Researchers explore possible subliminal signals in modern advertising

While it may border on pseudo-science, researchers at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Canada's University of Waterloo released research claiming that exposure to familiar commercial logos greatly changes the viewers thinking.  Hot on the heels of another study examining the Mac "snob effect" the new study claims that exposure to Apple's traditional rainbow-striped logo induces creative thinking in the viewer. 

It juxtaposes this finding with that of the IBM logo, which is found to induce analytical and less creative thoughts in the user.

The research is scheduled to be published in the April issue of the Journal of Consumer Research
Professors Gavan Fitzsimons and Tanya Chartrand of Duke claim in the article that a mere 30 millisecond or about 1/30th of a second exposure to a corporate logo can dramatically alter the viewer's thinking process.

The controversial findings indicate that subliminal advertising is alive and well.  The research follows in the path of the controversial 2006 paper
"Beyond Vicary's fantasies: The impact of subliminal priming and brand choice" (PDF), which was based on research in the Netherlands and found that "subliminal priming" through images or other advertisements can influence users beverage choice, provided they are thirsty to begin with.  In other words subliminal advertising doesn't radically control the viewer, it merely directs them to choose one of multiple similar paths.

Gavan Fitzsimons describes the new research, stating, "The work we're doing is really studying what we call incidental brand exposure.  What that means is very short exposure to brand logos."

Chartand adds, "
Certain brands are associated with different personality traits.  So for instance, the Apple brand has really cultivated an image of creativity and innovativeness. So we thought being exposed to the Apple brand might lead individuals to become more creative or to have a goal to be more creative."

In a rather humorous scenario test subjects were asked to come up with creative uses for a brick after being exposed to either an Apple or an IBM icon for a brief span. 
The full analysis can be seen in a video found hereChartand states,  "What we found is that people who were subliminally primed to the Apple logo were more creative than people who had been subliminally primed to the IBM logo." 

In all 341 university students were tested during the trial.   Another interesting juxtaposition is that when exposed to the Disney logo, users reacted with greater honesty than when exposed to an
E! Channel logo.  The findings may spark renewed interest in subliminal advertising.  In the video Fitzsimons states that extremely brief exposures to corporate imagery can help to bypass the prejudices and other defensive barriers, which people typically use to block out advertisement.

Fitzsimons points out though that there are significant barriers in place that make it difficult for companies to exploit subliminal advertising.  For one, it would be very difficult for television networks to handling billing for such brief time periods.  Secondly, networks might fear deploying such ads during programming due to possible consumer outrage if the technique was exposed. 

Fitzsimons states that product placements and other types of brief marketing hold the most potential.  However, with big money possible, it might be unsurprising to see TV and print publications fund studies to the controversy if the technique is fully embraced.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs
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