Subliminal Advertising

What Is Subliminal Advertising? Examples, Pros And Cons

What is subliminal marketing? The practice of exposing consumers to subliminal messages that are concealed within other materials is known as subliminal advertising. This could be an image, a passage of text, or even some audio or video.

Continue reading for all the details you require about subliminal advertising.

Related Reading: What Is Product Advertising?

What Is Subliminal Advertising?

Subliminal messages are frequently inserted into other media, like TV ads or songs, and are visual or auditory stimuli that the conscious mind is unable to perceive. It is possible to convey a completely different message using this type of messaging or to make advertisements more powerful or persuasive.

Even when you’re actively looking for them, true subliminal messages are invisible to the conscious mind and are impossible to see or notice. This is due to the fact that daily stimuli, such as the sounds and sights around us, are above the threshold of conscious perception, as opposed to subliminal messages, which are below it.

The most pernicious aspect of subliminal messaging is that, even though we are completely unaware of the message concealed in whatever we are watching or listening to, a part of our subconscious mind is compelled to react to this hidden stimuli; this occurs entirely without our knowledge or consent.

Read More: What is Institutional Advertising?

How Does Subliminal Advertising Work?

Subliminal messaging and communication are used in subliminal advertising. The fact that these messages are embedded within other messages means that they are not broadcast to a specific person directly.

Without the recipient’s awareness, subliminal messages are intended to change their mindset. TV commercials are a straightforward illustration of this.

Businesses frequently incorporate images or symbols into their advertisements that are connected to the goods they are trying to sell. For instance, a company promoting weight loss products might use an advertisement featuring a young, slim girl eating a grape. People may subconsciously associate a healthier lifestyle with drinking this product due to the healthy juice’s color. This strategy is based on the way your brain naturally connects images to things.

The font used in the Jennifer Garner issue of SFX magazine is a real-world illustration of a subliminal message. Popular magazine SFX covers a range of science fiction motion pictures and television programs. SFX chose to interview actress Jennifer Garner for this special edition. The bottom of the letter “F,” which implied that the true title was “SEX,” was strategically hidden as well. The reader was given a “subliminal” message here that suggested the interview had a more sexual theme.

The viewer or listener does not detect subliminal messages unless they are specifically looking for them, unlike other marketing strategies like direct or indirect advertising. They perceive it as being unimportant and merely another advertisement component. But the important thing to remember is that the messages are actually intended to have an unconscious impact on the audience.

Why Is Subliminal Advertising Important?

Advertisers give the relationship between a product’s utility and economic value priority. This is not true, though, when it comes to subliminal marketing. By establishing an emotional connection with each consumer’s individual experiences and way of life, subliminal advertising aims to develop a relationship with them.

There are three main reasons why marketers use subliminal advertising-

  • It serves as an effective stimulator: Despite claims to the contrary, most purchases are heavily influenced by emotion. This is what subliminal advertising exploits by arousing the viewer’s emotions.
  • It sets a lasting impression: You could compare subconscious advertising to sowing seeds in your mind. Unaware of its effect, the advertisement has an impact that affects your decision to make a purchase in the future.
  • It can be persuasive enough to change buying patterns: It is well known that subliminal messages can persuade people to change their purchasing habits. People may realize they need something new as a result and go out and purchase it.

Pros Of Subliminal Advertising

Subliminal messaging as a form of advertising has countless advantages and rewards. Outlined below is a list of the main advantages:

  • Subconscious connect: Targeted individuals’ subconscious minds are drawn to subliminal messages. It forces them to make a purchase without carefully weighing the pros and cons of the item.
  • Better ROI: The return on investment for subliminal advertising is also thought to be higher than that of other indirect advertising channels. It can forge an emotional connection between a product and its users, ensuring repeat purchases. It sets a lasting impression about specific products or services in customer’s subconscious minds, with them making future decisions based on the same
  • Easier to process: Compared to overly informational direct forms of advertising, subliminal messages are simpler to process. Compared to those who view straightforward advertisements, those who watch or listen to subliminal messages have a better memory. This is so because of the way their brains function, which makes it simpler to process messages.
  • It resonates with consumers: Because they are created to appeal to people’s emotions, subliminal messages are more likely to be remembered by recipients than any other kind of message.
  • Creates an impact: Without the viewer even realizing it, subliminal advertising has the power to leave a lasting impression. People frequently have a limit to how much information they can focus on, which makes this possible. The subconscious receives the messages when they are sent below this threshold because the conscious mind is unable to process them there.

Cons Of Subliminal Advertising

Subliminal messaging has some drawbacks that should not be overlooked, despite the fact that it can be helpful for an organization. The following points highlight some of the disadvantages:

  • Customers may feel cheated: Because it is not disclosed to consumers, subliminal advertising is frequently viewed as a dishonest practice. People who are the target of this kind of advertising may feel duped because they don’t understand why they have a particular opinion about a product, leading them to lose faith in the company.
  • Messages may backfire: Subliminal messages may have the opposite effect of what is intended when they are broadcast. In an effort to make their product look good, a car manufacturer, for instance, might send out a message claiming that something is fast. However, this backfires when the car is revealed to be slow, leading to customers feeling cheated and dissatisfied with the car
  • It cannot always be controlled: Despite being able to penetrate a person’s subconscious mind, subliminal messaging is less direct than other forms of advertising, making it harder to target specific individuals. Accordingly, it might not get through to everyone who should hear it, which could affect the final outcome.
  • No outright persuasion: Customers are not always directly affected by subliminal messaging, so it cannot be used to compel them to make a purchase. This means that businesses must come up with alternative strategies for convincing clients to purchase their goods and services after being swayed by subliminal messages.
  • It could be misunderstood: What you intend for subliminal messages to convey may not always be understood because they are frequently very open to interpretation. Marketers must be cautious when sending out messages because the success of these messages will depend on how effectively they are used.

6 Examples Of Subliminal Advertising

1. Playing Games With Husker Du

Early in the 1970s, Husker Du (the board game from which the rock group derives its name) was introduced and promoted as a family game by its producer, Premium Corporation of America. The company paid for a series of TV ads for the game to be created, which featured single frames that read, “Get it.”

a Premium Corp. executive later admitted responsibility for the inclusion of the frames, which the Following viewer complaints, the FCC looked into the matter.

The incident prompted the FCC to declare that subliminal messaging in TV ads was “contrary to the public interest” and forbade the practice.

Although the board game may be a relic of a bygone era, the incident is thought to be the first instance of subliminal messages being used in TV advertisements, giving it a strange but noteworthy place in advertising history.

2. KFC’s 12th Secret Ingredient

Our last instance of subliminal advertising comes from The Colonel, or rather, his restaurant chain, KFC, since we’re on the subject of spooky, overly familiar fast-food mascots.


Although it’s unclear if KFC has used such deception in the decade since its initial experiment with subliminal messaging, it’s also doubtful whether it would be worthwhile given how frequently the efficacy of subliminal advertising has been questioned.

With regards to its branding, KFC most definitely has a sense of humor. Allen recently called the WordStream content team’s attention to KFC’s Twitter profile, in particular, the accounts KFC is following.

3. Marlboro’s Subliminal Barcode

One of the most well-known American brands is Marlboro, despite efforts to limit cigarette advertising globally. We may not see the famous “Marlboro Man” on Marlboro is still one of the most well-known cigarette brands in the world, a coveted position Marlboro sought to retain through the use of subliminal advertisements. TV anymore — tourism to Flavor Country has declined sharply in the past 20 years — but Marlboro is still one of the most well-known cigarette brands in the world.

Many professional sporting organizations and governing bodies expressed concern about the prevalence of cigarette advertising in Formula 1 racing in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Up until that point, almost every top driver in the world competed in races with cars covered in logos from cigarette companies, but the sudden outlawing of cigarette company sponsorship in Europe caused a mass exodus of cigarette companies from the sport.

The marketing department at Marlboro came up with a cunning plan to get around this annoying restriction: they would use subliminal visual messaging to promote the Marlboro brand without using the company’s actual typographic logo.

At the high speeds that F1 cars travel around the track, Marlboro achieved this by using a barcode-style design that was nearly as recognizable as the logo itself.

Despite being ingenious, Marlboro’s attempts to circumvent the advertising ban failed. The European Public Health Commission applied considerable pressure to European lawmakers, who ruled that the design was indeed too close to the banned Marlboro design

Hilariously, Marlboro told The Wall Street Journal in 2010, “The design of the barcode was always intended to be neutral and unrelated to the sale of tobacco products. There was never any intent to make any sort of allusion to the Marlboro name.”

4. Seriously Suggestive Ads

The three examples of advertisements that are provided below contain content that should all be regarded as NSFW. Although the worst offending ads themselves are not displayed, readers should still proceed with caution.

Benson & Hedges

It’s possible that Marlboro’s ostensibly neutral barcode design raised some eyebrows, but this wasn’t the first time a cigarette company had used subliminal visual cues to promote smokes.

Benson & Hedges, a British tobacco company, started an advertising campaign in the US in the late 1970s. The campaign’s main objective was to increase consumer awareness of the company’s new cigarette packaging. B&H was one of the first tobacco companies to switch from the thin paper packaging that cigarette manufacturers preferred to hard card packaging for their cigarette packs.

Gilbey’s Gin

Since 1857, Gilbey’s gin has been aiding people in temporarily forgetting their problems, despite the British distillery’s lack of name recognition compared to other gin brands like Beefeater and Gordon’s. Although Gilbey itself may not be the most well-known distillery in the world, its distinctive gin left a lasting impression on consumers when it was introduced in a contentious advertising campaign in the late 1970s.

Gilbey’s decided to experiment with subliminal advertising in an effort to sell more bottles of gin, similar to many of our examples. Like many of our examples, it’s also surprisingly simple to see once you’ve been shown it, of course.


When a member of the public noticed what appeared to be a highly suggestive image on the back of a truck in the middle of the 1980s, Coca-Cola was also charged with running comparable risqué advertisements.

We’ve chosen not to include the advertisement in this post so as not to offend any of our readers. You can view it here if you want to see it for yourself.

Legend has it that Coca-Cola was unaware of the image until the first complaint, and the artist who created the artwork joked about it by including it in the artwork. Coca-Cola terminated the artist and started legal action against him as a result of the incident. Coca-Cola was additionally forced to recall millions of pieces of collateral and advertising collateral.

Today, collectors of rare vintage advertising memorabilia are vying for examples of this particular advertisement.

5. Food Network’s Fast-food Fracas

The McDonald’s logo flashed on-screen for a fraction of a second in 2007, during the airing of an episode of the immensely popular cooking show Iron Chef America on the Food Network. It was long enough for a select few keen cooks to notice.

The Food Network and McDonald’s both refuted the claim that they had collaborated on a covert subliminal advertising campaign. Food Network spokesperson Mark O’Connor said that “We made a technical mistake, not a subliminal message as a website playing the slow-motion playback had claimed.”

McDonald’s was even blunter in its dismissal of the allegations, merely stating “Subliminal advertising is not something we engage in.”

6. Wendy’s Family Values

Speaking of well-known fast-food chains, Wendy’s is our next example.

People immediately picked up on a rather subtle detail when Wendy’s updated its venerable but occasionally unsettling logo a few years back.

It doesn’t make it any less creepy, though, just because this specific example isn’t trying to sell you something. Let’s face it, a national burger chain is the furthest thing you could be from wholesome, home-cooked family meals or deep-rooted family ties.

Bottom Line

Due to its capacity to influence consumers without causing them to be aware of it, subliminal advertising is growing in popularity among marketers today. Subliminal messaging can be a potent tool for marketers looking to draw customers to their goods and services if used properly.

Despite your best efforts, real subliminal messages are difficult for the conscious mind to pick up on or uncover. This is because subliminal messages frequently occur below the threshold of conscious perception, in contrast to the things we regularly see and hear around us.

One thing is certain, though: subliminal marketing has a lot of potentials. It is a powerful tool for marketers who want to reach their customers in the most efficient way possible because of its ability to affect a person’s subconscious mind.

Read More: What Does POV Mean In Advertising?

Author: Ada Parker

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