Is what we consciously see all there is to see? Subliminal advertising surrounds people all day long. It is believed that one can influence behavior by secretly appealing to the subconscious mind with words, images and sounds (Lenchnar 3). Throughout the years there have been many examples of subliminal advertising ranging from the word sex hidden in ice cubes to subliminal messages on Windows 95. Attempts have been made to discover the effectiveness of subliminal messages in television ads. Do these images really increase sales of products?
Subliminal messages are a by-product of hypnosis. It is a technique for bypassing the conscious mind and putting a message in the subconscious mind. Subliminal advertising first became publicized in nineteen fifty seven when Jim Vicary flashed drink Coca-Cola and eat popcorn on a movie screen so that it could not be consciously seen, but subconsciously absorbed (Lechnar 3). Vicary reported an increase in the sale of popcorn and Coca-Cola as a result of his subliminal messages. He was later questioned about his results. He had no evidence of his findings and admitted his results were false. This example brought the publics attention to the power that advertisers held over them.
In nineteen seventy nine about fifty department stores in the United states played music with subliminal anti-theft messages. The messages on the tapes were I am honest. If I do steal, I will be caught and sent to jail (Rogers 14). These sentences were replayed nine thousand times per hour. The results of these subliminal messages were remarkable. Theft was reduced by thirty-seven percent and one of the department stores saved half a million dollars by reducing shoplifters and employee theft. Consumers agree with this type of subliminal advertising because helps prevent theft.
There are many other examples of hidden messages. The most frequently found hidden message is the word sex. The word sex is found embedded on Ritz crackers box, Windows 95, the movie The Lion King , and hidden on ice cubes advertising Seagram Seven. Advertisers have indiscriminately sexualized virtually everything they publish or broadcast with subliminal SEXes (Lechnar 11). Even Diet Coke hides a female torso by masking it with bubbles and bold print to increase sales. Allegations were made that three Walt Disney movies contained subliminal messages. For example The Little Mermaid was accused of displaying a minister with an erection. In The Lion King the word sex appears in a cloud of dust, and in the movie Aladdin he is said to say, Good teenagers, take off your clothes (Moore 33). The Walt Disney company denies the use of subliminal suggestions in their movies but many viewers positively identified the hidden messages. Another subliminal advertisement is the face of Jesus in a fork full of spaghetti on a Pizza Hut billboard. This advertisement suggests that the food is holy and would attract people to eat there. The most recently publicized subliminal advertisements are the ones in Windows 95. There are four. The most visible message is the dark horse on the left side of Windows 95, which suggests a powerful image of a stallion. The next subliminal suggestion is a bird with its wings extended, portraying freedom. There is also a rock hero suggesting death, drugs, and rock music. Sex is also a hidden message on Windows 95 it shows a male figure poised in a classic missionary position over the figure of a female, her head back (Lechnar 8). There may be more subliminal messages hidden in Windows waiting to be discovered.
In 1994, Kirk H. Smith s goal was to develop a procedure in which it was possible to specify whether or not a person was aware of a subliminal message. The first part of the study consisted of questions designed to open the participant s thoughts on advertising. The second part showed if the participant was influenced by certain commercials. The final stage tested the participant s memory of the commercials. The experiment was performed twice. The second time the participants were asked to look for subliminal messages in the ads. The first test supported the claim that undetected messages had no effect on a viewer s selection. In the second trial participants were made aware of the subliminal images. Once the image was conscious the images influenced them to buy the product. This experiment suggests that advertisements would be more effective if subliminal messages were brought into the open where they could be consciously perceived (Smith 866)
Subliminal messages are almost impossible to prove. Although there have been many experiments that support one side or the other, there in no consensus, so the debate continues. It is difficult to tell whether images are interpreted through conscious understanding or images were absorbed without awareness. Since it can always be argued that some of the images that were meant to remain in the unconscious seeped into the conscious, no study can truly show that subliminal messages are effective (870). Most of the public is convinced that they serve their purpose. Consumers are aware of subliminal advertising, believe it is used by advertisers and is effective in influencing decisions (Rogers 5). Subliminal advertising is very affective in the way it can lead persons to buy things they wouldn't ordinarily buy (Rogers 17). We flip through these messages everyday without them altering our consciousness but embedding in our subconscious. Which is more persuasive than an overt exchange of messages (Moore 46).
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