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Subliminal advertising in modern times – does it work?

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Subliminal messaging in modern times

Subliminal messaging has been around for ages but was introduced purposely into advertising in 1895 as a masking of messages meant to have a long lasting impact on consumers’ behavior.

In the 50s, Mad Men-esque companies used subliminal television (visual and audio) and radio (audio) ad strategies which implemented subliminal messaging. Some companies came clean about these methods which some say are still used today, while other companies claim they never employed these tactics.

When you say “subliminal messaging,” this Family Guy episode most likely comes to most Millenials’ and GenXers’ minds:

Messaging in modern times

University of Texas cognitive scientist Dr. Art Markman says, “If you flash something for one frame of a movie, it is presented for about 1/60th of a second. Because there is an image shown before and after it, you will notice the image consciously, but it will be processed by your visual system, and some information will get through.”

Dr. Markman points to a recent study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology in April by Thijs Verwijmeren, Johan Karremans, Wolfgang Stroebe, and Daniel Wigboldus. The study investigated drink choices, measured respondents’ thirst levels and studied how much respondents typically buy a brand of bottled water versus a brand of ice tea.

Once these determinations were made, people were asked to do a simple task in which they saw a row of capital Bs (BBBBBBBB), but on some trials there was also a lower-case b in the row (BBBbBBBB). They had to count the number of trials where there was a lower-case b. Before each of the rows of Bs were presented, half the participants saw the brand name of the ice tea flashed on the screen subliminally.
At the end of the study, participants were allowed to select either the ice tea or the water to drink.

Subliminal results

Dr. Markman said, “The pattern of data is a bit complicated, though it ultimately makes a lot of sense.”

  • When you are not thirsty, the subliminal message has very little effect on your choices. You tend to pick the drink you generally like.
  • If you are thirsty, and you have a strong preference for the brand that was shown subliminally, it has no real effect on your choices.
  • If you are thirsty and you have no real preference for either drink, then you tend to pick the brand that was shown subliminally.
  • If you are thirsty and your less-preferred drink was shown subliminally, you tend to pick the brand that was shown subliminally (which goes against your habit).

The study shows that subliminal advertising has some impact on your choices but will not forced you to smoke or make choices you would never naturally make. Subliminal messaging has an effect if you are already motivated to pursue a goal and has the strongest effect when the subliminal messaging makes it easier for you to consider something that strays from your normal habits. Subliminal ads favor the underdog.

Subliminal messaging and you

For subliminal messaging to work, it is unlikely you would be able to do it yourself in a YouTube video or on a podcast, rather the best form (for someone who isn’t a full time ad exec specializing in subliminal messaging) is through suggestive marketing.

Asking for the sale and being direct still works best and Realtors putting a 1/60th of a second image in a YouTube video ad could backfire. Sticking to “follow me on Twitter” or “subscribe to our team newsletter” and drip marketing campaigns will win in the long run while attempting tricks will likely come across like the video above.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Liz Benitez

    May 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Ah darn. I was reading this article and thinking well cool all I have to do is put a little subliminal message in and all my dreams will come true. Then you go and say "attempting tricks will likely come across like the video above" 😀

  2. Brendan

    May 24, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    My new "subliminal" venture is to not blog about real estate. I am focusing more on things I like to blog about; food, wine, design, etc. many things that are common interests of myself, clients and many other people in my local community. The blog does have a small real estate tab, but it doesn't scream – "HEY – I'M A REALTOR". Still has MLS search – but no about my real estate career, the listings I've sold, testimonials, etc…. I've got other sites for that 😉

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Business Marketing

Bite-sized retail: Macy’s plans to move out of malls

(BUSINESS MARKETING) While Macy’s shares have recently climbed, the department store chain is making a change in regards to big retail shopping malls.

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Macy's retail storefront, which may look different as they scale to smaller stores.

I was recently listening to a podcast on Barstool Sports, and was surprised to hear that their presenting sponsor was Macy’s. This struck me as odd considering the demographic for the show is women in their twenties to thirties, and Macy’s typically doesn’t cater to that crowd. Furthermore, department retail stores are becoming a bit antiquated as is.

The sponsorship made more sense once I learned that Macy’s is restructuring their operation, and now allowing their brand to go the way of the ghost. They feel that while malls will remain in operation, only the best (AKA the malls with the most foot traffic) will stand the test of changes in the shopping experience.

As we’ve seen a gigantic rise this year in online shopping, stores like Macy’s and JC Penney are working hard to keep themselves afloat. There is so much changing in brick and mortar retail that major shifts need to be made.

So, what is Macy’s proposing to do?

The upscale department store chain is going to be testing smaller stores in locations outside of major shopping malls. Bloomingdale’s stores will be doing the same. “We continue to believe that the best malls in the country will thrive,” CEO Jeff Gennette told CNBC analysts. “However, we also know that Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have high potential [off]-mall and in smaller formats.”

While the pandemic assuredly plays a role in this, the need for change came even before the hit in March. Macy’s had announced in February their plans to close 125 stores in the next three years. This is in conjunction with Macy’s expansion of Macy’s Backstage, which offers more affordable options.

Gennette also stated that while those original plans are still in place, Macy’s has been closely monitoring the competition in the event that they need to adjust the store closure timeline. At the end of the second quarter, Macy’s had 771 stores, including Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury.

Last week, Macy’s shares climbed 3 percent, after the retailer reported a more narrow loss than originally expected, along with stronger sales due to an uptick in their online business. So they’re already doing well in that regard. But will smaller stores be the change they need to survive?

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Business Marketing

Why you must nix MLM experience from your resume

(BUSINESS MARKETING) MLMs prey on people without much choice, but once you try to switch to something more stable, don’t use the MLM as experience.

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Discussing including MLM experience on a resume.

MLM experience… Is it worth keeping on your resume?

Are you or someone you know looking for a job after a stint in an MLM? Well, first off, congratulations for pursuing a real job that will provide a steady salary! But I also know that transition can be hard. The job market is already tight and if you don’t have much other work experience on your resume, is it worth trying to leverage your MLM experience?

The short answer? Heck no.

As Ask the Manager puts it, there’s a “strong stigma against [MLMs],” meaning your work experience might very well put a bad taste in the mouth of anyone looking through resumes. And looking past the sketchy products many offer, when nearly half of people in MLMs lose money and another quarter barely break even, it sure doesn’t paint you in a good light to be involved.

(Not to mention, many who do turn a profit only do so by recruiting more people, not actually by selling many products.)

“But I wouldn’t say I worked for an MLM,” you or your friend might say, “I was a small business owner!”

It’s a common selling point for MLMs, that often throw around pseudo-feminist feel good slang like “Boss Babe” or a “Momtrepreneur,” to tell women joining that they’re now business women! Except, as you might have guessed, that’s not actually the case, unless by “Boss Babe” you mean “Babe Who Goes Bankrupt or Tries to Bankrupt Her Friends.”

A more accurate title for the job you did at an MLM would be Sales Rep, because you have no stake in the creation of the product, or setting the prices, or any of the myriad of tasks that a real entrepreneur has to face.

Okay, that doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as “small business owner.” And I know it’s tempting to talk up your experience on a resume, but that can fall apart pretty quickly if you can’t actually speak to actual entrepreneur experience. It makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about…which is also not a good look for the job hunt.

That said… Depending on your situation, it might be difficult to leave any potential work experience off your resume. I get it. MLMs often target people who don’t have options for other work opportunities – and it’s possible you’re one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t have much else to put on paper.

In this case, you’ll want to do it carefully. Use the sales representative title (or something similar) and, if you’re like the roughly 50% of people who lose money from MLMs, highlight your soft skills. Did you do cold calls? Tailor events to the people who would be attending? Get creative, just make sure to do it within reason.

It’s not ideal to use your MLM experience on a resume, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Still, congratulations to you, or anyone you know, who has decided to pursue something that will actually help pay the bills.

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Business Marketing

This smart card manages employee spending with ease

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Clever credit cards make it easier for companies to set spending policies and help alleviate expense problems for both them and their employees.

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Spendesk showing off its company credit cards.

Company credit cards are a wonderful solution to managing business expenses. They work almost exactly like debit cards, which we all know how to use, am I right? It is the twenty-first century after all. Simply swipe, dip, or tap, and a transaction is complete.

However, keeping up with invoices and receipts is a nightmare. I know I’ve had my fair share of hunting down wrinkled pieces of paper after organizing work events. Filling out endless expense reports is tedious. Plus, the back and forth communication with the finance team to justify purchases can cause a headache on both ends.

Company credit cards make it easier for companies to keep track of who’s spending money and how much. However, they aren’t able to see final numbers until expense reports are submitted. This makes monitoring spending a challenge. Also, reviewing all the paperwork to reimburse employees is time-consuming.

But Spendesk is here to combat those downsides! This all-in-one corporate expense and spend management service provides a promising alternative to internal management. The French startup “combines spend approvals, company cards, and automated accounting into one refreshingly easy spend management solution.”

Their clever company cards are what companies and employees have all been waiting for! With increasing remote workforces, this new form of payment comes at just the right moment to help companies simplify their expenditures.

These smart cards remove limitations regular company cards have today. Spendesk’s employee debit cards offer companies options to monitor budgets, customize settings, and set specific authorizations. For instance, companies can set predefined budgets and spending category limitations on flights, hotels, restaurants, etc. Then they don’t have to worry about an employee taking advantage of their card by booking a first-class flight or eating at a high-end steakhouse.

All transactions are tracked in real time so finance and accounting can see purchases right as they happen. Increasing visibility is important, especially when your employee is working remotely.

And for employees, this new form of payment is more convenient and easier on the pocket. “These are smart employee company cards with built-in spending policies. Employees can pay for business expenses when they need to without ever having to spend their own money,” the company demonstrated in a company video.

Not having to dip into your checking account is a plus in my book! And for remote employees who just need to make a single purchase, Spendesk has single-use virtual debit cards, too.

Now, that’s a smart card!

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