Are subliminal messages effective?

I'm sure many of us have both heard of and seen subliminal messages in movies, shows, advertising, etc. but are they effective or do they even work? I've heard many times that our brains are able to pick up on the subtle messages without us even recognizing it sometimes and take a mental note so that in the future it will have an affect on us as consumers.

According to Dr. Bahador Bahrami who has done research on this topic, our brain is able to register the subliminal messages, however there is no proof at the time that it affects our buying decisions. Dr. Bahrami also found out that when the brain is occupied with difficult tasks it cannot register subliminal messages. His research consisted of subjects looking at through specialized glasses that were supposed to prevent the brain from localizing the images. He would be reading the brain using fMRI scans to check out brain activity.

I think that this study was well done, however many well done experiments could have possible faults. In this one I think that the fault could have been in reading the brain activity. In a world where we are currently finding out more information about the human body, especially the brain, it is hard to guarantee 100% that the readings from the scan can lead to causation in this case. 

If subliminal messages actually do work, is there a possibility that it is everywhere around us and we just don't know it or pay attention to it? I think that there is a chance that many people don't notice the subliminal messages and there are some people that do see them and don't notice that they are subliminal. I'm sure that if you have heard of subliminal messages then  you have heard of the supposed messages in the Disney movies that you have never noticed before until someone pointed them out to you. That is how I think subliminal messages work in real life. I think that they don't have an effect on us until someone points the message out to us and it causes us to appreciate the brand's efforts at advertising that they have put forth and fall victim to the company's product.


I have to admit I never really thought about companies putting subliminal messages through their advertising. I never even noticed the Tostitos message until I saw your post. Since I haven't noticed them I don't think it would affect me to buy their stuff even if I do notice the messages I still wouldn't buy a companies products just because of their hidden messages. Here is a list of fifteen more logos!slide=976613 with hidden messages in them too.

2011 studies in the Journal of Consumer Psychology show that although subliminal message do work, they are most effective in the short term. The subliminal message may be absorbed, but if the consumer has no desire to acquire said product, the effects of the messaging will not be felt. Also, the study demonstrated that subliminal messages generally do not overcome preferences to other products, so the consumer may still choose to buy something other than the product that they absorb subliminally because the prefer the other product more.

I think you're getting subliminal messages confused with clever design. The whole point of subliminal messages is that they can't be perceived - that's what makes them subliminal. The classic example of this is the urban legend of movie theaters putting a single frame (about 1/3000th of a second) with a message of "buy more popcorn" or "drink Coke!" into a movie in an attempt to drive concession revenue. (debunked here

Studies have shown that the brain can recognize that the message was shown (using classical conditioning a la "Pavlov's Dogs" to condition palm perspiration when the subliminal message was seen). However, for the message to lead to changed behavior, more time would be needed for the consumer to translate the message and choose whether or not to take action (based on the communications model studied in marketing). Because humans aren't THAT simple-minded, these types of advertising gimmicks really have no practical marketing use. (

What you see in many company logos (like the Tostitos one or the arrow in the FedEx logo) is just clever design used to capture your attention and make you feel a stronger connection to the brand. As a marketing major, these make me VERY happy, but there's really nothing subliminal (under the level of perception) about them.

I've always wondered if subliminal messages worked, especially in advertising. For instance, when I buy groceries, am I really deciding what I want or are marketing consultants on Madison Avenue doing that for me? Speaking of Madison Avenue, I think the show Mad Men touches on the subject of subliminal messges in a really interesting way. The show follows marketing specialists in New York during the 50s and 60s. It has made me look at marketing in a totally different light.

Wikipedia page on the show:

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