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January 20, 2015
Subliminal Advertising: Real or No?
The idea that advertisers and marketers could use subliminal advertising in order to sway opinion has been around for decades. Study after study, control group after control group, researchers have continually failed to create statistically significant evidence that subliminal advertising can actually work.

However, as we all know about proof of science, no scientist or researcher could prove that subliminal advertising would never work.

Yes, we wrote about this briefly last year, asking the Beyond Madison Avenue audience their thoughts about it. We would suspect that since our crowd is very bright, many of you probably shared the same sentiment.

The BBC Radio 4 crew, in tandem with the BBC Research and Development branch, conducted a research study testing if subliminal advertising in a public setting could yield the same results as a study in the lab.

As you would have guessed, the findings were insignificant.

The question, then, is that if multiple studies fail to prove subliminal advertising successful, why do we continue pursuing it? Aren't there other questions that deserve the energy of marketing scientists?

Perhaps it is the nagging fear that humans could be influenced (or manipulated, depending on your perspective) without really knowing. To think that we could not be in charge of our own decisions could be very frightening. It seems, however, that this fear is grossly exaggerated. In fact, there are more things going on that unknowingly affect our behavior that are much less involved than blowing the smell of popcorn into theaters. The framing we see and natural biases we have when we interact with certain elements of our environment have more measurable effects.

Or perhaps the notion of subliminal advertising has that kind of science-fiction sexiness, and the researcher who conducts a successfully replicated study would be donned a hero and champion in the industry. Or an evil, diabolical genius.

Either way, we appreciate the attention to figuring out how humans tick and how they are influenced, but maybe it's time to call it a day on subliminal advertising.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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