RE: Subliminal advertising

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Thu Apr 18 2002 - 13:26:03 BST

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    From: "Lawrence DeBivort" <>
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    Subject: RE: Subliminal advertising
    Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 08:26:03 -0400
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    I don't meant to quibble, but this story does not prove that 'subliminal
    advertising' doesn't work. It just attaches the term to this fellow Vicary
    and then explains that Vicary's experiment that purported to prove s.a. was
    false. That does not disporive s.a.; it just disproves Vicary's evidence
    for it.

    Oh, all right, I do mean to quibble.


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of Wade T.Smith
    > Sent: Thursday, April 18, 2002 12:42 AM
    > To:
    > Subject: Re: Subliminal advertising
    > > I read a report some years ago that claimed theater owners were able to
    > > increase the number of people who went to buy soft drinks and popcorn
    > > right after subliminal messages about them were flashed on the screens
    > > of their movie theaters. Since that's where the majority of their
    > > money comes from, I believe they were serious about that. I also heard
    > > a public outcry made them stop doing it, though.
    > The text from
    > Claim:   An early experiment in subliminal advertising at a movie
    > theater resulted in tremendously increased sales of popcorn and Coke.
    > Status:   False.
    > Origins:   Public awareness of what we now term "subliminal
    > advertising" began with the 1957 publication of Vance Packard's book The
    > Hidden Persuaders. Although Packard did not use the term "subliminal
    > advertising," he did describe many of the new "motivational research"
    > marketing techniques being employed to sell products in the burgeoning
    > post-war American market. Advertisements that focused on consumers'
    > hopes, fears, guilt, and sexuality were designed to persuade them to buy
    > products they'd never realized they needed. Marketers who could reach
    > into the hearts and minds of American consumers soon found consumers'
    > wallets to be within easy grasp as well.
    > It was James Vicary who coined the term "subliminal advertising." Vicary
    > had conducted a variety of unusual studies of female shopping habits,
    > discovering (among other things) that women's eye-blink rates dropped
    > significantly in supermarkets, that "psychological spring" lasts more
    > than twice as long as "psychological winter," and that "the experience
    > of a woman baking a cake could be likened to a woman giving birth."
    > Vicary's studies were largely forgettable, save for one experiment he
    > conducted at a Ft. Lee, New Jersey movie theater during the summer of
    > 1957. Vicary placed a tachistoscope in the theater's projection booth,
    > and all throughout the playing of the film Picnic, he flashed a couple
    > of different messages on the screen every five seconds. The messages
    > each displayed for only 1/3000th of a second at a time, far below the
    > viewers' threshold of conscious perceptibility. The result of displaying
    > these imperceptible suggestions -- "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Hungry? Eat
    > Popcorn" -- was an amazing 18.1% increase in Coca-Cola sales, and a
    > whopping 57.8% jump in popcorn purchases. Thus was demonstrated the
    > awesome power of "subliminal advertising" to coerce unwary buyers into
    > making purchases they would not otherwise have considered.
    > Or so goes the legend that has retained its potency for more than forty
    > years. So potent a legend, in fact, that the Federal Communications
    > Commission banned "subliminal advertising" from radio and television
    > airwaves in 1974, despite that fact that no studies have ever shown it
    > to be effective, and even though its alleged efficacy was based on a
    > fraud.
    > You see, Vicary lied about the results of his experiment. When he was
    > challenged to repeat the test by the president of the Psychological
    > Corporation, Dr. Henry Link, Vicary's duplication of his original
    > experiment produced no significant increase in popcorn or Coca-Cola
    > sales. Eventually Vicary confessed that he had falsified the data from
    > his first experiments, and some critics have since expressed doubts that
    > he actually conducted his infamous Ft. Lee experiment at all.
    > As usual, the media (and thereby the public) paid attention only to the
    > sensational original story, and the scant coverage given to Vicary's
    > later confession was ignored or quickly forgotten. Radio and television
    > stations began airing subliminal commercials, leading to two
    > congressional bills to ban the practice being introduced in 1958 and
    > 1959 (both of which died before being voted upon). In 1973, Dr. Wilson
    > B. Key picked up where Vicary left off, publishing Subliminal Seduction,
    > an indictment of modern advertisements filled with hidden messages and
    > secret symbols -- messages and symbols that only Dr. Key could discern
    > (including the notorious example of the word "S-E-X" spelled out in the
    > ice cubes pictured in a liquor advertisement). The old "subliminal
    > advertising" controversy was stirred up again by Dr. Key's book, leading
    > to the 24 January 1974 announcement by the FCC that subliminal
    > techniques, "whether effective or not," were "contrary to the public
    > interest," and that any station employing them risked losing its
    > broadcast license.
    > For neither the first nor the last time, a great deal of time and money
    > and effort was expended on "protecting" the public from something that
    > posed no danger to them. As numerous studies over the last few decades
    > have demonstrated, subliminal advertising doesn't work; in fact, it
    > never worked, and the whole premise was based on a lie from the very
    > beginning. James Vicary's legacy was to ensure that a great many people
    > will never be convinced otherwise, however.
    > Last updated:   1 July 1999
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    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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    > see:

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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