Subliminal Marketing

This is where advertisement targets our subconscious mind, and this will later influence our decision making in the near future. Marketing has evolved to a point where they even seek psychological guide on the best way to capture people’s attention thus affecting their decision making.

An organization’s marketing is effective when it delivers a message that sticks in consumers’ minds and influences them to buy. Consumers experience subliminal perception from marketing messages that influence them without their conscious knowledge. Subliminal influence on consumer buying behavior has been studied and debated for decades. Many marketers include subliminal words and images in advertising, while others don’t make it a priority.

Subliminal Marketing

Subliminal messages influence consumers only under certain conditions. “Subliminal” means “below the threshold,” so subliminal messages are aimed at consumers’ subconscious minds. Many marketers include subliminal references to sex, power, happiness, hunger or wealth in their print, online and television ads or in brand logos. For example, one print ad for Coca Cola featured frost that some argued was subtly shaped in the image of a naked woman on the top of a can. Presumably, that image would shift the perception of the drink and make it more attractive to the target market. In another example, the Amazon logo features a smiley face that connects the letters A and Z in Amazon as if to suggest that consumers can find anything from A to Z and always be happy doing business with Amazon.

Creating Preferences

Subliminal marketing can influence consumers to prefer your product if they don’t already have a strong preference for a competing product. For example, in a 2011 study published in the “Journal of Consumer Psychology,” researchers tested whether a subliminal message of an iced-tea brand could influence viewers’ choices when they were given the option to drink iced-tea or bottled water at the end of an experiment. The data determined that only thirsty viewers were influenced, and only those who either didn’t prefer iced tea or didn’t prefer either choice were influenced to choose the iced tea because of the subliminal message.

Motivation Necessary

Consumers have to have heard of the brand in a subliminal message, and be motivated to do what the subliminal message suggests, in order to be influenced by subliminal perception. For example, if you don’t own a dog, watching a subliminal message to “Buy Brand-X dog food” flashed quickly at intervals throughout a movie won’t influence you to buy dog food. The subliminal message may influence you, however, to choose Brand-X over Brand-Y if you already plan to buy dog food after watching the movie. At the same time, the subliminal message about Brand-X will likely have no influence on a dog food-buying consumer if the consumer strongly prefers Brand-Y or has never heard of Brand-X before.

The question if this kind of marketing works is still debatable and at what scale does it affect our decision making is the main question. It is unethical to do this but scientists can’t link the use of subliminal marketing to affecting the consumer’s decision making.

“Subliminal Marketing” is a mode of promoting messages by stimulating unconscious mind of the recipient, without him/her even knowing about it. Subliminal advertising is a kind of marketing where a message is intentionally embedded within an image or sound. Many people might not be consciously aware about being exposed to such implications but will often change their actions and attitudes after viewing/ listening to the advertisement.

Our senses are constantly being bombarded with enormous amount of information, only a small percentage of data reaches our consciousness, however our subconscious mind absorbs almost everything.

Subconscious mind is fed the information and it absorbs like a sponge.

Today an average supermarket contains varied options of consumable items and billions are spent on advertising each year, with figures growing exponentially. To SEPARATE THE BEST FROM THE REST, advertisers have came up with this novice concept of subliminal marketing. It’s a technique of exposing the consumers to images of the product, brands, without the consumers being consciously aware of. Once the customers are exposed to such stimulus, the brain of the customer is believed to decode the information by itself and act upon it without the power to acknowledge a communication stimulus.

A successful subliminal advertisement is one that inconspicuously entices consumers to buy and use various products and services.


The history of its inception dates back to 1957 when message of “Drink Coca Cola” & “Eat popcorn” was superimposed on the movie in progress. The firm reported a dramatic increase in sales of both the items after this, though no written documentation was provided. While some newspapers of that time termed it as the NEXT BIG THING after invention of gun, others raised concerns over ethics of using such techniques to target unconscious part of the human brain. In some countries such as Canada and Australia there were trials and cases against use of subliminal advertising but since there was no scientific implication of such messages, thus the companies following such strategy, always had judgements in their favour.

What science says?

There are three identifiable means of subliminal simulation for which strong behavioural effects have been claimed.

  • First involves very briefly visual stimuli presented fora very brief duration.
  • Second is the use of accelerated speech in low volume auditory messages.
  • Third is the embedded and hidden erotic imagery in print advertisements.

Limitation with presenting subliminal stimuli is to take into account the varied threshold level of each individual. In order to preclude detection by those with relatively low threshold level, the stimulus would have to be so weak that it would not reach viewers with high threshold level. Another constraint lies in the fact that integration of subliminal stimuli into ongoing supraliminal material is not an easy task because of the timing of the blank interval, before and after the supraliminal material. Too short interval will result in masking of subliminal message by supraliminal and too long interval will lead to subject inferring the presence of stimuli.

Counter Argument:

The greatest threat to subliminal messages is the threshold problem as mentioned above. The fact is that even if 1% of the target population receives the message in the intended way, then the whole exercise will be worthwhile. Also if the subliminal messages lead to growth in consumption of any type of article say cigarette, then the chances of the increase in sales of the interested brand of cigarette are very high.


Scientific world is still baffled with subliminal messages. All the information that is available showed inconsistency in experimental results and indirect correlations that didn’t necessarily prove if this type of marketing is successful. Scientifically messages that are flashed before a viewer’s eye do stimulate the brain and can result in the purchase of a product, but not always. Thus subliminal marketing comes down to a chance.

But the marketing firms have embraced this technology with open hands. The use of subliminal marketing is on an all time high owing to few successful results in the past. Also the issue of ethics is unresolved when it comes to use of this mode of marketing. Issues are plenty and no perfect solution has been offered so far, thus the contention goes on.