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Subliminal advertising: What is it, examples, is it illegal, does it work?

Written by DigitalReview.Co

Looking for a new way to publicize your product? Have you considered implanting suggestions in your current advertising that link your product to sex and power?

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The birth of subliminal advertising as we know it dates to 1957 when a market researcher named James Vicary inserted the words “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” into a movie.

The words appeared for a single frame, allegedly long enough for the subconscious to pick up, but too short for the viewer to be aware of it. The subliminal ads supposedly created an 18.1% increase in Coke sales and a 57.8% increase in popcorn sales.

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Vicary’s results turned out to be a hoax. But more recent experiments have shown that subliminal messages actually can affect behavior in small ways.

A Harvard study from 1999 employed a similar method to Vicary’s — subjects played a computer game in which a series of words flashed before them for a few thousandths of a second. One set got positive words like “wise,” “astute,” and “accomplished.” The other set got words like “senile,” “dependent,” and “diseased.”

Despite the fact that these words flashed far too quickly to be consciously perceived, those who received positive words exited the room significantly faster than those who got negative words.

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However, William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, prominently spoke out against subliminals when the movie adaptation of his book came under fire for including allegedly subliminal messaging. He said, “There are no subliminal images. If you can see it, it’s not subliminal.”

So do advertisers consciously choose to include subliminal messages in their ads? Can they harness subliminal power to associate their products with sex and power? If so, does it actually affect a consumer’s buying decisions? We’ve gathered several ads containing supposedly subliminal messages — you be the judge.

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