Sunday, August 19, 2012

Subliminal Messaging In a Modern World

Subliminal messages have long been discussed, criticised, debated, dismissed.. yet in our modern society there are so many different applications, and despite conflicting evidence for their ability to influence the human mind, still they are used - especially within the media around us.

Before we get into the main areas of subliminal use, it is important to understand what a subliminal message actually is.

Generally by using the term subliminal message we mean a means of transmitting a message beyond the means of conscious human perception, yet still reaching the mind to influence behavior. For example we receive a message without our awareness yet it still has an impact upon the brain.

In truth the definitions are flexible, so lets define them in terms of "soft" and "hard" messages:

    Soft Subliminal - This is where the suggestion is very passive.. where it is just a subtle suggestion such as a provocative or sexual pose, maybe even a play on words, but nothing too technical - a mere hint.
    Hard Subliminal - This is what we really usually mean by the term, where an obvious subliminal technique is used, such as flashing images, hidden text, software, or audio moved to a different sound frequency so it is just out of hearing range.

We will discuss these "hard subliminal" messages in further detail next and show how they are used within our modern media centric world.

Flashing images

This is probably the most common form of subliminal message use. There has been a lot of instances of flashing images within advertisements - trying to prompt the user to buy, or relate favourably to a brand.

This all started with the now infamous research study where text was flashed saying "eat popcorn" or "drink cola"and sales of such items rose. This seemed to capture the imagination of every marketing manager in the country, yet still to this day brands are trying it.

Just recently a major fast food brand, I don't want to mention the name of (ahem, golden arches) was accused of flashing their company logo in the adverts on the food channel in the USA.

Hidden text

This is another common type of subliminal message. The idea is to hide a word in an advertising poster, perhaps make letters out of stems of grass, flowers, or other patterns within the poster.

The idea is to spell a word out - commonly it is "sex", which appeals to the mind, and makes a connection within the brain of the consumer, and hopefully helps the consumer to associate positive feelings towards the brand.

There is also a lot of instances of cartoons, and children's programs including such messages, but this is rumored to often be the work of the designer as a joke rather than directly the intention of the movie house.

Audio messages

Typically when audio is referred to as a subliminal message, it is meant that the voice is either hidden behind the backing music, or that it is moved to a higher sound frequency, often just on the edge of human hearing.

The idea here is that the transmission is still intercepted by the subconscious mind and impacts upon the brain without the conscious mind hearing.

The implications and uses for this type of subliminal embedding are not so much for advertising, but there are reports of musicians implanting suggestions.. sometimes less than savory, in their music. Although this is heavily debated and more often just coincidence of the song sounding similar when played backwards but usually not containing a deliberate hidden message.

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