Subliminal messages affect the subconscious mind. We're talking visual messages that can be flashed very quickly in a film or buried within a print image and audio messages that are masked by other sounds, played below audible levels or recorded backwards to hide the message. True, scientific research has yet to determine the actual effectiveness of this process, but it's still worth pointing out some interesting tidbits:
1. All the way back in 1897, The New Psychology published an article about how subliminal messages work. By World War II, a tachistoscope (a machine that projects images extremely briefly and rapidly) was used to teach soldiers how to recognize enemy planes.
2. James Vicary, a market researcher, caused a stir when he reported that he was able to increase popcorn sales at a New Jersey movie theatre through subliminal messages built into the movie. This led to the modern practice of subliminal advertising, despite that he admitted in 1962 that he was lying. Many still debate whether the experiment even took place!
3. A 1973 Christmas advertising campaign for the game H?sker D?? included the subliminal message “Get it.” Complaints flooded in and the FCC ran an investigation. It deemed subliminal messages “Contrary to public interest.” They were never actually banned in the USA, however the same commercial led to a ban in Canada.
4. In an effort to catch the BTK Killer in 1978, TV station KAKE-TV in Wichita obtained permission to run subliminal messages in a report about the BTK killings. The report included the subliminal message “Now call the chief.” No increased volume of tips was reported. The attempt was deemed unsuccessful.
5. George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign included a television ad that featured words and parts of words scrolling across the screen. At one point, a single frame flashed the word “rats” (part of the word bureaucrats). After complaints, the FCC investigated but never assessed any penalties nor blame in the case.
6. On January 27, 2007, the McDonald’s logo appeared for a single frame during the Iron Chef America program on Food Network. This led to accusations of subliminal advertising. In a brilliant move, the Food Network said it was just “a glitch.”
7. Both Coke and Pepsi have been caught up in the subliminal messaging fray:
a) Feel The Curves - Coca Cola advertised in Australia with this poster during the eighties. That is, until someone discovered what could be seen in the ice cube on the right. I've blurred it out, but that's not a bottle she's going to put in her mouth! The artist was fired and sued. All posters were recalled and a new campaign was launched.
b) In a promotional campaign by Pepsi in 1990, the company sold cans with a neon-design. If you stacked two of the cans and turned them just right, the word SEX became apparent.
8. Ferrari’s Formula One car and its drivers' jumpers have always been red and always carried the Marlboro logo—one of Ferrari racing’s largest corporate sponsor. However, a ban on tobacco advertising caused Ferrari and Marlboro to design a barcode style logo for the cars and jumpers in 2010. The design was quickly recognized as a subliminal advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes. Even after Ferrari removed the insignia, Marlboro pledged continued support for the team. However, without the benefit of advertising, the relationship between Ferrari racing and Marlboro started to erode.
9. The following movies are said to contain subliminal messages or subtle symbolism (most of the messages are of a sexual nature, so I won't go into detail, but if you Google the film and the word subliminal, you'll find much more):
The Exorcist (A detailed article in the July/August 1991 issue of Video Watchdog examined the phenomenon, providing still frames identifying several usages of subliminal "flashing" throughout the film)
Psycho (great site here that shows how Hitchcock used the power of sublimated narratives)
The Rescuers (nudity)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit ( Jessica Rabbit nudity)
JFK-Director’s Cut (Here's a whole site dedicated to proving and disproving a variety of claims)
The Ring (According to IMDB: Subliminal frames from the Ring video are inserted in the film. For example, the 'Ring' image can be glimpsed for a fraction of a second in the transition between the ferry/horse sequence and Rachel's car drive to Anna Morgan's farm on Moesko Island.)
Fight Club (pornographic)
The Lion King (original VHS and LaserDisc releases,sexual in nature)
Little Mermaid (cover of the VHS box, sexual in nature)
10. There are a pantload of companies out there making money off subliminal messages. These are usually audio recordings that promise to help you with everything from getting a child to stop sucking his thumb to learning a foreign language while you sleep. There is even a program that boasts being able to program your body to use mental birth control—we don’t recommend trying this at home!