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Subliminal Advertising

One evening, Mr. and Mrs. Williams decided to go to the cinema to watch a movie that had the best reviews for the week. On their way to the cinema, the radio tunes to a classical music station. While listening to the music, Mr. and Mrs. Williams were having a conversation about an article they read in the newspaper named "subliminal advertising". Soon, Mr. Williams discontinued the ongoing conversation as they reached their destination.

During the movie's break, Mrs. Williams asked her husband to bring her a coke to drink. Afterwards, the movie resumed and both of them found it to be enjoyable.

On their way back to their home .Mrs. Williams was wondering whether her need for the coke was induced by subliminal stimuli which are messages, images and signals embedded in another object that are too weak not only to be perceived by her conscious mind but to be aware of being stimulated as well. In other words, these subliminal stimuli are regarded as subconscious stimuli as they pass below the threshold (minimum) level of awareness needed to induce a response (klass1985, p:147;Hawkins 1970, p:322). Mr. Williams was surprised by her thoughts and was questioning how could this happen.

Mrs. Williams was wondering whether she was induced by audio messages on the music station which were played at frequencies that she couldn't consciously hear (one type of subliminal advertising) or by visual subliminal messages which ere flashes in front of her eyes for a split seconds along the movie (another type of subliminal advertising).such messages tend to be long enough for subconscious mind to read them (Moore 1982,p:39). Not convinced by her ideas, Mr. Williams argued that there are individual differences in the threshold points which make it difficult to assure subliminality (inability to distinguish the presence of the word coke from its absence) for all audience. In other meaning, there is no absolute threshold point above which the stimulus is always perceived and below which it is undetected (klass1985, p: 147; Hawkins 1970, p: 322).

Based on the idea that marketers spend millions of dollars to dray the attention of consumers by using long attractive advertisements that can breakthrough the clutter. Yet, in many cases they don't receive any attention at all; Mr. Williams questioned the effectiveness of subliminal advertising which are presented in milliseconds and would almost certainly be overwhelmed by the apparent stronger materials in which the subliminal stimuli are presented. In other words, these materials would receive the greatest share of recipients' attention (Moore 1982,p:39). In addition, Mr. Williams believed that audio subliminal messages can't be effective because of the background noise which would reduce the message's influence (if it does have an influence at all).

Mrs. Williams was still insisting on her point of view, she doubted that even if every subliminal message might not affect everyone, it most probably elicit the consumer's affective feelings, motives or even behaviors toward certain products.(Brannon& Brock ,p:6). Moreover, she believed that such subliminal technique would be deceptive and misleading as it forces the consumers to act in ways they wouldn't otherwise do it they had a control over their subconscious minds (Brannon& Brock, p: 4).

Mr. Williams was attempting violently to let his wife give up her doubts; he tried to convince her that her claims about the effectiveness of the subliminal advertising can be reduced to various reasons. One reason was her tendency to accept such fake ideas stated in the article she read in the newspapers because of the debate surrounding the idea of subliminal advertising and its persuasion. Another reason was her propensity to those uncontrollable external factors as subliminal advertisements in affecting her purchasing behavior. One more reason was her belief that the existence of subliminal messaged would certainly reflect their effectiveness by having an influence on her behaviors and actions (Brannon& Brock, p9, 10).

Once more, Mrs. Williams was about to go on with her argument, when Mr. Williams asked her to put an end to that discussion and proposed to let their neighbor Mr. Robert (interviewed customer) decide whose opinion seems more realistic and rational. Unfortunately, Mr. Robert supported neither sides and he declared that several question marks surround the idea of subliminal advertising influence on consumer behavior.

On the basis of the controversy among various researches and evidences, Mr. Robert believed that if subliminal messages do have an effect on consumers' behavior they should be used to aid on promoting useful messages in some areas as quitting smoking ,losing weight ,improving one's self esteem and reducing car accidents which would be beneficial to the society. In addition Mr. Robert thought that the more exposure to such subliminal messages, the more likely they would have an impact on consumers' behavior. Therefore, he believed that advertisers should be legally prohibited from engaging in such deceptive practices if they aren't in the consumer's own favor. The reason for that prohibition is that he considered consumers' behaviors and motives to catch with the advertisers' desires would be a complete invasion for the consumers' control over their minds and behaviors.

Beside the issues of the effectiveness of subliminal advertising and its existence, Mr. Robert raised the issue of whether subliminal advertising is ethical or not. Believing that recipients of subliminal advertisements aren't being told of what exactly they are exposed to and aren't given the choice to accept or reject the advertisers' messages as in case with normal advertising, Mr. Robert consider subliminal advertising not only to be illegal but to be unethical as well.

The conterversy between Mr. and Mrs. Williams and their neighbor Mr. Robert seems to be endless. To sum it up, if you don't energetically look for hidden messages, just believe in what your eyes see. As what is clearly perceptible would be much more significant that any marked signals could be.



Brannon , L. , and Brock ,T. the subliminal persuasion controversy. pp 1-10

-Moore , T. (1982). Subliminal advertising: what you see is what you get. In: journal of marketing , vol.46, no.2, pp.38-47.

- klass ,B. (1958). The ghost of subliminal advertising. In: journal of marketing , vol.23, no.2, pp.146-150.

-Hawkins , D.(1970). The effects of subliminal stimulation on drive level and brand preference. In: journal of marketing research , vol.7, no.3, pp 322-326.


Hadeer Hammad

Nesma Ammar
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