Skip to main content
Responsible Marketing

Can subliminal advertising be responsible?

By January 18, 2008May 13th, 20213 Comments

We’ve all seen examples of subliminal advertising in print ads over the years. I use the word “seen” loosely, because usually you have to look pretty hard to find that suggestive image that’s supposed to burrow itself into your subconscious and get you to buy! buy! buy!

Anyway, subliminal advertising on television is a whole different story. Freeze the action on the correct frame and boom! subliminal is now perceptible.

Here’s a subliminal ad discovered on The Food Network last year:

I’m lovin’ it.

Well, not so much. Like most people, I don’t want to be manipulated. But also because for years now, just about every academic study done on the topic has concluded that subliminal advertising doesn’t work.

Maybe I shouldn’t care.

After all, what good is subliminal advertising if it doesn’t work and it runs the risk of making people feel violated? Let’s answer that after you view this:

No, this isn’t subliminal advertising, though the person that posted it on YouTube thought it might be.

Mad Men, the critically-acclaimed AMC series from the writer and Executive Producer of The Sopranos is all about deception, lies, and the dark side of advertising. The tagline is “Where the truth lies.”

Call me mad, but AMC didn’t go far enough with this. They consider a significant prime time subliminal advertising campaign.

Here’s my rationale:

  • The story is set during an era when subliminal advertising was a hot topic and top-of-mind with the American public
  • Don Draper, the “Tony Soprano” of the series, would have used these tactics
  • The PR and word-of-mouth they would receive would be tremendous
  • And they have the perfect defense: subliminal advertising doesn’t work anyway, does it?Is subliminal advertising ever responsible? In most cases, absolutely not. It’s not message or ROI responsible. But I’d consider it one of the most responsible ways to promote MadMen.What do you think? And while we’re on the topic of past marketing tactics, is traditional marketing still worth your time?

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Lissa says:

    Transparently, spoof-like – sure!

    Check out the AXE products for men ‘Naughty Girls’ videos for an idea of what I mean. Poking fun while making your point, go right on ahead. Hysterical.

    But subliminal for real – not under any circumstances.


  • G. H. Knutson says:

    The “Madmen” promo within Ad Age is strategically brilliant, although I’m not sure it’ll pay off.

    But as for your “examples” on subliminal advertising on the Food Network or whatever:

    Did it not occur to you that any moron can pull a piece of video, insert a bogus frame, and put it up on YouTube? Duh!

    I spent 35 years in the ad biz. Subliminal advertising never existed, doesn’t exist, was always a hoax. And the people who believe in it are the same ones who believe the moon landing was faked.

  • Hello G.H.

    Thanks for your post.

    The example mentioned has been downloaded nearly 800k times. I doubt everyone buys it, but most of the comments suggest they do, or they don’t care.

    It did occur to me that “any moron can pull a piece of video, insert a bogus frame, and put it up on YouTube.” But this wasn’t on YouTube. It was on television. And it was confirmed by third party sources that it was there, but it was a technical glitch.

    Like you, I don’t believe subliminal advertising works—and provided evidence that it doesn’t work in my post.

    Thanks for weighing in.

Leave a Reply