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The first recorded subliminal investigation was conducted by James Vicary in 1957. He claimed that a study in which moviegoers enjoying a movie called Picnic were repeatedly shown 0.03-second subliminal cuts for Coca-Cola and Popcorn, expanded their foyer sales by 58% and 18%. Since the publication of his test the effect of subliminal messages in advertising has been hotly contested. A CIA summary of hypnotic messages titled 'The Operational Potential of Subliminal Perception', claimed that 'Certain individuals can at certain times and under certain circumstances be influenced to change their behaviour without awareness of the influence'. Because of this, subliminal cuts were all but outlawed in the US when the FCC ruled that the use of subliminal cuts could result in the loss of a broadcast license. In the UK and Australia subliminal advertising was also illegal, so it has never been possible to verify Vicary's earliest claim one way or the other. That is until recently.
To commemorate its 50th anniversary, the Vicary study was replicated at the International Branding Conference, MARKA2007 as part of the Hypnosis, Subconscious Triggers and Branding demonstration. The 1,400 delegates watched a few minutes of the movie used in the earliest research, PICNIC into which hypnotic messages had been planted at six second intervals. Then, the delegates were asked to choose between two fictitious brands. One brand 'Delta' had been prompted using the subliminal messages and the other 'Theta' had not.
When choosing between the two brands, 81% of the audience chose 'Delta' in preference to 'Theta'. This suggests a convincing substantiation of Vicary's results. 'Even though this technique was meant to have been banned, there are more sophisticated techniques being used in marketing today, this demonstrates the powerful influence of hypnotic messages' the presentation demonstrated. 'The subliminal cut was the mother of all hypnotic techniques and today her children walk all around you. They are everywhere, in posters, press advertising, on the radio and the T.V. They are the legal siblings of an illegal parent.'
Real life examples were then shown of the three most common hypnotic techniques present in advertising today. Each example was chosen because of its spontaneous recall amongst the public and its ability to dramatically increase sales. Most notable was the most watched advert on youtube in 2007, the Cadbury 'Gorilla'. This Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate advert features a gorilla playing drums to a Phil Collins soundtrack. The clip reached cult status and has been observed around 10 million times on the internet claimed a chart, published by the http://TellyAds.com website. Commercially the ad was responsible for multiplying Cadbury's market share by 30%.
The second example shown was the U.K's greatest ad ever as voted by Channel 4 viewers, the Guinness 'Surfer'. Despite being originally shown nearly 10 years ago this ad has left its mark because it still has instant awareness and very high levels spontaneous recall amongst its target audience.
Both ads use a number of well known hypnosis and subliminal techniques to promote their products. This is by no means unusual. An analysis of the 20 most popular ads ever reveals that all of them use some form of hypnosis or subliminal techniques to sell their message.
It seems that despite early attempts to ban it, the use of hypnosis and subliminals to increase market share are widespread in advertising.
About the Author: A free booklet on research for marketing is available to all marketing professionals who wish to improve their response rates from espconsultancy.com the market research specialists. Jim Brackin is Director of Insight at Esp.
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