A couple weeks ago I got into a nice, heated debate with a friend over how manipulated we are by media – specifically commercials.

My friend’s position was that you’re manipulated only if you’re ‘weak of mind.’ He believes that if you’re aware that someone’s trying to manipulate you with subliminal messages, it doesn’t have any affect on you.

My opinion is quite the opposite. I feel that advertising companies are highly advanced at subtly manipulating us through constant subliminal messaging. Those subliminal messages, then, set us up for being highly suggestive to whatever stimulus is meant to get us to buy. Think about the last time a simple conversation with someone brought up the desire to have a Big Mac.

So this weekend, oddly enough, I StumbledUpon this video. In it, a couple of advertising professionals are ‘hired’ to create an ad for a company’s pilot product. It’s nearly seven minutes long, but you have to watch it to the end to get understand what the film makers were trying to show.

So, what do you think? Are we highly subjective to advertising? To media? To what other sorts of stimuli? Or is this just all psycho-mumbo-jumbo?

Any experiences either way, yourself?

Reader Interactions


  1. Margaret Wilkinson says

    An interesting question, Dawud, with a yes and no answer. “Subliminal” is the same as “preconscious”, meaning that your brain does not register an incoming stimulus. This is the case when you are in a bit of a mindless state and not fully paying attention. On the other hand, if you know that someone may try to influence your thinking, you can prepare yourself and willfully,i.e. consciously track your perceptions. It takes a lot of energy to do the latter,so that’s why most of us are not hyper-vigilant about messages from ads. Our brains like to “coast” and not use up too much energy whenever possible. My brain is coasting a lot these days!
    Blessings, Margaret Wilkinson, HealthWorks Coaching.

  2. Jean says

    I’m certainly influenced by it, so I use the process to my advantage. I browse Flickr a lot for pictures that move me, then my subconscious mind ponders them and comes up with ideas for future posts. I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of homeless dogs and service men in Iraq for The Need to Love at Cheerful Monk. I was already contributing to organizations like The Humane Society of the U. S., Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, etc. but when I got my renewal from Best Friends today I gladly gave a larger contribution than usual. It was good to be able to help. It wasn’t because they were manipulating me, it was because the cause resonates with me, especially after feeding my mind with all of those touching pictures.

  3. raj says

    I automatically refute everything I see in advertising, so I don’t feel I’m that suggestible. (My brother also runs his own ad agency, so we discuss advertising effectiveness a lot.) I only buy what I feel like.

    If you don’t mind my saying so, check out http://www.adsavvy.org/, which was started by some of my Performancing colleagues.

  4. Frank Antonellis says

    Great video. Hard to argue that subliminal messaging in advertising only works on the “weak minded” especially after watching this.

  5. John McDonald says

    I’m not nearly as confident about ignoring subliminal hints as I was before I watched that video…but I do try to counter it as much as possible when making purchasing decisions by comparing technical specifics or ingredients.

    I think the reason why I try to avoid it so much is because I get strong buyer’s remorse when I realize I own something I don’t want because of advertising influence. Its not to say it doesn’t still affect me, I just try to be aware of it so I can ignore as best I can (or implement it in my own strategies when applicable…)

  6. Paul says

    Well advertising is an art that was turned into a science. What an incredible video. So I assume you showed your friend this video as a reference to win your case? He has to know that we can’t as ways be on the look out subliminal marketing.

  7. Al Vig says

    It’s really funny you just wrote this article. I was just having an argument with my friends about this. I believe your level of education on certain business aspects such as marketing tactics play a huge role in subliminal messaging.

  8. Danny says

    Derren Brown is an illusionist. It is a trick. He had cameras in the office while the guys came up with the first design and then managed to exchange the envelopes when he came back in the room. Pretty basic trick realyl.

  9. Home Recording says

    What an experience! I know that we are constantly being bombarded with subliminal messages in many medias. No matter how much we think that we are masters of our decision making process, the subconscious does work in influencing some of our behaviors. Classic cases of brand loyalty for no logical reason. Similarly, a lot of religious stuff is all about subliminal messages being driven home to keep the flock together. I can elaborate on this, but for the desire not to raise a controversy. A non controversial example is the suicide bomber. The kind of brain washing that he/she goes through is both overt and covert, the latter in many subliminal ways.
    Our prejudices, stereotypes etc also are due to a lot of subliminal messages having registered in our psyche.

  10. Mary Elaine Kiener says

    Dawud–Great post (and video!). I guess we certainly do become what we “think about” (whether consciously or unconciously). Your friend’s comments also remind me of a great mind-opening read: “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink.

  11. Barb says

    If the video is really genuine I have to say that it is pretty frightening. We take in so much throughout the day without realising a fraction of it.

  12. anonymous says

    I’ve been a student of psychology for several years… It doesn’t matter how smart a person is; what matters is whether or not they’re smart enough to realize that NO ONE is oblivious to things like unconscious and subliminal advertising, or even to the effects of advertising in general.

  13. inspirationbit says

    that was an amazing video and yes, scary, as well, almost like a science fiction, but it’s actually the world we live in – the minute we get up and brush our teeth with Colgate (or any other toothpaste), drink the branded coffee, we’re bombarded with ads, brand names for the rest of the day.

  14. Mba says

    As someone educated in business, I always fee like I am ‘above’ these types of ploys, but every so often I catch myself in one of ‘those moments’ where you’ve been sucked in….

  15. Dan says

    People view subliminal messaging as either hidden images, or encoded messages in subliminal mp3s. However, yes they can work on a much more subtle level such as just suggesting images on the edge of our focus as the Derren Brown video has shown.

    We are all exposed to these messages everyday, some intentionally by advertisers, and some purely by coincidence.

    Subliminal messages are real, they do really work, and by targeting ourselves with focused intentional subliminal messages we can ensure we get high quality information sent to our brains for areas that we are interested in pursuing.

  16. stumbledupon says

    that was complete bullshit. totally fake.

    i have been in advertising for 15 years.

    your friend is right. advertising only works on the weak of mind. fortunately for us, everyone is weak of mind. including your friend. we are all weak. we want what we don’t need. we try to buy our ways out of our insecurities. hurrah!

    subliminal messages don’t exist, because they don’t work. sure you can try to stack the deck visually. but that’s not subliminal. that’s conscious.

  17. Max Miroff says

    Wow. I mean…. man…

    That is just cool. I think we’re all susceptible to subliminal messaging, if by that you mean taking past experience and putting it to use somehow.

  18. Ernesto says

    I think subliminals are highly effective, especially when used as a tool in advertising. Otherwise, TV advertisements would not exist in the first place. Ads on TV are so effective that I myself end up changing brands of products because of subliminal messages sent by these ads.

  19. John Hee says

    Track down Derren Brown’s YouTube and website – a UK stage show who clearly understands the root ideas and is preapred to show them in action

  20. Customized Websites says

    Danny above is right. Derren Brown uses pseudoscience to back up his magic. Instead of pretending he has supernatural powers, like other magicians, he makes you think he just has a great grasp of psychology. It’s just a form of showmanship, and a great idea. Obviously we are susceptible to subliminal messages, but not to the degree shown in the film.

  21. Scott says

    There has never been study that proves subliminal messaging can influence someone to buy something. There have been studies linking subliminal messaging to somewhat influencing actions.

    Companies can not make you buy things through subliminal messaging. However, the publics perception of subliminal messaging is generally the opposite. People believe they are very much affected by it, and just don’t know it, which is false.

  22. Computer Repair says

    Subliminal messages only affect those week minded. Just like marketing gimics. How many times have you heard this line “But it was on sale” No, they don’t affect me.

  23. T.Love says

    Wow!!! I have always felt like your friend. Now, I am rethinking some of the products I buy and the things that I do. This was very interesting. Thanks for sharing this.

  24. Virginia says

    We are all connected, we influence one another in subtle (as well as not so subtle) ways.

    This is not frightening – it is empowering and remins me of our esponsibility to embrace only good and true thoughts/visions…if we are toxic, our interdependence is threatened.

    Thank you for sharing this experiement with the online community.

    In Sunny Santa Fe

  25. camping girl says

    I studied psychology and am quite sure that submliminal messages in advertising have little effect on people – no matter how “weak-minded” you are. Lots of the early scientific studies into the phenomenon turned out to be really flawed. Don’t worry people!

  26. Mari says

    We bought Johnsonville brats, hotdog buns, and french fries the other day because of a Johnsonville advertisement on late-night TV. Not so subliminal, but it did make us realize we’d not had brats in a while. LOL

  27. Tony says

    If this is true then its really scary to think that you don’t actually make decision for your self i.e. someone else arrange it for you to make that decision.

    But the again I saw David Copperfield do this kind of trick in front of live audience.

    Are you subliminally trying to make me think?

  28. Cat forum says

    I definitely think subliminal is in many advertising media forms, especially TV.

    I thought I remember hearing that the people who weren’t open to hypnosis won’t go in the subconcious state. So you sort of have to probably be open to the idea to begin with to be swayed.

  29. Computer Repair says

    Subliminal advertising is used in the media constantly. In the political ads leading up to the last election you could constantly (if you were paying attention) see little touches here and there that would associate the person with symbols and things you recognize. Advertising is all about you remembering and associating the “product” with positive thoughts. I would not be surprised if advertisers and political media developers hired psychiatrists on their staff to accomplish this better. Why not use every advantage? I don’t think subliminal messages exactly mean “tricking” someone or “implanting” anything under the radar, it is just human nature to associate things in their mind and we are constantly taking in the scene for recall later. Of course things in the scene effect our opinion of the “focus”

  30. Computer repair Los Angeles says

    I disagree with the comment from “Cat Forum”. I dont think you need to be open or succeptible to the idea of subliminal advertising at all. It works and you dont even know it. It is powerful stuff that affects the subconscious mind.

  31. Mark says

    I watched Derren Brown doing this when it first went out on UK TV. He’s a psychological illusionist so he’s very clever in the way he does things like this. He’s even clever at the way he presents this stuff to the TV audience. So I would say it’s a very extreme example.

  32. free classifieds site says

    I feel that advertising in any form is good – as long as it is positive advertising. TV ads are certainly expensive – but they have the highest reach – and that is why the biggest advertisers are FMCG companies.

  33. The Refinements says

    Derren Brown is excellent in the way that he explains this kind of manipulation with such clarity. There’s a very fine line between subliminal manipulation and outright control.

  34. Alizain says

    well i watch the video and it is good. i belive we should be using the Subliminal Advertising so that people could be more attracted.

  35. subliminal messages says

    It would be highly unethical to use subliminal messages in advertising. However, there is no such thing as something which doesn’t affect the subconscious mind. That means that anything effectively has a subliminal component to it, whether you try to avoid or not.

  36. resorna says

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  37. Gianfranco Marchione says

    if subliminal advertising was banned in the USA then clearly it has an effect on the human brain. I just wonder what is actually done to prevent the big corporations from including subliminal messages in their adverts.


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