The power of using subliminal messaging to influence consumer behaviour

Written By Jason Ferriggi and Ivan De La Cruz

Subliminal Advertising

Consumer behaviour is the process of trying to get inside a consumer’s mind in order to predict or persuade purchasing habits. This element of marketing in entrenched in psychology and therefore could be classified as the science behind the profession.  What fascinates us about this area of Marketing is the concept of subliminal messaging or using practices to influence consumer behaviour by subconsciously altering preferences or attitudes toward consumer products (Moore, 1982).  Although there are plenty of examples of subliminal messages being used (pictures, sounds, shapes and jingles) in advertising, there still seems to be a general consensus that it doesn’t work (Iacobucci, 2013).

Well our blog is attempting to challenge the claim that subliminal messaging doesn’t work by posing the view that maybe subliminal messaging has become so effective and prolific that we are now not even aware of its use, after all; that is the whole aim.  An example that hits home for us is the subliminal messaging that is used by Hungry Jacks in their advertising campaigns.  For many years ‘Hungry Jacks’ used the slogan “The burgers are better at Hungry Jacks” at the end of their television commercials, although the slogan seemed harmless it was amazing that to this day we remember the slogan and images relating to the commercials. If we were to ask ourselves who sells the better burgers, McDonalds or Hungry Jacks? We might find ourselves instinctively answering Hungry Jacks without considering why.  For us this is a demonstration of the power of subliminal messaging and has converted us to side of believer rather than sceptic.  We will often repeat advertising slogans or hum commercial tunes without being aware that we are doing so. Is it a catchy jingle, picture or subliminal messages at play?  How many times have you found yourself humming a commercial jingle or repeating a slogan?

Check out this web site: https://www.marketingmag.com.au/news-c/annoying-advertising-jingles/ we are guilty of singing 10 of the 12 jingles from time to time. So either we watch too much television or are we being slowly conditioned or primed to accept these company’s products into our lives?  Unpacking this a little further has the advertising/marketing campaign worked if all we do is sing the jingle rather than buy the products? Thinking about this we reviewed the commercials on the web site and in particular the products that we had used over the years.  We discovered that we could recall 10 commercials/jingles without any problems, even though some of these ads were over 10 years old.  Out of these 10 ads we had used 8 (or 80%) of the products/services, which is not a bad strike rate.  Not surprisingly we could still sing the 10 jingles without needing to re-watch the commercials.

Do you think subliminal messaging works? We believe it does and look forward to your opinion on this topic. Tell us what annoying jingle or images get stuck in your head.

References:

Hungry Jacks Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkEaOBSl6uA

Iacobucci, D. (2014) Marketing Management (MM), 4th Edition, Cengage Learning, Mason, Ohio: South-Western.

MOORE, T. E. 1982. Subliminal Advertising: What You See Is What You Get. Journal of Marketing, 46, 38-47.

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25 thoughts on “The power of using subliminal messaging to influence consumer behaviour

  1. The one that really stands out in my mind isn’t so much a jingle as a slogan ‘we bought a jeep’
    The success of this campaign is baffling to me. The phase ‘we bought a jeep’ contains no information about the product. It’s spoken by various people in everyday situations (a woman cleaning up her kids toys, two women having a cheap Chinese dinner, blokes at a BBQ) and is not shown to be aspirational, safe, fast or any of the qualities that car manufactures usually link into their ads.
    http://www.motoring.com.au/news/2014/jeep/the-automotive-year-the-ad-campaign-we-loved-to-hate-in-2014-48250

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    • Jeeps tend to be like Apple, you either love them or you hate them. To me, “We bought a Jeep” advertising campaign is repulsive, so I guess I’m not the target audience. Jeep are obviously not trying to win everyone over, they seem to be trying to get that niche market. Risky move going for brand loyalty in this day and age, but I guess it works for Apple.

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  2. All i know is … i want a burger right now! I am so surprised I could remember all of those commercials and jingles, believe it or not i caught myself singing ‘decore re re’ just the other day. Good grief.

    Is this true subliminal messaging though, or just incredibly good advertising? What comes to mind for me when i think of subliminal messages would be hidden images or words that flash up on the screen so fast you may not cognitively read it, but the repeated exposure may eventually cause the information to be processed.

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    • I’m thinking along your lines – that subliminal advertising is sounds, images, or other stimulation that we take in unconsciously, rather than associative slogans and jingles that are remembered.
      When brands are ‘prominently placed’ in tv shows and movies, that could possibly be subliminal if it’s done subtly.

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      • I agree. We debated over whether the Coke Santa is associated with Christmas now because of his red and white uniform.

        I like to think of the difference as when you think about a product before purchasing it (conscious mind and subconscious mind), that’s brand awareness, but if you reach for it without while focused on something else (subconscious mind and unconscious mind), that’s subliminal advertising. I think the confusion occurs because the subconscious mind is used in both cases and its hard to draw a distinctive line.

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  3. An interesting link, and topic. As like you, I found myself singing along to most of those advertising jingles. Take the 2005 Bananas “make your body sing” advert and compare it to the 2009 reboot (https://youtu.be/YZldrAYHGY0 ), and then the 2012 version (https://youtu.be/gjhohEqv4so)

    The jingle has been jazzed up and the focus becomes more about what you shouldn’t be eating, or more what you should substitute with a banana. Although they have stuck with the original theme “make your body sing”. This ties the advertising campaign together, from 2005 up until the present, and works on that subliminal messaging theory you have.

    However the images / video footage that goes along with it has seen a substantial change from the 2005 version. Now we have attractive, barely clothed beautiful young people enjoying their bananas and unlimited energy, compared to the tired, overweight and somewhat unattractive looking people eating their chocolate bars and energy drinks. Looking at the 2005 version, which has a focus on kids being active and having fun, were seeing a very common trend towards the sexualisation of products / advertising. Who would have thought that eating a banana could be so much fun? yet some of the key visual triggers in these commercials are bordering on the offensive side of things. It is an easy way to make your product appealing, put it in the hand of a good looking girl in a bikini, then everyone will buy it, right?

    It becomes a clear insight into what the marketers / advertisers have found as a winning formula for selling their product. I Personally have found myself more interested with advertising that either makes you question something, makes you engage / think, or leaves you wondering. Having said that, I don’t know if I necessarily then purchased those products.

    Catchy jingles will always penetrate into your subconscious, leave you tapping your feet, or humming a tune. however I think advertising in the now is more about engaging, or even challenging, the target consumer, and not just capturing their attention for 30 seconds with beautiful bodies. You have to leave a lasting impression, it might be hours, days or even weeks until they are in the position to purchase your product.

    I wonder if a subliminal message is what is really making me want to eat something? or maybe It’s the jingle, or maybe it’s situational, or that its because I’m just hungry.

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    • Did you notice in the new version they did a few second image of the girl in the bikini’s bum (0:08 – 0:09). That was a subliminal message about the product. If you eat bananas women get bums like a teenage girls and men get sex with women who have bums like a teenage girl. I’m surprised we aren’t knee deep in banana skins by now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that the psycology of marketing is the most fascinating aspect of marketing. I know what you mean about the jingles, there’s one in particular linked to a burger chain I can remember from 1976! As to the jeep ad, I though it was clever even though it did nothing for me. However, my husband is in the market for a new SUV/4WD & is seriously considering a Jeep & is forever paraphrasing the ad & saying how much he loves it. Going back to subliminal marketing, think of the Gruen Effect/Transfer which hits you from the minute you eneter a shopping mall or a supermarket. We are not aware of all the subliminal messges we are hearing & seeing as we walk through a store where items are placed in certain areas so that you have to walk past them.
    Thanks for the articles/links -very interesting!

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  5. Subliminal advertising is such an interesting technique used by marketers. Whether it works or not is debatable and according to most research I have seen regarding its effectiveness it does not. I remember the big controversy regarding Network Ten’s use of subliminal advertising during the ARIA Awards and how in between each award one the major sponsors logo would be shown for 1/25th of a second. Please click the link below if you would like to watch a news report regarding this issue. Finally, I feel the use of “The Burgers Are Better at Hungry Jacks” slogan is not really subliminal advertising, but more just creative and effective marketing and not so different to McDonalds “I’m Lovin’ It” although I think the McDonalds slogan is not as effective.

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    • Thank you the video, a very interesting look at the use of subliminal advertising. What surprises me is why is subliminal advertising illegal if all the research states it doesn’t work. We are certainly going to dig a little deeper into this area.

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    • You consider the slogan “Burgers are better are Hungry Jacks” as creative marketing and compare it with McDonalds. I agreed with you on that point. But aren’t using suggestive comments a form of subliminal advertising? (I don’t know the answer to this, just throwing a suggestion out there).

      If the burgers are better, then they must be better then the other guy.

      If it has a top 10 or hit song then the whole album must be cool.

      If this is the best in the world/Australia/field, then it must be better than the
      competition.

      Are these suggestive statements not some form of subliminal advertising because your subconscious mind is so stupid it believes everything?

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      • An interesting argument! But i believe personally that this is not what is meant by subliminal but I am happy to be proven wrong

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  6. I think subliminal advertising is one of the most interesting aspects of marketing and was quite shocked when I read in the textbook that it has been shown to be mostly ineffective. I am yet to invest the time to review the articles related to it but I am still struggling to grasp the concept that learning only takes place on a conscious level.

    My understanding is repeated exposure (even if it is subconscious) will breed familiarity. So if you are exposed to something often enough, even if you don’t want to, you have a greater likelihood to recalling it.

    The thought with subliminal advertising is that familiarity typically produces more positive responses then negative so the more exposure you get the better, conscious or unconscious.

    I would have thought the use of jingles involves some degree of conscious learning.

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    • (Sorry about the test message…my post wasn’t working)

      Those jingles were a trip down memory lane!

      Whilst I agree that jingles, catch phrases and slogans become something that is easily associated and recognisable with a particular product or service, I don’t think that it necessarily makes you buy it. Jingles and slogans are an important marketing tool and their purpose is to catch the consumer’s attention and make them think twice about a product. It promotes brand awareness – sometimes with a negative effect, such as the Jeep ad which was mentioned in an earlier post.

      Subliminal advertising or messaging are brief images or sounds which targets our subconscious so we are more susceptible to buying that particular product, however they are sometimes so fleeting and unrecognisable (as in the previous Media Watch – ARIA clip) that it poses the question…is subliminal advertising really that effective if you can’t even see the message??

      I came across this interesting article about subliminal messaging and experiments which were conducted, which I thought may be of interest…
      http://www.vox.com/2014/9/8/6111847/do-subliminal-messages-work

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      • Hi Pina, thanks for the link, seems like the evidence keeps piling up that subliminal advertising doesn’t work.

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      • I got the opposite from that article. It suggests that subliminal advertising works only on people who are open to suggestions, similar to hypnotism, and only in a very gentle way. Which makes sense as when we map things in our head we do so in a gentle way, because all associations can be re-written.

        What it does suggest is that subliminal message is not something that will hypnotize us into zombies seeking the next big expensive thing. That takes black people with colorful backgrounds dancing with white things in their ears.

        But its not to say that constant subliminal advertising can’t eventually catch us at our most vulnerable and influence us. Helping to create a bond that was not there before. Just seems like a whole lot of effort for an opportunity of a little reward.

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  7. Although research sugggest that subliminal advertising is ineffective, think of a time at a grocery store or a super market when trying to make a decision between two brands, how much a jingle from a product has helped to narrow fa decision? I think jingles in general are catchy, no matter how much we hate them. I remember a time when I wanted to order pizza for dinner I remembered the Pizza Hut jingle…”Pizza Hut call 13 11 66!” and because I didn’t have to looking up their phone number, I ended up ordering Pizza Hut over Dominos pizza.

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  8. Sensation and perception does play an important role in marketing and subliminal messages do work in attracting consumers’ attention.When consumers do their shopping,they are probably paying most of their attention to the content of message yet other information is being expession.Those cues make an expression become more familiar and emotioned,which can be remembered better by consumers.Subliminal messages are part of the brand,which plays a positive role in production development.

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  9. I think its like a flash memory into a human mind, they exist when the brands evolve during the entire lifecycle of the product…even sometimes it goes beyond that, i feel not only the word or sound and but people cannot feel it on instant rather it will get strike when they come across the brand next time to buy it. Normally people used to prefer the know product or brands, so the subliminal adds helps to recognise the human to identity that they have came across somewhere and tend to buy it. Even i remember that i get confuse on when i go for shops to buy some desired products and later picked a product that i already aware of seeing it .

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  10. I personally think subliminal marketing works and I agree that the very nature and intent of subliminal marketing is for consumers to be unaware of what is really going on. Catchy jingles getting stuck in one’s head are an indication that subliminal commercials are far easier to remember than ordinary ones, with consumers remembering ads even years after watching them.

    Perhaps a true test of effectiveness is whether consumers actually go out to buy the product. The blog post indicates that out of 10 subliminal ads consumers had used 8 (or 80%) of the products/services, this seems to indicate that the ads are in fact effective.

    In which case how much more effective are they than ordinary ads?

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  11. Corporate Logos That Contain Subliminal Messaging

    William Peter Blatty, author of “The Exorcist” said, “There are no subliminal images. If you can see it, it’s not subliminal.”

    Subliminal messaging may or may not work, saying that, there are hidden images in company logos.

    Amazon — The cleverness of this logo is twofold. The arrow points from a to z, referring to all that is available on Amazon.com, and it doubles as a satisfied smile (with dimple).

    Eighty20 — This market data research company incorporated the binary code spelling of their name. Using blue squares as ones and grey squares as zeros, 1010000 (20) is the top line, while 0010100 (80) is the bottom.

    FedEx — The FedEx logo hides an arrow in its negative space. Even a glance subliminally inspires thoughts of efficiency and forward motion.

    NBC — Most are familiar with the peacock in the NBC logo, but it’s still easy to look over.

    Toblerone — See the dancing bear in the mountain? The design is a tribute to the Swiss town where the chocolate was developed.

    http://www.businessinsider.com.au/
    15 Corporate Logos That Contain Subliminal Messaging

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