How Marketers Can Use Subliminal Messaging


Disney once recalled 3.4 million VHS tapes of The Rescuers. And it wasn’t because the tapes were a choking hazard. Disney had intentionally inserted the picture of a nude woman in their children’s film.

Of course, Disney never admitted why the image ended up there in post production. But the reason is obvious. Disney was probing the boundaries of what they could sneak into films.

Why would anyone want to sneak something unrelated to the plot into their film? Is it some sort of practical joke?

Enter subliminal messaging.

What is Subliminal Messaging?

The human mind is so complicated, we often resort to metaphor to describe what it does and what happens to it. While likely, we’re consciousness is one experience, we divide it into two parts. There is the conscious and the unconscious.

The conscious part of the mind takes information we directly “see” and conceptualizes it. The unconscious part takes in all the other information we couldn’t possibly process and think about in the moment and files it for possible later use.

The unconscious part of the mind is what subliminal messages attempt to target. And advertisers have been targeting the subconscious for decades.

In fact, in 1957, psychologist and researcher James McDonald Vicary inserted the words “Hungry? Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola’ in 0.03-second flashes during a film. The study was gimmick and it was the response to the study that showed people at lease believe subliminal messaging works.

Other researchers found that word related to thirst presented to already thirsty people increased how much people drank later. And the people were not aware they had seen the words.

It would be like someone inserting the words, “buy insta likes” into their Instagram Stories video and presenting a link later to see if more people click on it. You’re still likely to get people who already wanted that kind of product or service, but they’ll be more likely to make the jump.

Places to Use Subliminal Messaging

Media representations of subliminal messaging are meant to scare you. You see Tyler Durden in Fight Club inserting porn into family films. You see Disney actually doing the same thing. What are they doing to us?!

But in reality, subliminal messaging can only connect to what is already in the observer’s mind. It’s like the age-old illusion trick where you either see people having sex or an ocean scene with frolicking dolphins. The mind sees only what you’ve conditioned it to perceive.

Thus, brands use subliminal messaging to connect to the customer’s emotions. One common place you’ll see subliminal messaging is in logo branding. Nike used the “swish” to tell customers they’ll be successful at their sport if they use their products.

Implement logo colors for an easy application of subliminal messaging. If you’re trying to excite your customers, red is a brilliant option. It often conjures images of passion. (Fun trick, if you’re going on a date, wear red. Your date will perceive you to be more attractive.)

If you’re trying to influence people through a text, try direct voice. Be commanding. Instead of using passive voice, tell people what to do. Use direct calls to action throughout your content.

And in video, use the background to make suggestions to your users. Films have been doing this for years. You’ll see a Microsoft logo on a laptop or a BMW in a Bond Film. Brands want you to associate their product with various concepts and modes of action.

Subliminal Messaging Takes Foreplanning

Using subliminal messaging in your advertising takes a lot of foreplanning. But it can pay off dividends if you do it right.

Insert various things into your content to see what sticks. You’ll have to analyze data, but it might be worth it in the end.



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