James Vicary and Subliminal Advertising

James M. Vicary was one of the forefathers of subliminal advertising. He led a study in 1957, which some will argue never happened, that hypothesized; under certain circumstances, individuals “will act abnormally” without being aware of the influence of subliminal cues. This theory was somewhat proven when audiences at film theatres were shown clips of advertisements for Coca Cola and popcorn every five seconds within the film, but only for three-thousandths of a second at a time. This supposedly increased sales, but was banned the following year, even though the use of subliminal advertising was hardly proven effective. Vicary said himself, that he doctored test results in order to increase business for his market-research firm, and later stated that all he accomplished “was to put a new word into common usage.”

Noone has proven yet that subliminal advertising will force someone to do something they otherwise would not, but it may trigger their impulse to do something to their liking or suitable to their tastes. Today’s advertising strategies consist of product placement in television shows and movies.  Even in 1982, the blockbuster movie “E.T.” featured Hershey’s Reeses Pieces as the favorite snack of the alien, in which tripled sales was arguably a direct result of the product placement in the movie.

Talk show hosts are being paid to mention products, such as pharmaceuticals, nonchalantly.  Alyson Worth, a writer for the Fort Worth Star-telegram, writes” We’re being approached online by marketers hired to pose as regular Internet users, who casually recommend products and services in chat rooms. And “stealth marketers” are showing, recommending and teasing us with products on the streets and in bars and music stores – and we don’t even know they’re doing it.” So some strategies of marketing have become a little less subliminal and more guerrilla style.