Multilingual Business Communication

April 6, 2009

subliminal messages in ads

Filed under: business communication, marketing communication, Marlène Bragard — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 8:53 pm

Did you know that subliminal messages are still used as a method of persuasion in advertising? These messages are called that way because they are situated below the threshold of human perception (from the Latin sub “below” + limen “threshold, door). These subliminal images are either symbolic (artistically plainly visible) or embedded (hidden from conscious perception).

A recent “>article points out that researchers have succeeded in demonstrating the effectiveness of subliminal messages on the human brain. These findings face previous scientific assumptions that attention and consciousness always function together.

If I find it easy to believe that our subconscious mind absorbs much more information than we might expect, I think it would me more interesting to push the research further and try to see whether these hidden messages have an effective impact on the consumer’s thoughts, behaviours, etc. Moreover, we should wonder how moral this is to send messages to us, consumers who are aware of their existence but cannot prevent their diffusion and their impact on our brain. This is rather scary, don’t you agree?



  1. Though you refer to a recent investigation that demonstrated the effectiveness of subliminal messages on the human brain, many other studies have not been able to establish this relationship. The majority of subliminal tests showed that subliminal messages barely impact the audience. And even if this effect did exist, it would be very marginal. For example, George W. Bush tried to influence the voters by showing a commercial where the name “Al Gore” was followed by the word “rats”. Although Bush did win, the FCC (The Federal Communications Commission) investigated this incident, but the effect couldn’t be proved. I think it may have a certain effect, but not as large as some people may think.

    Lana Robignon

    Comment by meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie — April 8, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  2. I would not worry too much about the effects of subliminal messages either, Marlène. As Lana already said, a great deal of research has been done about these messages and there is absolutely no proof that subliminal advertising affects our purchasing behavior.
    Some laboratory studies, like the one you mentioned in your post, merely indicate that our brain can detect signals that we are not consciously aware of. This does not mean that these messages can override our wishes and desires, making us march off to the supermarket to buy products we don’t want. I also want to add that successful demonstrations of subliminal stimuli have been conducted under carefully controlled laboratory conditions that are probably difficult to reproduce in everyday life. To get subliminal effects, researchers have to make sure that the illumination of the room is just right, that people are seated just the right distance from the viewing screen, and that nothing else is occuring to distract them when the subliminal stimuli are flashed.

    Liesbeth Van Den Mosselaer

    Comment by Liesbeth Van Den Mosselaer — April 8, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

  3. I think subliminal advertising is a subject that will always remain a bit mysterious. Ever since James Vicary claimed he could convince an audience to ‘eat popcorn’ and ‘drink cola’, there are people who believe that advertising can subcounsiously affect you. I think that in some circumstances, subliminal messages can come to our attention, but the question is if it also can make a person act. Last year in my masters of communications science, Professor Vyncke showed us the results of a study that proved that subliminal advertising is a myth, and humans do not pick up these hidden messages. So i guess the opinions still remain divided.

    Jana Mahieu

    Comment by meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie — April 9, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

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