In 1957 Vance Packard wrote a best seller called The Hidden Persuaders. It recounted claims by market researcher James M. Vicary who insisted that consumer choices could be influenced through subliminal messaging. Words or images flashed on a theater screen, he said, would result in higher popcorn, candy and colas sales. Vicary’s assertion was bogus and he eventually admitted it. But the idea stuck and researchers have been studying the effects of subliminal messaging for years. Until recently, most of the research failed to find a connection between hidden messages and human behavior. Now, however, under the right circumstances, a link may have been found.
…it is clear that an individual’s vulnerability to subliminal suggestion depends on a number of variables, including his or her physical needs and habits…[and} can be triggered under particular conditions. (“The Subtle Power of Hidden Messages by Wolfgang Stroebe, Scientific American MIND, May/June 2012, pg. 50)
Of all cues — words, images or music — the last is the strongest. In wine shops, for example, “Customers listening to classical selections…bought more expensive wine than did those listening to pop.” (Ibid pg 50) German music created a preference for German wine, French music sold more French wine and so forth. Another oddity was that classical music played in a restaurant resulted in customers who spent more freely than with any other background music.
These subliminal suggestions are temporary and limited, however. They must be “delivered near the time of decision making and they have to reflect a person’s immediate intentions or habits.” (Ibid, pg. 51) A beer devotee isn’t going to buy a French wine no matter how must French music is played. Subliminal messages may reinforce our preferences but they don’t create them.
In light of what I’ve learned, I’ll close with this message to my readers: Gothic Spring; Gothic Spring; Gothic Spring.