It appears that subliminal messages are everywhere, from children’s cartoons to mass media advertisement. However, while some of the messages are evidently true, are all of the messages what the critics say they are or as the companies explain to be plain coincidences? Or perhaps most of the so-called subliminal messages are simply a Rorschach effect where the critics are analyzing the film, videos and posters and seeing what they hope to see.
So how effective subliminal messaging really is? Some countries including the United Kingdom, United States of America and Australia banned the practice of inserting subliminal messages in their advertising.
Apparently, everyone is susceptible.
Artists are the ones who include the subliminal messages in the media. Does it mean they will be immune to it or less susceptible to subliminal messages?
The following video shows that even the ‘users’ of subliminal messages in advertisements are susceptible to subliminal persuasion themselves.
In the video, the host, Derren Brown, invited 2 advertisement designers whom which should be experts on subliminal messages and its usage, to an experiment to see if even the experts are susceptible to subliminal persuasion. Derren intentionally put up messages and images along the specified route the designers took to the venue where the experiment is to take place. This proves that while in a relaxed state of mind, such as watching television, surfing the internet or even taking a car ride as shown in the video, people are especially vulnerable to subliminal persuasion and more likely to take in images and messages in their subconscious mind.
This video explains how subliminal messages are used subtly in advertisements and children’s shows. It also briefly explains how while watching television, one’s brain wave transfer from beta, which is an alert state of mind, to alpha, a relax state of mind where the brain is highly receptive of suggestions and such. This is the state of mind which hypnotists usually put their subjects in before introducing suggestions.
However, the use of subliminal messages is not a recent idea. Artists such as Da Vinci have already been known to put subtle imagery in his work in that age, even contemporary artists in modern era also use subliminal imagery to express their art.
The word ‘sex’ is hidden in the lower branches of the picture.
Is it ethical to use subliminal messages in mass media?
In my opinion, it highly depends on the purpose of the messages. Most subliminal messages that are in the media are used to boost the sales of products or to increase viewership. However, I feel that as long as there is no intention to deceive or mislead the audience, there is no harm in using subliminal messaging. But if subliminal messages are used to persuade the audience to consume products such as cigarettes or drugs, that is more unethical as these products are harmful to the consumers.
It is possible, despite all the negative reports about subliminal messaging, to use subliminal messaging in a positive way, such as placing posters containing subliminal motivational messages or imagery in schools and work places to encourage students and employees in achieving their goals and targets. It could also be used in rehabilitation centres to help people kick addictions and other problems. I believe by using the power of subliminal persuasion ethically with good intentions in the mass media, it just might significantly impact the society for the better.