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What is subliminal advertising? Will it work for you?

What is subliminal advertising?  Will it work for you?

It has happened to all of us. We watch our favorite program when we suddenly feel like a hamburger and fries.

Are we really hungry, or are we reacting to the latest McDonald’s commercial we saw?

What we experience when this happens is because of subliminal advertising. It probably happens more to us than we realize.

Let’s jump into what subliminal advertising is, whether it will work for you, and how to create effective subliminal messages in advertising.

What is subliminal advertising?

Subliminal advertising is a form of effective advertising that aims to connect with a consumer’s subconscious. It deliberately uses messages, graphics and sounds to convey a message from the advertiser to the consumer without him being aware of it.

It has been used as an effective way to get your message across without seeming intrusive or selling. It aims to influence without overpowering.

There are three main types of subliminal advertising:

Backmasking: This is when a voice recording is played backwards over the air on an audio recording. This type of backward message causes the brain to work harder to decode the message. Sub-audible message: This type of message is when a message is inserted into another audio recording at lower volume. These messages are too low to hear with the naked ear, but high enough for the listener’s brain to detect and decode the message. It leaves the producer’s message with the listener without the listener ever realizing that they heard it. Sub-visual message: This type of message uses subtle signals in visual graphics. Things like a hidden visual inside a larger logo or a smaller image hidden in a larger image are examples of sub-visual messages. These images are too small for the viewer’s eyes to detect when they quickly scan the larger image. They are large enough for the brain to store the information for later use.

These different types of messages allow subliminal advertising to be used in all forms of advertising, including print, radio, television and social media.

Does it work?

There has been a lot of discussion about subliminal advertising. Some say it does not work, but we have seen that information definitely does! Do you think global brands like Amazon and Coca-Cola would use it if they did not?

Our subconscious always works and always gives us messages. If there is a way to make a business product a topic for one of these messages, advertisers will definitely find a way to take advantage of it.

However, it is important not to misunderstand subliminal advertising with manipulation.

The goal of this type of advertising is to leave the consumer with a message that they will have to digest later. By doing this, they continue to think about the product long after being exposed to the advertisement. The goal is not to manipulate the consumer into feeling that they need it if they do not.

Building trust is one of the most important things a business can do with its consumers. Think of subliminal advertising as another way to do this and connect with an audience. Do not do anything that could endanger the relationship with the consumer.

While planning a campaign using subliminal advertising, it is also very important to check the advertising laws of the state or country where this ad will appear.

There can be a very fine legal boundary between what is considered ethical and what is not. It is important to ensure that the ad does not bring the company into legal trouble.

This issue has been investigated in a number of lawsuits in the United States, but the answer to the legality is still unclear.

In Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service Common of New York, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the copy in an ad cannot be misleading if it is expected to be protected by the First Amendment.

In a lower court, a Nevada judge in Vance v. Judas Priest ruled that, despite the intent of these types of advertisements, they are not covered by the First Amendment. This ruling could potentially open a business up for litigation or other legal issues if someone insults their ad.

Because of these conflicting cases, it is best to consult an attorney or your company’s legal department if you are creating a campaign using subliminal advertising and you are questioning the legality of it before approving the campaign.

How to create effective subliminal messages in advertising

The first step to creating effective subliminal messages in advertising is to be subtle!

The whole point of this type of messaging is to influence without overwhelming. You can not subtly influence whether you are in your viewer’s face with your message.

You also do not want to do anything that could ruin your consumers’ trust in you. Market your product, but not in a manipulative way.

The goal of subliminal advertising is to be smart. Keep people talking about the product long after they were advertised for it.

Examples of effective subliminal ads

When you start thinking about adding subliminal advertising to your marketing strategy, do not overthink it. A simple graphic can leave a big impression.

Here are some effective subliminal advertising examples:

1. Amazon

Amazon logoAmazon

Everyone knows and recognizes the logo of this global brand. But have you ever noticed that the arrow at the bottom points from A to Z? This was on purpose.

By pointing the arrow from A to Z, Amazon says a consumer can turn to Amazon for whatever they need. Everything is covered – from A to Z.

2. Baskin Robbins

Baskin RobbinsBaskin Robbins

What makes Baskin Robbins different from all other ice cream shops?

The fact that they are famous for having 31 flavors! Getting 31 to stand out from the BR in this logo is an excellent form of subliminal advertising. It indicates their name, while also reminding the viewer of what makes them famous.

3. Tostitos


Tostito’s famous tagline is “bring the party”. What many people do not notice is that there is a small party directly inside their logo.

Look closely at the center of the logo and you will see two friends sharing chips and salsa. Its goal is to make the consumer feel like having a party and bringing the chips!

This is a great example of quality marketing.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee BrewersMilwaukee Brewers

This logo is just a picture of a baseball glove, right?

Wrong! Look closely and you will see the fingers at the top make an M and the rest of the glove form a small B.

This was a pretty smart way to incorporate the team initials into their logo. It does not look like the advertising team is trying too hard.

Examples of subliminal advertising that just does not work

No matter how hard some advertisers try, some messages just do not hit the target.

Sometimes it’s just too obvious. Sometimes the hidden messages are just unnecessary.

Here are some subliminal advertising messages we could have done without.

1. KFC

This commercial was so bad that it’s almost comical.

The subliminal message here is the little dollar bill in the salad at the sandwich.

The idea behind it is that the consumer gets this delicious sandwich for under a dollar. Photoshoping here is sloppy, which makes the message all too clear.

2. Burger King

Well, they tried, but this ad is not subliminal at all. In fact, it is the farthest from subtle.

Between the graphics, the ad text, and the actual name of the sandwich, we shake our heads at this ad.

The sexual insinuations here are so obvious that it just comes out as a tacky way of selling a sandwich. Using this copy with this image to try to sell something that has nothing to do with sex is creepy.

3. Sweets

Like most of Candies’ early 2000s commercials, this one with pop music star Mark McGrath is pretty bad – almost as bad as the Burger King ad above.

Again, the sexual implication of the placement of the rocket on the computer screen is just so obvious – and unnecessary in an advertisement for fragrance.

The idea behind this subliminal ad was to be clever and witty, but it just seems kind of vulgar.

End with subliminal advertising

Now that you know the basics of what works and what does not, in subliminal advertising, it is up to you to decide if this type of advertising will work for you.

Ask yourself what you want to convey in your advertising. Do you want your message clear and distinct or do you want to plant seeds in your consumer’s subconscious?

If you need help designing your subliminal advertising, you can always contact a professional creative agency for professional assistance.

Whatever you do, if you decide to try subliminal advertising in your next campaign, be sure to be subtle and clever.

Frequently asked questions about subliminal advertising

1. What is subliminal advertising?

Subliminal advertising is a way to use content, copy and graphics in a very conscious and creative way to appeal to a consumer’s subconscious. It aims to influence without overwhelming.

2. Does subliminal advertising work?

The general consensus varies, but this type of advertising is not new. It is also well known that our subconscious is constantly working and receiving messages from the surroundings around us. It’s very likely that some of these messages come from the ads we see.

3. Is subliminal advertising legal?

There have been some conflicting lawsuits that could provide different answers to this question.

In business in general, if you question the legality of something, it is best practice to consult a licensed attorney.

4. What should an advertiser focus on when doing subliminal advertising?

Be subtle! The whole point of this type of advertising is not to overwhelm your consumer. You want your ad to be witty and clever, not sticky or unintentionally comical.

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