In 1957, in a small cinema in New York, some Mad Men style advertising guys secretly flashed the slogans “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Eat popcorn” throughout a movie. The flashes were too fast for people to notice. As a result, they claimed, sales of popcorn had risen 18.1% – and Coke by 57.7%. This was going to change advertising, they said.
And well, it did…there was a moral outcry and “subliminal advertising”, as it got called, quickly got banned in the US and in Europe. People didn’t like it that they were being influenced without their knowledge and/ or permission. Later on, the cinema owner and the advertising guys claimed that it was all a lie and that subliminal advertising doesn’t work. However, people are still paranoid about it and they often ask me if the story is true. Can hidden messages really influence us?
Lab tests confirm that our brain can see images or hear sounds without us knowing about it. Brain scans show that our mind is activated, but it has been really difficult to make people do things with hidden messages. What we have been able to prove so far, is that, under the right circumstances, hidden messages can make us buy stuff, but only things we sort of already wanted. So far, we haven’t been able to make people do things against their will. That’s a relief, right?