Here’s a fun fact: This was actually written as part of an assignment in my Consumer Behaviour course just a couple months back. This post is quite… extremely different from the stuff I usually post. It’s scarier than it is educational, just because it makes you question, “Are my thoughts really my thoughts… Or are they the thoughts that advertisers and marketers were paid to plant inside my head?” After being shown a video of Derren Brown’s deceptive experiment on two advertising experts in class, we saw that even the whimsical geniuses of deception (advertisers) are susceptible to subliminal messaging… Therefore, maybe we shouldn’t feel that bad, since the tricksters themselves are… tricked.
Sublime messages are messages that bypass to our subconscious/unconscious minds – with their ability to manipulate and control our reactions and thoughts of products. By appealing to our fears and desires on a subconscious level, society is less likely to critically ‘judge and analyse’ the underlying message that the product purports. Instead, they accept the product to some degree – even if they are not consciously aware of it at the time. As these messages are below our immediate perceptive threshold, and are usually presented with something that is more neutral at the conscious level – this pacifies our resistance to this form of advertising.
Why subliminal messaging works so effectively:
“With motivational research, they have found eight hidden needs in the human psyche: emotional security, reassurance of worth, ego-gratification, creative outlets, love objects, sense of power, sense of roots, and immortality.”
With much research conducted on the desires of human beings, advertisers are able to subliminally appeal to our desires at a subconscious level. A common appeal that is used is an appeal to our sexual desires. This may appear in the form of images, or even using double entendres, that consciously appear innocent, but upon further analysis can be seen to hold sexual connotations. Using these desires, advertisers are also able to reverse the process and appeal to our fears, such as losing our power or being unloved if a certain course of action is not undertaken.
Using techniques such as the Rorscharch ink blot test, Szondi test, Thematic apperception test, hypnosis and through the analysis of dreams and nightmares – advertisers are able to access our subconscious to some degree. Through this, they are able to assume desires and fears of their potential consumers. Once gaining access to information of desire, they can either manipulate consumers into believing the product holds the key to their desires – or alternatively, it can appeal to sense of fear, taking away something valued or even appealing to fear of death.
Unfortunately, within us we all have perceptual defense mechanisms that may block certain stimuli from entering our conscious mind. ‘Why is it unfortunate?’ you may ponder. It is unfortunate because it allows perceptual distortions/limitations in daily life to bypass our conscious awareness, and be stored in our subconscious, which holds a greater capacity. Although this isn’t directly harmful to our wellbeing, it influences the choices we make, and we can’t even exactly pinpoint why we are influenced to behave in a certain way, or why ‘instincts’ tell us to purchase a product.
Defense mechanisms work at multiple forms of our defenses including: repression, isolation, regression, fantasy formation, sublimation, denial, projection, and introjection. Where this benefits the advertiser is that they will embed the message in a way that may be offensive but associatively memorable at a personal level, and an individual may bring it back to consciousness when they physically see the product in a supermarket or shopping centre.
However! Not all is lost, my friends. Where the defense mechanisms drag us down, they also do stop us from going insane.
At the neurological level, when we are watching television/movies, we are more susceptible to subliminal messaging because our brain shifts to Alpha waves. This is a relaxed, meditative state where the audiences are generally passive and accepting of information. Especially with media, although some viewers are able to stay to some degree of alertness, others use watching TV as ‘wind down time’. In this state of mind they selectively choose not to focus on material at a completely conscious level (at Beta waves), instead their intent is just to be relaxed and absorbed in the world of the show. At this stage they are at their most vulnerable – the perfect time for an advertiser to strike and take advantage of the audience. Although there are laws stating that extreme degrees of deception are illegal – with subliminal messaging, it is often hard to provide sufficient evidence, as it can be dubbed as circumstantial, thus unintended.
Seriously though, talk about taking advantage of our vulnerabilities, those sly foxes.
It scares me a little that my ‘instincts’ may… and probably are built on the basis of deception and lies… But, hey, go perceptual defense systems for not letting me go crazy.
Also, the following are areas of behaviour that are influenced by subliminal messaging sourced from ‘Subliminal Advertising and Modern Day Brainwashing’ by Dr Lechnar: conscious perception, emotional response, drive-related behaviours, adaptation levels, verbal formulations, memory, perceptual defenses, dreams, psychopathology, and purchasing and consumption behaviour. Highly recommend you click on the link, it’s a long read but it’s super informative.