What Is Subliminal Advertising? How Does It Work?

One of the most controversial and debated forms of marketing is subliminal advertising. The idea that a company can influence your buying habits, without you even knowing it, is fascinating yet scary at the same time. But is such a thing possible? And if so, how could it work?

Here’s a guide.

What Is Subliminal Advertising?

Subliminal advertising is a marketing technique that involves exposing individuals to subtle messages that are embedded within other things. This might be an image, a section of the text, or even video/audio. These messages are designed to affect the mind – consciously or subconsciously changing the customers’ buying habits, beliefs about certain products, etc.

Its goal is to influence without the target audience even knowing they are being influenced. In fact, they won’t realise these messages have any effect on them at all.

In simple terms, subliminal advertising leaves the viewers with a message in their heads that they did not consciously acquire from the advertisement.

For example, a simple image of a group of happy friends, with a Coca-Cola logo, in a cinema outlet before the movie starts or during the interval is subliminal advertising. Although individuals would think it to be an ad to increase brand awareness, its message is to make them want to drink coca-cola during their time at that place.

The rational explanation for this is simple: the subconscious mind is extremely more powerful than the conscious one. In the above example, the subconscious mind can process the Coca-Cola logo, assuming that Coca-Cola would be a great beverage for movie intervals.

How Does Subliminal Advertising Work?

Subliminal advertising works around subliminal messages or communication. These messages are not directly broadcast to an individual, instead, they are embedded within another message(s).

Subliminal messages aim to affect the mindset of an individual, without them even realising it. A simple example of this is in television advertisements.

Often, companies will use certain images or symbols in their adverts that associate with the product they are trying to sell. For example, a company selling a weight loss product might have an advertisement where a young, slim girl is eating a grape, and the healthy juice colour makes people subconsciously associate a healthier lifestyle with drinking this product. This technique relies on how your brain automatically associates images with products.

A real-life example of such a subliminal message is SFX magazine’s font style in its Jennifer Garner issue. SFX magazine is a popular magazine that covers a variety of science fiction movies and TV shows. In this special issue, SFX decided to have an interview with actress Jennifer Garner. And they tactically hid the bottom of the letter ‘F; that suggested the real title to be SEX. This was a ‘subliminal’ message to the reader, suggesting a more sexual theme behind the interview.

Subliminal Advertising SFX magazine

Unlike other marketing techniques such as direct or indirect advertising, the viewer/listener does not see subliminal messages unless they know what they’re looking for. They think it’s just another part of the advert and of no interest. But this is the key – the messages are actually designed to influence them unconsciously.

Importance Of Subliminal Advertising

Advertisers prioritise the relationship of a product with its utility and economic worth. However, when it comes to subliminal advertising, this is not the case. Subliminal advertising is about building a relationship with each customer by creating an emotional connection with their unique experiences and daily lives.

There are three main reasons why marketers use subliminal advertising-

  • It serves as an effective stimulator: Although people may say they make decisions rationally, in reality, emotion plays a major role in most purchases. Subliminal advertising taps into this by stimulating the emotions of the viewer.
  • It sets a lasting impression: Subliminal advertising can be likened to planting seeds in your subconscious mind. The advertisement makes an impact without you realising it, which goes on to influence future decisions regarding purchases.
  • It can be persuasive enough to change buying patterns: Subliminal messages are known to be persuasive enough to bring about a change in buying habits. It can make people realise they want something new, sending them out to buy it.

Advantages Of Subliminal Advertising

The advantages and benefits of using subliminal messaging as a form of advertising are endless. Outlined below is a list of the main advantages:

  • Subconscious connect: Subliminal messages appeal to the subconscious mind of a person who is being targeted. It compels them to buy a product without giving much thought to its advantages and disadvantages.
  • Better ROI: Subliminal advertising is also known to have a better return on investment than other indirect advertising forms. It can create an emotional bond between the product and its consumers, which ensures future purchases. It sets a lasting impression about specific products or services in customer’s subconscious minds, with them making future decisions based on the same
  • Easier to process: Subliminal messages are easier to process in comparison to direct forms of advertising that come with a lot of information. People who watch or listen to subliminal messages have an increased ability to recall when compared to those viewing straightforward advertisements. This is because their brains work at a higher level, making it easier to process the messages.
  • It resonates with consumers: Subliminal messages are able to resonate with people more than any other type of message because they are designed to tap into human emotions.
  • Creates an impact: Subliminal advertising is able to create a massive impression on its viewers without them even realising it. This is possible as people often have a threshold for how much they can pay attention to. When the messages are being sent below this threshold, they cannot be processed in a conscious manner and reach the subconscious instead.

Disadvantages Of Subliminal Advertising

Although subliminal messaging can be advantageous for an organisation, it does come with some disadvantages that must not be ignored. The following points highlight some of the disadvantages:

  • Customers may feel cheated: Subliminal advertising is often seen as a deceptive practice because it is not made known to consumers. Those targeted by this type of advertising may feel cheated because they do not know why they have a certain opinion about a product, so they may lose trust in the brand.
  • Messages may backfire: The messages being sent out in a subliminal manner may have the opposite effect to what was expected. For example, a car manufacturer may send a message saying something is fast in a bid to make their product look good. However, this backfires when the car is revealed to be slow, leading to customers feeling cheated and dissatisfied with the car
  • It cannot always be controlled: Although subliminal messaging can reach an individual’s subconscious mind, it cannot be targeted as easily compared to other forms of advertising due to its indirect nature. This means it may not reach all individuals who are supposed to receive the message, thus having an impact on the overall results.
  • No outright persuasion: Subliminal messaging does not always directly affect consumers, so it cannot be used to force them into making a purchase. This means organisations must find other ways of persuading customers to buy their products and services after being influenced by subliminal messages.
  • It could be misunderstood: Subliminal messages are often very open to interpretation, meaning that what you intend them to convey may not necessarily come across as intended. The effectiveness of these messages will depend on how well they are used, which is why marketers must be careful with the messages they send out.

Bottom Line

Subliminal advertising is becoming more popular among marketers today because of its ability to create an impact on consumers without them being aware of it. If used correctly, subliminal messaging can be a powerful tool for marketers who want to attract consumers to their products and services.

But it is still impossible to say whether or not subliminal advertising is effective. This is because there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to prove that these messages are enough to bring in the desired results. More research needs to be done before marketers can have a more solid opinion about whether this type of marketing is beneficial for them or not.

But one thing is clear: subliminal advertising has a lot of potential. The power to influence a person’s subconscious mind makes it a powerful tool for marketers who want to reach their customers in the most effective way possible.

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