Subliminal means below the level of the conscious mind. The brain perceives the information in theory, but the mind does not interpret the information for meaning. A lot of studies indicate that we do perceive information at the subliminal level. A good example is how often do you notice when your speedometer is about to roll over to a bunch of zeroes. You don’t consciously notice the mileage on your car very often, but the zeroing makes you pay attention. If you drove to work today, how many cars did you pass? What makes and models were they? You saw them, at least I presume unless you crashed into a bunch of them. The only ones you paid particular attention to were probably the really neat cars or those driven by people you recognize.
If you notice something consciously, then it is not subliminal or at least not subliminal anymore. A common Bacardi ad shows a woman in a red dress, holding a drink and a cigar. You can’t miss the cigar. The meaning of the cigar may be innuendo, but it is not subliminal.
Some methods of subliminal persuasion include these:
1. Smell. Disney World puts vanilla on cookie sheets and heats it in an oven. People smell “cookies baking” and come to the cookie shop for fresh cookies. In reality, the cookies were baked someplace else. The smell of vanilla reminds us of cookies.
Several studies on humans indicate that men are much more attracted to a woman when her body is releasing pheromones. Men don’t consciously smell her, but still smell tells them that she is in the most fertile part of her cycle.
2. Sight. Usually images are hidden within images. They can be upside down or distorted or appear so commonplace that we miss it. I’ll show you lots of ads that are examples of visual subliminal persuasion. Film and television can also be used as subliminal media. Most subliminal messages appeal to sex. I presume sex is used because companies want consumers to feel sexy about buying alcohol, clothing, or cigarettes.
3. Sound. Sound can be played at a level that is higher or lower than the range of conscious human hearing. Sound can be backmasked, meaning the subliminal message is laid down on one track and then other tracks of sound are placed over the top of it.
Some stores backmask subliminal messages to try to control shoplifting. Some motivation tapes also use subliminal. As one friend told me, “I use subliminal on my tapes. I don’t think it works, but maybe it does.”
4 and 5. Touch and taste. I guess you could make surfaces with touches that would convey information subliminally. I have never heard of any subliminal touching. Places like McDonald’s make sure that food items feel and taste good in the mouth.
To me the bottom line is this: A subliminal signifier is still going to be interpreted by a schema, which includes all the signifieds of the receiver’s experiences. Subliminal will not be more effective or less effective than other persuasion techniques.
Some of the following images are flat out kinky. Most come from magazines that you could buy at WalMart. Still, the content is adult oriented. One person’s subliminal may be another person’s ice bubbles. Make you own decisions. However, remember that professional photographers, graphic artists, models, and writers design this ads as part of a campaign that would easily cost a $100,000. Is anything an accident or just left to chance?