Hidden Persuaders: The Psychology of Subliminal Perception

Posted on July 22, 2015

Photo: flickr

Nearly fifty years ago an American writer called Packard argued that by using subliminal cues, advertisers and marketeers persuaded people to buy against their will. They were being cynically manipulated. The theory is that people can be emotionally and behaviourally affected by visual or vocal stimuli whose presence they do not report.

But lack of evidence has never got in the way of a good theory. So down the years journalists and popular authors have argued that some, even most advertisements contain hidden sexual images or particular brand names or messages that affect our susceptibility to those advertisements. So the attention-grabbing, paranoid, but evidence free myth goes: clever (wicked) advertisers can make you do things against your better judgement, conscious decision making or will, by subliminal messages in (mainly television, but also radio) ads. Careful research has suggested,as one reviewer put it: this idea is absurd or laughable and ludicrous, paranoid and preposterous.

Scientists have tested these assumptions carefully. The jury is back. There is no evidence for most of these theoretically-jumbled claims. This is therefore not only quackery but fraud: the advertisements have the obvious intention to deceive people who want a fast, cheap ‘cure’ involving little willpower or pain.

And here is the paradox. Scientific evidence is often full of caveats and not written in everyday, easily accessible language. Scientists write for each other. Scientists might be unanimous in their evidence-based opinion that subliminal tapes make fraudulent claims, but they don’t seem too hot at getting their message across.

On the other hand the commercially savvy tape-producers have commissioned advertising agencies to design new campaigns. Using scientific jargon and imagery and the power of repetition, the aggressive campaigns have succeeded in keeping the myths alive. Ironic that traditional advertising succeeds in selling subliminal tapes that don’t persuade.

Adverstisers and marketing people are clever and resourceful. They know how to manipulate our mood which can influece our nehaviour while shopping. They do their best to make us recall their brand and have positive associations with it. And they are now turning to "brain science" to make them even more successful. The hope for many is to find those "hidden persuaders" that may actually work this time.

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Source material from https://www.psychologytoday.com/