Subliminal Messaging: Sending The Right Message

Have you ever felt that, after watching a commercial or ad on television, you suddenly had the urge to do something?


Could the ad have a “hidden message” that affected your mind and triggered something inside of you to take action towards something? Could you have been hit by the dreaded “subliminal messaging” of ads?

Subliminal messages have, perhaps, been one of the most controversial topics when it comes to advertising and marketing: it proposes that marketers and advertisers can suddenly “control people’s minds” through the use of hidden messages or tones in their marketing and advertising collateral.


But, does it really work?




Subliminal Messaging: Does It Really Work?

Well, the short answer is: Yes and No.


Subliminal messaging doesn’t work like how we were told it does. The most popular notion of subliminal messaging is that it “reprograms” our mind to want something even if we don’t really want it – it’s like a mind-control tool that attacks us without us knowing. Pretty much something out of a science-fiction novel.

Before we dive in on how subliminal messaging works, let’s talk about the different forms of subliminal messaging:


Visual Subliminal Messaging – These are images flashed for a few seconds in between a commercial, video, or movie. It supposed to contain a message that our eyes can’t catch, but our subconscious will respond to, triggering a psychological effect in our brains that will make us want to do something suddenly. The flash is usually very quick (for commercials) or hidden within an image (for print ads or billboards).


Audio Subliminal Messaging – For audio subliminal messaging, it comes in the form of “echoes” in the background shouting a message or instruction that our ears will not catch but will trigger a psychological response in our brain. Often times, subliminal messaging can also come through the form of “backmasking” where the message is hidden within the song and can only be caught if you play the song backward. This is the most popular form of “subliminal messaging” and has sparked a lot of controversy in music history.



Subliminal Messaging In Marketing And Advertising

Subliminal messaging has been a big topic since the 1920s, but its popularity peaked greatly around the 1970s to up until the late 1990s. Subliminal messaging was controversial in the area of music, film, and advertising and marketing.


In the area of marketing and advertising, many suspect that big companies employ subliminal messaging in their marketing materials as well as their logos. Some big brands accused of doing this include Coca-Cola, Amazon, and even KFC. People often cite commercials of these big brands as propagators of the company’s subliminal messaging to buy their product.


While it may seem like a scary idea that advertising can “reshape” the way we think about our purchasing decisions, the power of subliminal messaging isn’t that great.



How Subliminal Messaging Works

Now that we know what subliminal messaging is, let’s see to what extent is the power of subliminal messaging and how strong is its effect on humans.


One study tried to see the relation of brand exposure on human behaviour. The results showed that there was an automatic response when respondents were exposed to the Apple logo:


“This article first examines whether brand exposure elicits automatic behavioral effects as does exposure to social primes. Results support the translation of these effects: participants primed with Apple logos behave more creatively than IBM primed and controls; Disney-primed participants behave more honestly than E!- primed participants and controls.”


This automatic response is attributed to the brand personality of the brand logo shown to the respondents: since Apple’s brand personality centres around creativity, respondents behaved more creatively; and since Disney’s brand personality is family-friendly, respondents behaved more honestly.


But this subliminal messaging has a certain limitation when it comes to eliciting action. According to a study:

“For subliminal messages to influence behavior, people must already want to do that behavior. For example, researchers found that subliminal messages relating to thirst were only effective toward participants who were already thirsty (Strahan, Spencer and Zanna, 2002). For people who weren’t thirsty, the subliminal messages made no difference.”


This just shows that while a brand’s subliminal messaging can affect our behaviour, it cannot fully control us from taking an action unless we have already conditioned ourselves that we want to do that certain action.



Be Careful With Your Messages

When dealing with advertising messages, it’s best to be careful with what you say and what kind of brand personality you want your customers to perceive. Not only is it crucial to have a good brand personality, but also that your messages subconsciously reinforce positive thoughts and ideas.


Brand management is not easy, especially if you don’t have the proper knowledge on how brands are perceived by people and how to craft messages in a way that audiences will receive it positively. When you want to have a proper brand image, it would be best to seek the help of a competent SEO team.