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Subliminal advertising and your Subconscious mind
Published on: July 14, 2021

You may think you are wide aware of everything that happens around you, but you are not! There are cues and pieces of information that you store in your mind without your control and awareness.

The subconscious brain or subconscious mind is part of your brain which silently observes your surrounding even without your knowledge. Your subconscious mind is the real player behind your thoughts, decisions and dreams.

Subconscious dreams

We all know the brain is the most complex object in the world. Our brain has 10 to the power of 12 neurons. That means the number of interconnections linking these neurons is greater than the total number of atoms making up the entire universe. Implying, it is almost impossible to fully understand the capability of our brain.

One of the thousands of discoveries about the brain is the function of our subconscious mind.

Subconscious brain functioning was first coined in 1889 by the psychologist Pierre Janet (1859–1947), in his doctorate of letters thesis, De l’Automatisme Psychologique. 

Later, in 1893, renowned neurologist Sigmund Freud used the word subconscious. According to Sigmund Freud, what is going on in our mind and what we hear are two different things. He also claimed that the information grasped by our subconscious mind appears in our dreams or sometimes they are behind our behaviour.

Findings related to this topic (subconscious mind) have attracted loads of people around the world. The Marketers, the artists, the politicians, all use tactics to tap into our subconscious minds. They try to get into our subconscious by using subliminal messages. Otherwise known as subliminal marketing.

So what is Subliminal Marketing?

The root of the word “subliminal” is Latin. The Latin word for “threshold” is limen, hence the word subliminal suggests “below the threshold” of our conscious mind. According to Whitlow (2004)

Aylesworth, Goodstein and Karla (1999) define subliminal advertising as “the use of words, pictures and shapes that are purposely inserted into advertising materials so that the viewers of the material cannot perceive the imagery at a conscious level, but rather at a subconscious level”

Subliminal messages are of short duration and are not perceived consciously, but your mind makes a separate reservoir to save those flashes or intended messages. So, when you are ready to make a decision, they appear suddenly and guides your decision-making process or thoughts.

Certain subliminal cues can trick your mind because it is easy to influence or manipulate anyone if they are not aware of the real causes that determine their behaviour. This is the base for Subliminal Marketing.

Sometimes marketers embed subliminal messages to promote their products. They try to generate a response so that people will do things that they would not usually do. Like, for example unnecessary purchasing a product when they do not require it.

Evolution of Subliminal Marketing

The concept of subliminal advertising is not new. The subliminal advertising studies evolved in 1957 when James Vicary, a market researcher, used subliminal words like ‘Drink Cola’ and ‘Eat popcorn’ and flashed them throughout the movie Picnic. There was a significant increase in the sale of Coke and Popcorn, around 18.1% and 57.8%, respectively. However, with no proper recorded data of the sales figure, the claims by James Vicary were termed a hoax. 

James figures maybe a hoax but several other studies that have proved that our brain can recognise the subliminal messages and have the power to guide our behaviour.

Possible Proof of Subliminal message and marketing

In an experiment by Bargh, Chen and Burrows (1996), the focus group participants were given a sentence that contained words such as old, retired, wise, etc. The sentence gave an elderly vibe to the readers without their consciousness. The shocking observation at the end of the experiment was that the focus group exited the experiment room much slower compared to the control group participants. Suggesting they had internalised the elderly concept subconsciously. 

Here the sentence containing elderly words is the subliminal message and the behaviour of the focus group is the subconscious result of that subliminal message.

There are 3 sublimation simulation techniques

  • Brief visual stimuli with the help of a Tachistoscope. Tachistoscope is a device that was extensively used for carrying out psychological studies before computers were popular. For a subliminal experiment, Tachistoscope would display images faster than any human conscious mind would grasp. This was done to understand whether the images displayed are memorable or do they impact the subconscious mind and guide behaviour.  
credits: research gate
  • The second technique was to insert low volume audio messages (subaudible) in high volume files. The low volume audio files will be hidden from your conscious mind, but your subconscious mind might notice them.
  • The third method that seems to work is adding hidden sexual imagery or hidden visuals in an advertisement. These messages are embedded in such a way that it’s hard to pursue consciously.
beer buzz

Do you see the hidden message in the picture above? Comment below.

Other famous cases of the subliminal message include

The picture above is an old subliminal advertisement for camel cigarettes. After carefully analyzing the picture you may notice a naked man with a cigarette. This was one of the oldest cases of subliminal marketing. The use of sexual imagery highlighted when Wilson Bryan Key released his book subliminal seduction. He claimed advertisers are unethically embedding subliminal messages and sexual imagery to hike their product sales. But does it really increases desired sales?


Another case of subliminal message in marketing is this advertisement from D.J flooring. You need a different angle to view the vulgarity of this advertisement. What seems a subtle advertisement is quite the opposite of it. Hint: See upside down.

Image by © Reuters/CORBIS

The word “RATS” appeared in a frame in a Republican television commercial on prescription drugs that attacked the Democratic nominee’s Mr Gore’s Medicare plan. The word RATS lasts only one-thirtieth of a second in the advertisement when ‘The Gore prescription plan: bureaucrats decide’ appeared. Many advertisers believed it was a subliminal attempt to undermine Mr Gore.

Probable subliminal marketing case in India

One Indian example of using subliminal audio messages, which is rather interesting, is Zomato. Zomato is an Indian multinational restaurant aggregator and food delivery company. The audio that plays in their advertisements (according to my observation) is “Go-Go buy it buy it”. The audio is hard to understand at first, but when you listen to it carefully then you may understand my point. 

A Sad case of Subliminal messages in heavy metal music

Another case with the use of subliminal is of music Industry. But this case is rather infamous. “Better by you, Better than me” is a song by English rock band Spooky Tooth, released in 1969. Heavy metal band Judas priest reprised this song. Judas Priest version claimed to be responsible for two suicides. 

Raymond Belknap, then 18, and James Vance, 20, two young Americans committed suicide and their family accused that the heavy metal song contains subliminal messages such as “kill yourself” “do it” etc. and that had encouraged two young men to kill themselves. However, the case went in the favour of Judas Priest, but the claim of subliminal message in their song was not confidently eradicated. 


The subject of the subconscious mind is highly controversial as subliminal marketing techniques are illegal in some countries. Some people are not in favour of subliminal marketing techniques. They believe subliminal marketing techniques lure and manipulate the customer to spend unnecessary and can hypnotise them. The power of subliminal luring is still a question, but if it is true, then are we really free? or freedom is just an illusion?

Have you observed subliminal advertising or are you familiar with the concept? Do share your thoughts.

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