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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.

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Sure, no alternate explanations possible here....
By rtrski on 3/20/2008 10:53:00 AM , Rating: 4
"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."

Or, since they only studied university students, most of which have probably owned, and had problems with, iPods over time, more than have had issues with IBM hardware, the exposure to the Apple logo merely inspired them to think of more creative things they'd like to to with the brick, to Apple.

By 3kliksphilip on 3/20/2008 11:00:28 AM , Rating: 2
'30 millisecond or about 1/30th of a second exposure'

I'm pretty sure there's a big difference between these.

Hmm, brb, I feel a sudden urge to have something to eat. Maybe an apple.

By masher2 on 3/20/2008 11:03:42 AM , Rating: 2
30ms x 30 = 900 ~= 1s.

By 3kliksphilip on 3/20/2008 11:16:33 AM , Rating: 3
Ah, so THAT's how I failed Physics.

All those times I've taken, 1:06 seconds = 106 milliseconds. Oh dear.

By Phynaz on 3/20/2008 11:07:06 AM , Rating: 1
Bashing Apple.

How creative of you.

By pomaikai on 3/20/2008 11:28:20 AM , Rating: 2
Using my I mean ipod to bash an apple. Thanks for the idea. My IPOD has been sitting in my drawer at work for about 6 months broken. Was gonna buy a hard drive to fix it, but picked up a 30GB zune for $79 after thanksgiving. Maybe I should start bashing stuff with my ipod. You must own a apple because you are such a creative person.

As a note for anyone that reads this. If you buy ANY hard drive based MP3 player ALWAYS get the extended warranty. If you are at all active it WILL go out after about 1 year.

RE: Sure, no alternate explanations possible here....
By raphd on 3/20/2008 11:42:52 AM , Rating: 1
best support for linux is google. You can pretty much find a solution for everything in linux.

RE: Sure, no alternate explanations possible here....
By Etsp on 3/20/2008 11:59:17 AM , Rating: 5
Not quite true, the best support for linux is trolling... as explained here:

By Bruneauinfo on 3/20/2008 12:24:57 PM , Rating: 3
Excellent link! that is so true. the egos of linux gurus are only slightly overshadowed by those of users who are deep within the cult of Mac.

By Master Kenobi on 3/20/2008 2:13:15 PM , Rating: 3
Damn, that bash link is the best. It's also true. The same can be said of most products that perform common functions by the power users. If I give someone crap about Lotus Notes, I get a dozen lotus developers explaining all the ways you can get around it or make lotus dance in different ways. They still haven't figured out what's up with the damn Calendar under Lotus though. =/.

By Nekrik on 3/20/2008 11:46:04 PM , Rating: 2
Shit that's the best thing I read all day.

That little blurb should be every distros help file.

By PWNettle on 3/21/2008 2:39:50 PM , Rating: 2
Awesome - sad that it can't be rated higher :P

By rtrski on 3/20/2008 12:12:28 PM , Rating: 2
You think that's a bash? Curious. I'd think it was a given that the average piece of Apple hardware likely to be owned by the average uni studen would fail more often than IBM equipment owned by the average uni student, if only because they're built for a consumer market, to be cheaper, therefore must be built to slightly lower standards.(I'm obviously making a generalization by comparing say an iPod to a laptop, not for example a Macbook to an IBM laptop, based on my assumption of what more college students are likely to own), not to mention because there are so many more of them available to fail, so the quantity factor will tell as well.

Oh, wait, IBM doesn't even MAKE laptops anymore...that biz was spun off. So assuming the average uni student 'knows' this, he's again not likely to have as much personal experience with IBM goods vs. Apple goods, so again not as likely to have had a bad personal experience if only due to statistics. Granted I have no idea where this huge pool of 300ish uni students came from, either, which could also hugely skew the results. Engineering school students might automatically associate IBM gear with 'work' and macs with 'play' (not near as many macs used due to lack of a lot of software for them). Liberal Arts school users might not even have thought of IBM in any way at all, while they do have a direct experience with Apple thru ownership of iPods, etc. (Yes, I could read more and find out, but I really don't care that much.)

But go ahead and paint me with that broad anti-Apple brush. It tickles nicely. :)

By clovell on 3/20/2008 3:32:19 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. This isn't free association. There is a bias out there called brand perception.

It works, too - Entire departments live and die by it, and people feed their families doing it. Marketing is a powerful force - which is, ironically, best demonstrated by Apple.

Brain crash?
By Proteusza on 3/20/2008 10:59:25 AM , Rating: 5
What happens if we superimpose the IBM and Apple logos over each other? Cognitive Dissonance?

Frankly, I think its a bit of a stretch. I'd like to know what the ressarchers think is the cause of the effect. Is it the presence of lines? Is it that Apple uses many colours in their logo, and the logo is nearly round (a nice organic shape)?

I'm guessing it plays on the connotations that people have for these brands. I know a lot less about IBM than Apple, although I'm not likely to purchase products from either company.

RE: Brain crash?
By therealnickdanger on 3/20/2008 11:04:55 AM , Rating: 4
What happens if we superimpose the IBM and Apple logos over each other? Cognitive Dissonance?

*head asplode*

RE: Brain crash?
By wordsworm on 3/20/2008 11:36:08 AM , Rating: 2
The white between the letters in IBM make me think of blinds in an office. Whereas the colors of the apple are like an artist's palette. I think the connection is pretty obvious. IBM=corporate office. Apple=creative expression. I think that spells it out for you folks.

Now, I'm a very disgruntled Wintel user. I can't imagine going over to Apple, but next time I have a good holiday or I'm between jobs, I'm going to give Linux a try. I get better customer service from Firefox than IE. I wonder if the same can be said for Linux... probably not, or else it too would be competing head to head with Windows.

RE: Brain crash?
By pomaikai on 3/20/2008 11:38:49 AM , Rating: 5
The study was a waste of time.

Apple is a small company that comes out with innovations(same old stuff with a new twist.) The key here is they are release these innovations throughtout the year which gives the appearance of always one upping themselves. These are consumer based products that are always in the media because apple hypes everything like it blows away everything they have ever designed. Hence the thought of innovation.

IBM is a very large corporation that focuses on businesses. Businesses dont strive on latest and greatest. They strive on reliability and scalability. We are talking about things that mean nothing to the average consumer. How often does IBM announce a new consumer product? The consumer products they do offer are designed for ruggedness and reliability. With IBM people tend to think of huge machines that crunch data which to no suprise is analytical.

RE: Brain crash?
By Suomynona on 3/20/2008 11:39:33 AM , Rating: 3
I think looking into whether there's anything inherent in the design of the logos that reinforces the perception created by the brand would be much more interesting. As it stands, this study was pretty worthless. The only thing it really tells you is that IBM and Apple have succeeded in their marketing goals.

RE: Brain crash?
By Motoman on 3/20/2008 12:00:15 PM , Rating: 2
Yup - the title seemed to suggest that there's something inherent in the designs of the logos themselves that fostered a particular reaction/behavior - that's not the case. It's a pure reaction to the "education" one recives from the magic box in the living room...Apple=Creative and IBM=Analytical. This has not the slightest to do with the logos per se, but rather demonstrates how much of a tool the average human animal is in that they bow so mightily to advertising.

RE: Brain crash?
By Alexstarfire on 3/20/2008 1:03:20 PM , Rating: 2
I'd venture it has nothing to do with the actual imagine, but what the image represents. Apple's products are generally more stylish than others, hence the creativity. IBM on the other hand has tons of business products, hence the analytical thinking. E! has ton of rumors and such, unlike Disney which people tend to think is kiddy and innocent, hence the telling the truth.

I'd venture that if they ran the same test with random pictures that had no association to companies that they'd find absolutely nothing.

it's also illegal
By johnsonx on 3/20/2008 2:13:37 PM , Rating: 3
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.

I don't know if it's actual law, or simply disallowed by broadcaster agreement, but I believe subliminal advertising is illegal. This came up during the show Babylon 5 where they wanted to show a subliminal message during a fake 'ad' for the Psi Corps ('The Psi Corps is your friend. Trust the Corps') or something like that); they had to make the message show for several frames, a bit longer than desired, else they would have run afoul of the subliminal message ban.

Looky, youtube has everything:

RE: it's also illegal
By johnsonx on 3/20/2008 2:16:20 PM , Rating: 2
btw, am I the only one who finds that lamp next to the kid a little disturbing?

RE: it's also illegal
By johnsonx on 3/20/2008 2:30:50 PM , Rating: 2
ok, in case my geek cred isn't high enough, I found the original notes I read about this here:

Search for subliminal - there are a couple of notes about it, included an indication the ban comes from the FCC.

Apparently 1/12 of a second or less (2 frames) is considered a subliminal message, so Babylon 5 did theirs for 4 frames, or 1/6 of a second (film frames that is, 24fps). France, being France and all, has stricter rules, so they just left it off altogether.

this is off topic, so shoot me
By johnsonx on 3/20/2008 1:55:16 PM , Rating: 3
That old Apple logo reminds me of the wayback time. Back in the day, as it were, when the various computer geek camps were divided into Apple, Atari and Commodore factions, I recall that one of the barbs the latter two would hurl at the Apple dorks was the fact that an Apple II could not successfully display the company logo on it's own screen in anything close the proper colors. Atari had a rolling rainbow logo that could be displayed in full glory on a 16k Atari 400, while any Apple II before the gs couldn't get six simple static colors right.

Ah, those were the days...

RE: this is off topic, so shoot me
By Jynx980 on 3/24/2008 6:59:59 AM , Rating: 2
I can relate. The days of playing Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, and Master Blaster while "learning" at school are fond memories.

If the study were to use the older and newer logo of Apples' they would find drastic differences. I don't know how long they have used the new logo but if you asked a young person what Apple makes they would answer iPod's and laptops. A very contrasting view of the rainbow apple of old.

a better test would have been to
By kattanna on 3/20/2008 12:26:49 PM , Rating: 2
use various shapes/colors/etc of known origins, not WELL KNOWN brand names because people could be simply responding to the established mind sets associated with those companies instead of the logos themselves.

By kattanna on 3/20/2008 12:27:56 PM , Rating: 2
of known origins

bah.. i meant UNknown

How is this even news?
By JonnyDough on 3/20/2008 2:12:29 PM , Rating: 1
Logos make you want to buy. No crap? Ever hear of McDonalds? Hell, Levi jeans, the ARMY? Logos have been around forever. This isn't anything new. There is a reason we paint school busses yellow, and a reason we paint stop signs red and make them all the same. Logos obviously have an effect on us. It's called advertising. It's a multi-billion dollar industry. Wake up Canada, if you tried a little advertising we'd have heard of more of your companies.

RE: How is this even news?
By JonnyDough on 3/20/2008 2:52:23 PM , Rating: 2
Meh, I forgot that "hell" or "crap" was a bad word. Oooh.

By kontorotsui on 3/20/2008 12:05:47 PM , Rating: 2
A mere 30 millisecond or about 1/30th of a second exposure to a Playmate of the Year picture can dramatically alter the viewer's thinking process.
I knew that already.

By Seemonkeyscanfly on 3/20/2008 1:05:42 PM , Rating: 2
Looking at photos of really hot chicks in really tiny bikinis seems to always have a subliminal effect to my brain. I just can not control my thoughts....

Re-discovering the wheel.
By kyleb2112 on 3/20/2008 8:18:57 PM , Rating: 2
This research team could've saved a lot of time by just talking to logo designers. There's no secret here--they aspire to make these connections in customers' minds. They sweat every little detail and how it may be perceived, then elaborately sell the concept to the "suits". You can label it with the scientific term "subliminal", but to designers it's an art and central to their job description.

Next some research team will suspect car makers of sexual advertising by constantly using "S" and "X" in their car names. Or that McDonald's uses red and yellow because those colors make you hungry. If the "breakthroughs" keep coming, they may discover fire in our lifetime.

Apple - - IBM - - hu?
By EpicHealer on 3/20/08, Rating: 0
"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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