Posted by: Dahni | February 23, 2008

Subliminal Suggestions

What we know as “subliminal advertising” began with the publication of a book by Vance Packard in 1957 called, The Hidden Persuaders. The words “subliminal advertising” were never used, but new motivational research and marketing techniques to sell products were described. Advertisements were created to draw upon hopes, fears, guilt, and sexuality of the consumer. Marketers believed this method of inducement would cause people to buy products they’d never realized they needed. If you could reach people effectively in this manner, you could effective seize the wallets and purses easily and anytime you wanted to.

James Vicary actually coined the term “subliminal advertising.”

“Vicary had conducted a variety of unusual studies of female shopping habits, discovering (among other things) that women’s eye-blink rates dropped significantly in supermarkets, that “psychological spring” lasts more than twice as long as “psychological winter,” and that “the experience of a woman baking a cake could be likened to a woman giving birth.” Vicary’s studies were largely forgettable, save for one experiment he conducted at a Ft. Lee, New Jersey movie theater during the summer of 1957. Vicary placed a tachistoscope in the theater’s projection booth, and all throughout the playing of the film Picnic, he flashed a couple of different messages on the screen every five seconds. The messages each displayed for only 1/3000th of a second at a time, far below the viewers’ threshold of conscious perceptibility. The result of displaying these imperceptible suggestions – “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat Popcorn” – was an amazing 18.1% increase in Coca-Cola sales, and a whopping 57.8% jump in popcorn purchases. Thus was demonstrated the “awesome advertising” to coerce unwary buyers into making purchases they would not otherwise have considered. “


The problem with the results above is that it was all a lie, but people still believe this after over forty years. Vicary later was challenged and tried to come clean, but people still held to the original story. His confession was ignored and forgotten.

Radio and TV jumped on the band wagon. The public cried, but congress left bills to ban this practice in 1958, 1959 without a vote. Not until January 24, 1974 did the FCC get involved. They announced that subliminal advertising and techniques, “whether effective or not,” were “contrary to the public interest,” and that any station employing them risked losing its broadcast license.

The facts are that subliminal advertising doesn’t work and never has, but because of a lie, many advertisers and consumers will never believe otherwise.

Of course print advertisement was not subject to the FCC’s announcement. The following Benson and Hedges ad appeared on the back cover of Time magazine in April, 1976. This ad was produced at a cost of around a half a million dollars. Today, the same ad would cost millions of dollars. With these costs in mind, Benson Hedges wanted to insure a healthy return on their investment. They used data from decades, skilled technicians and airbrush artists to produce this. Most people never read what is written in an advertisement, so it was designed to influence visually in a matter of seconds. The following is an excerpt of an article by August Bullock, describing this advertisement.

Excerpt August Bullock Copyright ©2004 all rights reserved

“The picture appears to portray a young couple sensually embracing each other. From the way they are dressed it appears they have been on a date, and have returned to one of their homes for a drink. A bottle of wine has been opened and two untouched glasses are on the table. The caption prominently proclaims “If you got crushed in the clinch with your soft pack, try our new hard pack.” The play on the words “hard” and “soft” is difficult to overlook. Even on a conscious level, the ad seems to be promising male potency and virility. The woman is extremely lovely. She is pressing herself against the man eagerly and seductively, as if she can’t wait for him to return her caresses and make passionate love to her. The man is staring at the viewer with a strange look on his face. If you only glanced at the picture for a moment or two you would probably assume he is thinking, “If you smoked Benson and Hedges you’d have beautiful women chasing after you too.” If you study his expression, however, you will discover that it is somewhat ambiguous. He could be smug, but he also could be a bit nervous.”

Who is this man looking at and why is he not looking at her?

“The man’s expression suggests that he shares a secret with male readers that the woman doesn’t know about.”

August Bullock

Now I won’t tell you what to look for, but I have enlarged a portion of the image below. The man’s left hand appears to be resting on the woman’s back, but is it or is this cleverly airbrushed by an artist? I think once you see what is there you will never forget it.


Remember, this ad appeared over 30 years ago and what we see and hear today makes this ad tame by comparison. This is just one ad and we have probably been exposed to many throughout our lives without knowing it.

Read the caption in the ad again, “If you got crushed in the clinch with your soft pack, try our hard pack.” What does this really mean? Could it be about impotency or the fear of intimacy? Having smoked cigarettes in my life I can tell you that when I was nervous about something, this would trigger the need or desire to smoke. The fact is people do smoke when they are nervous. The cigarette companies know this. So if the man in the picture is nervous about being intimate with this woman, what does this ad say? If you are nervous about intimacy, smoke Benson and Hedges to compensate? This ad reinforces tobacco dependency. It upsets the viewer that triggers anxieties. It promises to provide relief if you smoke Benson and Hedges. The ad cannot come right out and say you are afraid as it would fail because the viewer would resent the implication. But if subliminally stirred, the trigger of anxiety and smoking is pulled.

“We attempt to escape fear-producing stimuli. By producing fear we can alter people’s behavior. When caught in fear, we regress step by step to ever more infantile and animalistic drives.”

Ernest Dichter

 I am not sure whether or not the following are examples of subliminal suggestions, but Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King often had themselves planted in scenes of their movies. Was it just so they could act, or did they want the viewer to see them; remember them and buy more of their books and movies? Whatever is true, it is a fact that subliminal imbeds appear everywhere in the media. Whether they work or not is not the point. Many people do believe they work and that is one point. The last point is privacy and decency. Personally I resent all forms of this type of advertising. Oh, I suppose it could be used for something good. But no one likes to be deceived. OK, so how about this…
do NOT under any circumstances become a subscriber to this blog!

I-Magine Tie

Did my subliminal message work?

Just Imagine,


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