? Subliminal messages in marketing communication works by sending hidden messages to people’s subconscious minds that reinforce things that people already have an innate need for. This is why sometimes we can’t control our response to these advertisements.
This is why the most common messages have something to do with sex, money, and other strong emotions people usually try to control such as anger or violence. These are the subjects that most attract people’s subconscious attention. They are also used in marketing because these are common feelings, experiences, or emotions that people of all ages, class, and background share.
Sometimes, the messages are also specifically targeted to certain individuals. For example, a Johnny Walker scotch advertisement was discovered to have images of skulls and other horrifying photos hidden in the ice cubes of the said beverage. According to psychologists, these types of images are already usually present in dreams that alcoholics often have. So when the subconscious sees those images, they recognize it, thus leading the person to have the urge to act on the feeling.
3. Is it ethical? Advertisements can only go up to a certain point. They are not planting messages in the mind. According to experts, subliminal programming only reinforces thoughts, feelings, and desires that are already present in the subconscious.
4. What are the different ways to use them? Marketers come up with many creative marketing ideas to use subliminal messages in their ads.
Some, like Nike, embed implied messages in their famous slogans. Don’t you ever wonder why Nike’s famous slogan “Just Do It” is so vague yet it somehow makes sense for most of us. When we read the slogan, the brain quickly makes an association and tells us that the message applies to that thing we really want to “just do.”
Some hide photos and images within the print ads and posters, like the Johnny Walker scotch example. Some hide words in the print ads, posters, or even product packaging, such as the placement of a candy with the letter “S” right before the word “explosion” to form the word “SEXplosion” in a controversial Skittles packaging.
Some also embed subliminal messages in TV ads and radio ads; the messages are unheard or unseen by the conscious mind but are quickly absorbed by the subconscious. In a 1950s study, the hidden words “drink Coke” and “eat popcorn” was said to have actually led to an increase in popcorn and coke sales.
Subliminal persuasion is used in endless ways in marketing. It would be hard to control this phenomenon from being used in marketing since they are almost always completely undetectable.