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IS SUBLIMINAL MARKETING ETHICAL?

Did you know that companies can influence the way you think subconsciously and can trigger your reactions without you noticing the signals by sending across certain messages? These kinds of “messages” have also surged the sales of popcorn at movie halls, leave alone the products that consumers use on an everyday basis! Now, what exactly are these “messages”? These are subliminal perceptions that can circumvent our conscious minds and thus, get past our defences. The history of subliminal advertising dates back to 1957 when James Vicary, a market researcher, inserted the words “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” into a movie, leading to an increase in sales of both the commodities.



The first time when subliminal marketing surfaced, the majority opinion about the public was that the tactic was “sneaky” and an invasion of personal privacy. They felt that the government could also use this technique to manipulate their decisions. As per a study conducted, 41% of 324 participants were under the impression that the use of subliminal messages was unethical. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also believed that the use of subliminal perception was contrary to the public interest and these advertisements were intended to be deceptive. Despite issuing public notices, companies continue to use this tactic and subconsciously affect the way we think. However, with the public being more aware, whenever something published goes against the public interest, people don’t stop themselves from standing against it.


Cited as modern-day brain-washing, consumers have a great tendency to select products due to “subconscious influences.” Over the years, the competition between the advertisers has become more about symbols or images than aboutmaterial values. Hence, the fight to acquire supremacy in the market is influenced more by the consumers’ unconscious minds.


Even though subliminal marketing is considered to be subtle but effective in most cases, this marketing tactic is not always taken in stride by the general public. If we talk about the former, one of the biggest examples is that of the logo of Amazon. The arrow below is strategically placed to show that the company does provide everything from A to Z! Another noticeable example is that of FedEx. If one sees carefully, the whitespace between the E and X outlines an arrow that is used to highlight speed and efficiency- the biggest benefits that the brand provides. However, talking about the latter part of our argument, a poster released back in the mid-80s by Coca-Cola painted in ice cubes a woman performing a rather obscene act. What was considered to be a “joke” was held against the company very strongly by the general public and the poster had to be withdrawn at last..



At times, the subliminal messages put across by a company can cater to the unethical desires of a particular market. For example, an advertiser of a cigarette company might insert a subliminal message, which might be subconsciously interpreted by children as a cool or a safe thing to do. Other companies like Coca-Cola might also use inappropriate sexual messages which might not be noticed at first but can undermine the conscious values of a consumer or encourage him to engage in an unethical or risky practice. Since consumers are unaware of these kinds of messages, they don’t know how they are being manipulated into behaviour they might not exhibit otherwise. These kinds of messages can also be auditory and consumers have also alleged how there have been instances where musicians inserted subliminal messages into their music, which in turn led to the suicides of a couple of fans.


Thus, subliminal marketing can have a paramount significance on the buying behaviour of young minds. Therefore, the prime responsibility is in the hands of advertisers, who should avoid troubling consumers through illegitimate exposure of females in advertisements and focus more on consumer sustainability. The practice of delivering advertisements can be hazardous to individuals, minorities, particular races, or of a type that is against the societal norms should be discontinued. We feel that consumers need to be more cognizant and safeguard themselves from such unethical marketing tactics, what about you guys?

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