Asked by Grace Tillman Marketing Advertising and SalesPsychology
Do subliminal messages work, and are they in advertising?
December 18, 2019 8:41PM
This one’s pretty tricky. First of all, subliminal messages are images or words that you’re exposed to so briefly or covertly that you don’t realize you’ve experienced them. Proponents of subliminal advertising claim that your subconscious is so deeply affected by these messages that behavior can change drastically, and it’s so subtle that you think you came up with the idea yourself.
Sounds pretty nefarious, but don’t worry too much. The most famous study about subliminal advertising—the one where “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” was inserted for fractions of a second into movies and drastically increased concession sales—is a complete myth (the lead researcher later admitted the data was fabricated). So, if that’s what led you to ask this question, rest assured that this pretty alarming study is totally bogus.
However, some more credible studies have shown subliminal advertising to be modestly successful. Those effects are mostly short-lived, though, and there’s no evidence to suggest that modern advertisers are using them in their ads. And even though it recognizes them as ineffective, the Federal Trade Commission does categorize subliminal messages as deceptive—and therefore illegal.