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What is subliminal advertising?

We explain what subliminal advertising is, its history and types that exist. In addition, its main features and some examples.

  1. What is subliminal advertising?

Subliminal advertising is called all types of advertisements, usually visual or audiovisual, that contain an undetectable message to the naked eye and that encourages consumption or that moves the viewer in a certain direction.

It is a type of illicit advertising in most laws , since it has the ability to enter a hidden message in a notice or in an advertisement, without the viewers being able to perceive it or be aware of it.

Subliminal advertising operates directly with the unconscious , letting the images be perceived by the passive aspects of the mind, and therefore without said message being controlled or supervised by the instances in charge of doing so. 

These hidden messages usually have the purpose of associating the advertising brand with some kind of primary sensation, so as to unconsciously mobilize the masses towards consumption , or to induce some kind of sensations in them that the company can then capitalize on. For example, if an ad subliminally induces hunger in its viewers, then it will surely sell them food.

From there comes the name of this type of advertising :  subliminal  means that it passes below ( sub  ) the limits ( liminal ) of perception. Subliminal messages are not exclusive to advertising, however. In many cases they have been used with artistic or experimental foundations, since there is still no official consensus regarding the true functionality of these types of messages.

  1. History of subliminal advertising

Many of the origins of this propaganda technique are wrapped in mystery or are part of contemporary myths. For example, the invention of subliminal advertising is attributed to James McDonald Vicary , an advertising expert in the United States in 1957.

This individual would have introduced one or two frames per minute in the audiovisual advertisements of the Coca-Cola Company (or other brands of the time) to subliminally influence the public, using a device called tachitoscope.

The inserted phrases were “Are you hungry? Eat popcorn ”or“ Are you thirsty? Take coke ”, which supposedly would act later inducing the consumption of these products. It is said that the technique was a resounding success, while other sources claim that it is a techno-myth.

Of course, the subliminal messages were not born at that time, but with the previous rise of psychoanalysis and the popularization of theories regarding the unconscious of Sigmund Freud. The human being has wanted to secretly influence the masses for a long time , as evidenced by films on the subject, such as   Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) or  Robert Wiene’s Cabinet of Dr.  Caligari  (1920).

  1. Types of subliminal advertising

Subliminal publicity
Hidden images use hidden lines, silhouettes or contours in a commercial.

In theory, subliminal advertising would use diverse techniques to secretly influence its audience, such as:

  • Hidden images . Hidden lines, silhouettes or contours are used in an advertisement to evoke in the viewer a reaction that has nothing to do with the product offered, but which is unconsciously associated with it.
  • Subliminal environments . These are contextual and accompanying conditions of the product that are apparently innocent or casual, but that serve to induce the viewer towards certain sensations or emotions that would be linked to the product.
  • Broadcasts high freq ency . It consists of the emission of images or words inciting consumption or a certain sensation, in a painting in the middle of an audiovisual or sound advertising, which is not consciously captured but is fixed in the subconscious mind.
  1. Characteristics of subliminal advertising

As we have said, the distinctive feature of subliminal advertising is its hidden and secret action, camouflaged in its apparently innocent context. Through various methods, this type of advertising incorporates a specific message into consumers’ minds that directly or indirectly encourages them to consume. It is an illegal type of advertising .

  1. Examples of subliminal advertising

Subliminal publicity
Fast food chains can get to use their colors with subliminal functions.

There are some historical examples of cases in which a company was accused of using hidden messages in their advertisements that appealed to primary sexual impulses, such as Vigiver’s announcement   of the Puig brand , in which a model took an arm out of a pool and supported him on the ground, right in the shadow of a model and in the region of his crotch.

The same was said of the coca-cola bottle, whose curves would unconsciously imitate a woman’s body, but the company’s executives claimed that their original inspiration had been a cocoa bean.

It has also been said that the colors of the large fast food chains fulfill a subliminal function , which is to generate in the client the opposite of hospitality: the feeling that he must eat fast and leave. This is achieved based on intense and vibrant, aggressive tones, everywhere.

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