Subliminal Advertising – Concept, characteristics and examples

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

Subliminal publicity
Subliminal advertising contains messages that are not visible to the naked eye.

What is subliminal advertising?

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

Is about a type of illegal advertising in most laws, since it has the ability to introduce 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, allowing the images to be perceived by the passive aspects of the mind, and therefore without the said message being controlled or supervised by the instances in charge of doing so.

These hidden messages are usually intended to associate the advertising brand with some type of primary sensation, so that unconsciously mobilize the masses towards consumption, or to induce some type of sensation in them that the company can then capitalize on. For example, if an ad subliminally induces hunger in your viewers, then surely it will sell them food.

That’s where the name of this type of advertising comes from: subliminal means that it goes under (sub) of the limits (liminal) of perception. Subliminal messages are not exclusive to advertising, however. In many cases they have been used with artistic or experimental grounds, since there is still no official consensus regarding the true functionality of this type of message.

History of subliminal advertising

Many of the origins of this propaganda technique are shrouded in mystery or are part of contemporary myths. For instance, James McDonald Vicary is credited with inventing subliminal advertising, an advertising expert in the United States in 1957.

This individual would have inserted 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 a taquitoscope.

The phrases inserted were “Are you hungry? Eat popcorn ”or“ Are you thirsty? He takes coca-cola ”, which supposedly would act afterwards by inducing the consumption of these products. The technique is said to have been a resounding success, while other sources claim that it is a techno-myth.

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

Types of subliminal advertising

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

In theory, subliminal advertising would use various 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 is unconsciously associated with it.
  • Subliminal settings. 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.
  • High frequency emissions. 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 advertisement, which is not consciously captured but is fixed in the subconscious mind.

Characteristics of subliminal advertising

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

Examples of subliminal advertising

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

There are some historical examples of cases in which a company was accused of using hidden messages in its advertising that appealed to primary sexual impulses, such as the announcement of Vetiver Puig brand, in which a model took an arm out of a pool and rested it on the ground, right in the shadow of a model and in the region of her crotch.

The same was said of the Coca-Cola bottle, the curves of which would unconsciously mimic a woman’s body, but the company directors claimed that its original inspiration had been a cocoa bean.

It has also been said that the colors of the big fast food chains play a subliminal function, which is to generate in the client the opposite of hospitality: the feeling that they should eat quickly and leave. This is achieved through intense and vibrant tones, aggressive, everywhere.