Is Subliminal Marketing for You?
It was 1981 when I discovered sex in photos of ice cubes and Ritz crackers. I was a high school junior and I was desperate. This was back when finding anything about sex was difficult.
Dr. Wilson Bryan Key and his books Media Sexploitation and Subliminal Seduction changed that. He revealed how ad men hid sexual content in all their work, subconsciously steering us to consume.
As the titles of Key’s books suggest, he was concerned, but he wasn’t alone. Newsday called the technique “the most alarming invention since the atom bomb.”(Brainwash by Dominic Streatfeild). The books opened my eyes. I didn’t have to search for sex anymore! It was in the ads of every issue of my parents’ Christian Science Monitor!
The first physiological evidence that subliminal images grab the attention of the subconscious brain finally came in 2007. Dr. Bahador Bahrami of the University of College London said that their study didn’t prove that the subliminal influenced you, but the there was no doubt that the brain registered the messages unconsciously. Bahrami concluded, “subliminal advertising may affect our decisions.”
He wasn’t the only Englishman delving into the subliminal. A year earlier, magician and mentalist Derren Victor Brown performed a Brit-styled Punk’d switcharoo on a marketing firm showing the power of unconscious persuasion. This may not be science, but it is enlightening.
There are laws against subliminal messaging, but by its nature evidence is elusive, and laws are vague. Little action has ever been taken even when incidents are recorded.
As a result, what are the ethical issues of such potential power? Nudge authors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein adopt the rule of transparency, meaning an organization is banned from doing something they are not able or willing to defend publicly. You can be subliminal as long as you are open about it.
I agree with this simple, but powerful test. If a company can’t comfortably defend its marketing techniques in public, it should not pursue those techniques at all.