What Is Subliminal Perception?

How Does Subliminal Perception Apply to Marketing?

Jason Quey
Last updated: May 16, 2023
Originally published: Apr 11, 2019

Also Known As: Subliminal stimuli, subliminal messaging, subliminal advertising


Subliminal perception is any information you receive from your senses that you are not consciously aware of happening.

How Effective is Subliminal Advertising?

Applications of subliminal stimuli often base themselves on the persuasiveness of the message. Importantly, research on action priming has shown that subliminal stimuli can trigger only actions a receiver of the message plans to perform anyway.

However, consensus of this finding remains unsubstantiated by other research. Most actions can be triggered subliminally only if the person already has the potential to perform a specific action.[4]

The following sections have more information on specific studies which investigate the effectiveness of subliminal stimuli. [5][6]

Subliminal Messaging and Television

Some studies have looked at the efficacy of subliminal messaging in television. Subliminal messages produce only one-tenth of the effects of detected messages and the findings related the effects of subliminal messaging were relatively ambiguous.[30]

Also, participants’ ratings of positive response to commercials are not affected by subliminal messages in the commercials. [30]

Karremans suggests that subliminal messages have an effect when the messages are goal-relevant. [31] Subliminally priming a brand name of a soft drink (Lipton Ice) made those who were thirsty want the Lipton Ice. However, those who were not thirsty were not influenced by the subliminal messages. [31]

Karremans did a study assessing whether subliminal priming of a brand name of a drink would affect a person's choice of drink, and whether this effect is caused by the individual's feelings of being thirsty. [31]

In another study, participant's ratings of thirst were higher after viewing an episode of The Simpsons that contained single frames of the word "thirsty" or of a picture of a Coca-Cola can. [32]

Some studies have shown greater effects of subliminal messaging with as high as 80% of participants showing a preference for a particular rum when subliminally primed by the name placed in an ad backward. [33]

Many authors have continued to argue for the effectiveness of subliminal cues in changing consumption behavior, citing environmental cues as a main culprit of behavior change. [34]

Authors who support this line of reasoning cite findings such as the research that showed slow-paced music in a supermarket was associated with more sales and customers moving at a slower pace. [35]

Findings such as these support the notion that external cues can affect behavior, although the stimulus may not fit into a strict definition of subliminal stimuli because although the music may not be attended to or consciously affecting the customers, they are certainly able to perceive it.

Subliminal messaging is prohibited in advertising in the United Kingdom. [36]

See Also: priming, pre-attentive processing

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Jason Quey

I am the CEO and Founder of Growth Ramp. I enjoy serving early-stage startups and later-stage scale-ups on their journey from idea to scale.

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