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Text of attachments to Marsha Appel's letter.

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In the following extracts the author's comments are entered in Red text.


The text of a one page extract from The Trouble with Advertising by John O'Toole, former AAAA President

that helps a genuine prospect to perceive the applicability of a product to his or her individual's life, to understand how the product will solve a problem, make life easier or better, or in some way provide a benefit. When the knowledge can't safely be assumed, it also explains how to get the product. In other words, it's salesmanship.

    It is not witchcraft, another craft government regulators and otherwise responsible writers are forever confusing with mine. For the same reasons people like to believe that someone is poisoning our water supply or, as in John McCarthy era, that pinkos proliferate in government and are trying to bring it down, someone is always rejuvinating the idea of subliminal advertising.

    Subliminal advertising is defined as advertising that employs stimuli operating below the threshold of consciousness. It is supposed to influence the recipient's behaviour without his being aware of any communication taking place. The most frequently cited example, never fully verified, involved a move theater where the words "Drink Coke" were flashed on the screen so briefly that while the mind recorded the message, it was not conscious of receiving it. The result was said to be greatly increased sales of Coca-Cola at the vending counter.[See the third set of extracts below. Note that the definition covers all forms of communications but the example refers only to stimuli produced by electrical devices such as tachistoscopes, slide projectors, film projectors, etc. and not printed advertising.]

    I don't like to destroy cherished illusions, but I must state unequivocally that there is no such thing as subliminal advertising.[Bearing in mind the precision of the definition in the previous paragraph, and the failure to distinguish between different forms of communication media, one is left wondering how relevant this statement is to printed media, especially after viewing the numerous examples on the present web site.] I have never seen an example of it, [ How could he? If his definition is pertinent then he would not be conscious of such stimuli. ] nor have I ever heard it seriously discussed as a technique by advertising people. Salesmanship is persuasion involving rational and emotional tools that must be employed on a conscious level in order to effect a conscious decision in favor of one product over its competitive counterparts, and in order to have that decision remembered and acted upon at a later time.[ This is clearly no longer true, even if it were the case some decades ago. Witness, the use of lifestyle and other visual techniques in use today. These require little, if any, conscious, cognitive processing.] Furthermore, it is demeaning to assume that the human mind is so easily controlled that anyone can be made to act against his will or better judgement by peremtory commands he doesn't realize are present.[ Secondary imager in print advertising does not rely on commands. It seemingly relies for its commercial effectiveness primarily on the presentation of emotive cues and associative conditioning between products and emotionally laden stimuli.]

    Even more absurd is the theory proposed by Wilson Bryan Key in a sleazy book entitled Subliminal Seduction. From whatever dark motivations, Key finds sexual symbolism in every ad and commercial. He points it out to his readers with no little relish, explaining how, after reducing the prospect to a pliant mass of sexual arousal, advertising can get him to buy anything. There are some who might envy Mr. Key his ability to get turned on by a photograph of a Sunkist orange.



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The text of a few extracts from The Answer is No: A National Survey of Advertising Practitioners and Their Clients about Whether they use Subliminal Advertising by Martha Rogers and Christine A. Seiler.

The Advertising Industry trades press has for decades ridiculed the notion of using hidden or embedded messages in advertisements. [True.] Nevertheless, at least three-quarters of the general adult American population believe that subliminal advertising is purposely created and used to sell products. [Also true, and with some justification. Despite problems regarding what exactly constitutes "subliminal advertising", if members of the public have been exposed to manipulative ads, even without any conscious awareness of secondary imagery, they may still possess some degree of awareness of their existance. Studies in hypnosis indicate that viewers 'take in' more information than they can report. Additionally, this awareness of phenomonon that are not consciously recognised may be due to familiarity with the concepts associated with subliminal advertising. It may also reflect knowledge without awareness in a phenomenon akin to blindsight. Certain individuals who are technically blind can still detect stimuli at levels better than chance even although they claim not to have seen anything at al.] The purpose of this study has been to survey advertising agency practitioners, client company brand and product managers, and media production professionals in order to query them about whether they have ever created or used subliminal advertising, or ever been asked to consider it. Several specific steps were taken to encourage frank responses. Based on a response rate of 36 percent, the reaction was unanimously negative, and evidence suggests that the few positive responses were due to a misunderstanding of the term "subliminal advertising".[This response rate is pretty poor but given the nature of the subject is to be expected. One should therefore not assume, as do the authors of the paper, that the results are representative of the professions and agencies that were polled.]


Scholars have researched advertising with subliminal embeds and their effects (e.g. Beatty and Hawkins, 1989; Gable et al, 1987; Kelly, 1979; Kilbourne et al, 1985; Rosen and Singh, 1992). These studies have generally refuted the possibility of eliciting predictable responses that could be useful to marketers. [None of the studies used embedded stimuli for any length of time in a manner akin to real life advertising. Compare the experimental ads with the use over many years by Philip Morris and RJReynolds and other companies. Additionally, these studies use relatively small numbers of subjects. Cigarette advertising is targeted at millions of users.What may influence only a small proportion of a group of individuals might not 'show' in a small experimental study but could produce commercially worthwhile results when millions are exposed to secondary imagery. ] Furthermore, none has tried to determine whether the advertising community has deliberately utiliized subliminal messages (Kelly, 1979; Dudley, 1987). In fact the advertising industry has repeatedly denied the use of subliminal embeds, and spokespersons within the industry have used such commonsense arguments against its probable use as: "If subliminals worked, wouldn't there be textbooks on how to practice it?" and "How can showing someone a penis get him or her to switch, say, from Kent (cigarettes) to Marlboro?" (Kanner, 1989).[Commonsense arguments have little relevance when dealing with perceptual and cognitive processes. But note that whilst their might not be any textbooks demonstrating how to practice ( an unethical and unacceptable ) form of advertising, there are many journal articles presenting both theoretical and practical issues to any interested individual. Many of the older articles are listed in the Bibliography, compiled in the late 1990's. ]

Wilson Bryan Key's (1972, 1976, 1980, 1989) writings, and frequent public-speaking presentations, may have served to promote the concept and purported use of subliminal persuasion by advertisers. Whilse his theories have been widely discredited by academicians (e.g. Dudley, 1987; Moore, 1982; Kelly, 1979) [Academic studies rarely focus on advertising and usually extrapolate to advertising the conclusions based on studies into subliminal perception.The two fields are not equivalent in nature and thus it is really inappropriate to extrapolate from one to another, in anything other than a very general sense with regard to perceptual phenomena. ] his writings still appeal to consumers and keep the question current: Is subliminal advertising purposely used by advertisers in order to elicit a predictable response by consumer? Kelly (1979) asserts that this question is extremely important but conspicuously unanswered by existing research, which focuses on whether subliminal advertising might be effective if it were used and not on whether it is used deliberately.[And this is still probably the case after Rogers and Seiler's survey. Unless they received honest and knowledgeable answers from employees of agencies working for companies who own the branded advertising discussed on this web site then, at least so far as these ads are concerned, the conclusions of Rogers and Seiler can be disregarded.]

One way of identifying whether in fact agencies and the client companies they represent consciously use subliminal advertising to help sell their products is to survey them. As of 1979, no such study had been done in this manner (Kelly, 1979). It wasn't until 1984 that a formal research study was undertaken to determine if advertisers purposely used subliminal embeds as an advertising strategy. In his survey of 100 advertising agency art directors, Haberstroh (1984) inquired whether any of these art directors had ever deliberately embedded, supervised an embedding, or had knowledge of an embedding of a subliminal message in advertising artwork for a client. His findings indicated that, of the 47 usable responses, only 2 answered "yes" to any of the questions. However, when he checked open-ended explanations by these two respondents, he determined there was confusion on the part of the respondents to the implied definition of "subliminal embeds" and that, apparently, none of the 47 participants had ever used such subliminal messages (Haberstroh, 1984).

Haberstroh's study had two major limitations. First, only a small sample of art directors were included in the study. .......Second, the climate of the advertising industry in1984 when Haberstroh conducted his study was positive and upbeat; art directors felt good about their jobs and would have had no reason to besmirch their own reputations, the reputation of their ad agencies or client companies, or the advertising industry, by answering in the affirmative. [Commentary on Haberstroh and his book Ice Cube Sex can be found by clicking this link.]


The present study seeks to overcome these limitations by using a larger and more varied sample and by elaborate procedures that guarantee anonymity. In addition, the present study has been conducted during a challenging period of the advertising industry's history when professional advertisers may no longer feel the loyalty they once did to their agencies, their clients, or the industry.


750 advertising industry and media production representatives throughout the United States received a mail survey. A probability sample was used to provide the the survey with the greatest potential to be representative of the advertising community and their clients (Emmert and Barker, 1989).


It is important to note that, at the outset of the questionnaire, "subliminal advertising" was defined as "the use of words, pictures, and shapes that are purposely inserted in advertising materials so that the viewers of the material cannot process the imagery at a conscious level, but rather at a subconscious level." This provided every respondent with the opportunity for clarification of the technical definition of subliminal advertising. Despite this effort for clarification, many respondents indicated through open-ended responses that they did not understand the technical definition of "subliminal advertising" and tended to confuse it with subtlety in the message.



Summary of Findings. Table 1 summarizes the findings. Of those responding (n-256), 167 denied any use of or knowlege of use of subliminal advertising at either their present or former employment. An additional 62 had not previously worked elsewhere and and denied having ever used or known of anyone using subliminal advertising at their present employment. In constract, seven claimed to have known of the use of sublimial advertising at both their present and their past employment, seven at their current but not their past employment, and six at their past but not their current employment. Two denied used at their former employment but did not answer for the present employment, and four claimed use at their present employment but provided no answer for their former employment. One respondend did not answer either question.

Table 1

Summary of Findings: Claims of Use (YES) or Nonuse (NO) of Subliminal Advertising at Current and/or Former Employment.

Former: YES
Former: NO
Former: No Answer
Current: YES
Current: NO
Current:No Answer

[Bear in mind these results represent only 36 percent i.e. just over 1 person in 3 of those polled.]


Personal Beliefs

Virtually all respondents were aware of the notion of "subliminal advertising". About half of respondents believe it is effective; those from small companies are more likely to believe it is used than those from larger companies. Nearly one-third of respondents demonstrated an unclear grasp of what subliminal advertising is.

Interesting, these belief rates are only slightly lower than those of the general population (Zanot et al, 1983; Synodinos, 1988; Rogers and Smith, 1993).

Of those responding, 30.4 percent (78) gave responses which indicate that they have an unclear grasp of the concept of subliminal advertising (e.g. "probably built in to[sic] creative message" and "to emphasize extreme youthful appearance, high level energy, etc., showing elderly in unflattering manner."......It appears that respondents equate "subliminal" with "subtle". If the message is not blatent (i.e. spelled out in exact words), then many incorrectly define it as subliminal.

Other Findings

.....There is a logical assumption that if subliminal advertising does take place within the advertising industry, then the most probable culprits would be large advertising agencies since they have the best means to accomplish it (i.e. accessibility tosophisticated production techniques and large budgets)...[This seems to be the case, if the sample of ads on this web site are representative of the overall set of ads containing embedded imagery. It seems that of the top 10 brands in the world (as of 1998) 50% of them used secondary imagery. Of the top 100, 16% used secondary imagery. Less well known brands produced relatively few examples of manipulative ads. ]....In fact, out of the 75 respondents who worked for companies with over $51 million in revenue, only 4 percent (n=3) of the respondents said their current company had used subliminal advertising. Conversely, 6 percent of those who worked for companies with revenues of less the $51 (n=12) claimed their current companies had used subliminal advertising. This finding defies the standard logic regarding the possible use of subliminal advertising.[But ought to be expected. Large companies presumably keep their employees too busy to allow them time to reply to surveys, only a few individuals need to be involved, they will be tied into watertight contracts, know they are behaving unethically and neither they nor their employing company would wish to disclose unethical behaviour, whether anonymously or not.]


Overall this research study supported the notion that the use of subliminal advertising by the advertising community [or, to be more precise, one third of the advertising community ] , the media, and their clients is not widespread and rampant. In fact, just the opposite is true. The responses received indicate that most of the few respondents who claim knowledge of the use of subliminal advertising do not really share a scientific or technical understanding of the concept of subliminal advertising in the survey instrument. They seem to hold a popular opinion that any subtleties used in advertising (such as color, certain types of individuals to represent advertising concepts, etc.) represent "subliminal advertising" when in fact such subtleties are not included in technical discussions of "subliminal advertising". [It is clear therefore that these respondents do not work for Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, Peugeot, etc.] Only one respondent provided an answer that indicated actual use of subliminal advertising: however, this respondent indicated that the subliminal image embedded in a particular ad was done as a prank.[As such they would fall into the 'one is chance' category, only one of a number of categories of manipulative advertising. These are listed on the srolling text found in the Thumbnail Gallery of the pages devoted to ads. Most of the ads discussed are, in fact, part of a series. The consistency of the themes and use over times thus differentiates the underlying intentions of those who produced them from any type of prank.]

Of 256 respondents ....... 90.63 percent denied any use or knowledge of use of "words, pictures, or shapes that are purposely inserted in advertising materials so that the viewers of the material cannot process the imagery at a conscious level". Of the 9.3 percent who indicated they had ever used or knew of the use of "subliminal advertising", only one described subliminal advertising accurately and indicated that its use in one ad was "an inside joke". This survey demonstrates that, despite popular belief to the contrary, subliminal advertising is not used by American advertising practitioners. [This seems an extremely strong judgement, given the poor response. It also runs counter to the views of other authors in this field e.g. Kilbourne. Additionally, one would think the most apt way to determine who uses 'subliminal' advertising would be to train individuals to recognise examples and then follow up the agencies and companies involved - as the author of this site hopes to do if other commitments are not too time consuming..]

Other research has provided evidence that subliminal advertising, even if it were used, would not be effective in producing outcomes desired by marketers, such as persuasion or intention to purchase. The present study, provides evidence that, even if it were effective, subliminal advertising is not, in fact, used.[Again, an overstrong conclusion.]

Extracts from Martha Rogers and Christine Seiler's article The Answer is No: A National Survey of Advertising Practitioners and their Clients about Whether They Use Subliminal Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, March/April 1994 pp36-45.


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The text of a few extracts from How a Publicity Blitz Created the Myth of Subliminal Advertising by Stuart Rogers

In September 1957, I began what to me was a serious study of contemporary applied psychology at Hofstra College in Hempstead, Long Island.

At exactly the same time, in nearby New York City, an unemployed market researcher named James M. Vicary made a startling announcement based on research in high-speed photography later popularised by Eastman Kodak Company.

The Tachistoscope

Some time before, a device had been developed that could emit a flash of white light at a speed of 1/580, 000th of a second. it was called a tachistoscope.

The light pulse of the tachistoscope was so fast that it was imperceptible to human consciousness - what I was learning as a psychology student to call "subliminal" because it was below ("sub") the threshold ("limen") of human perception.[Note that what is at issue here in this article is really the relevance of electronic means of producing subliminal images/messages. The Subliminal World web site is concerned with the quite different issue of embedded, secondary or semi-subliminal images in print.Whilst the secondary imagery is often included under the rubric of subliminal advertising - and shares some of the same qualities with regard to conscious awareness and potential to influence viewers - there are major differences concerning exposure over time and the meaningfulness of imagery. Ads can be perused over time, subliminal presentations by tachistoscope, computer, tv screen, etc are either noted or overlooked, they cannot be 'returned to' for a second viewing. Stimuli in experiments are usually discrete and meaningful ( when considered consciously ) whereas secondary imagery in ads are usually thematic, emotive and make sense only within a specific context set by the ad and the viewer. ]

Retainers and Consulting Fees

Armed with the scientific sound of "tachistoscope" Vicary invented a sparkling new pseudoscience, and proceeded to contact the CEOs, marketing directors, and advertising managers of multimillion-dollar corporations headquartered in New York City. Basically, he offered to serve them on retainer as a motivational research consultant while he developed the process he called "subliminal advertising".

His persuasive sales pitch was that consumers would comprehend information projected at 1/60,000th of a second, although they could not literally "see" the flash. And he sent a news release to the major media announcing his "discovery" without any scientific validation whatsover.

The Demon Rum

..................Vicary ........was helped substantially when the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) immediately issued a [press] release of their own, apparently prompted by Vicary's martini remark.

For reasons they never explained, these teatotalling [This Freudian spelling mistake appeared in the original article] ladies suspected that the deviish subliminal techniques they had been reading about in the newspapers were being used by breweries and distillieries to "increase their sagging sales", as their release said.

In fact, beer and liquor sales had not been sagging at all, but the claim made another good story, so the media ran the WCTU release with all the enthusiasm they had devoted to Jim Vicary's fabrications.

The famous popcorn experiment

The [press] release said than in an unidentified motion picture theater a "scientific test" had been conducted inwhich 45,699 persons unknowingly had been exposed to two advertising messages projected subliminally on alternate nights. One message, the release claimed, had advised the moviegoers to "Eat Popcorn" while the other had read "Drink Coca-Cola."


Vicary swore that the invisible advertising had increased sales of popcorn an average of 57.5 percent, and increased the sales of Coca-Coal an average of 18.1 percent.

A Confusion of Fictions

Shortly thereafter, presumably on the basis of a personal interview with Vicary, Motion Picture Daily disclosed that the site of the experiment had been the movie theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

It's interesting that we now more often hear today that the site of the now-famous Popcorn Experiment was Grover's Mill, New Jersey.

Grover's Mill, of course, was the site chosen for the landing of the Martian invasion fleet in Orson Wells' classic radio dramatization of War of the Worlds - an event I now believe was just as accurately and honestly presented as Jim Vicary's subliminal advertising experiments.

When I learned of Vicary's claim, I made the short drive to Fort Lee to learn first-hand about his clearly remarkable experiment.

The size of the small-town theater suggested it should have taken considerably more than six weeks to complete a test of nearly 50,000 movie patrons.

But even more perplexing was the response of the theater manager to my eager questioning. He declared that no such text had ever been conducted at his theater.

There went my term paper for my psychology class.

Soon after my disappointment, Motion Picture Daily reported that the same theater manager had sworn to one of its reporters that there had been no effect on refreshment stand patronage, whether a test had been conducted or not - a rather curious form of denia, I think.

The FCC Picks up the Gauntlet

....the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] ordered Vicary's firm, The Subliminal Projection Company, to conduct a closed-circuit demonstration of their secret in Washington, D.C.


The advertising industry's senior publication at the time, Printer's Ink, observed wryly, "Having gone to see something that is not supposed to be seen, and having not seen it, as forecast, [the FCC and Congressmen] seemed satisfied."

In fact, so thoroughly did all assembled not see anything that the only reported response was that of Senator Charles e. Potter (Republican, Michigan). "I think I want a hot dog," he said.

Introducing Innocence

"This innocent little technique," Vicary announced a short time later, "is going to sell a hell of a lot of goods."


In early 1958, the National Association of Broadcasters, in a move undoubtedly designed to forestall federal and state legislation, boldly banned the broadcast of that which had yet to be proved to exist.

And despoite all the Top Secret treatment that Vicary claimed for his purported patent application, years later - in1969, when I went to Washington to work on a project for the U.S. Patent Office - no one there could find any record of a Vicary patent application, nor anything related to a device to project subliminal advertising.[What about Becker's little Black Box? This is discussed in many other contexts.]

Psychological Studies

Since Vicary's announcements began in September 1957, results of psychological studies have proved the validity of the observation that a "strong stimulus produces a strong response, and a weak stimulus produces a weak response."[Responses to Marlboro, Camel and other ads undoubtedly are weak and may even be weaker than the influence of weak stimuli produced by tachistoscopes, etc. But see the reports on the experimental pages. Nevertheless, even if weak, the intentional uuse of such stimuli is unethical. If they influence anyone at all it is still socially undesirable. Where products are addictive and potentially lethal, the use of secondary elements in ads is totally unacceptable.]

Messages that are projected (as Vicary proposed) at light levels significantly below the level of screen images, and for such short periods of time that they cannot even be perceived, cannot reasonably be expected to have any effect at all on behavior. All the behavioral studies I have read since 1957 indicate that zero perception equals zero response, and so "subliminal" means in practical terms "no effect".[Whilst this conclusion does not seem to be an accurate reflection of the conclusions that can be drawn from decades of studies into subliminal perception there are important issues associated with stimuli that are presented using other forms of media. Try focussing on studies involving stimuli that were deemed contentious i.e. not truly subliminal because viewers may just have perceived them. Call these studies involving borderline perceptual stimuli and one can then equate them to secondary imagery in printed ads. In both instances one has phenomenon that are not consciously appreciated but can still influence the judgements of viewers. If judgements are influenced, how can one reasonably say that behaviour is not ultimately influenced? It would be akin to saying that if one did not respond immediately to viewing an ad that subsequent behaviour was not related in any way to the ad. Bear in mind also that most people do not believe they are influenced by ads. If this were the case then billions of pounds, dollars and yen are wasted every year. ]

The Corner of Your Eye

Yet his [Vicary] claims grew weaker and vaguer with each passing month. By spring he stated that subliminal advertising would only work as what he called "reminder advertising" - with " a level of affect similar to that of a billboard seen out of the corner of the eye from a speeding car (emphasis added).[Ironically, recent research into subliminal perception does indicate that subliminal stimuli are, in fact, most likely to make an impact if viewed with peripheral vision.]

This was a far cry, indeed, from his descriptions of the irrespressible and irresistable force he had claimed to have harnessed less than eight months earlier.

Millions in Fees

Despite this backk-pedalling on the potential power and influence of his purported discovery, by the middle of 1958, James M. Vicary had reportedly signed contracts with many of the corporations headquartered in New York City which he had targeted back in 1957.

It has been estimated that he collected retainer and consulting fees from America's largerst advertisers totalling some $4.5 million- about $22.5 million in today's dollars.

Then, some time in June 1958, Mr. Vicary disappeared from the New York marketing scene, reportedly leaving no bank accounts, no clothers in his closet, and no hing as to where he might have gone.

The big advertisers, apparently ashamed of having been fooled by such an obvious scam, have said nothing since about subliminal advertising, except to deny that they have ever used it.[ Yet, Rogers and Seiler expected their employees to be open and honest about using related techniques. The present author does not expect such honesty when he attempts to determine who precisely produced the ads discussed on this web site, unless the individuals concerned are naive with respect to the ethical issues involved and are unaware that they are, in fact, producing stimuli on the borderline of perceptual ability. Different professional backgrounds may lead to different views on what is 'subliminal' and unethical. For example, individuals coming from an arts background into advertising may simply see such phenomema as a means of heightening emotive responses and not as manipulative ( click here for some examples of 'subliminal' art ). One would not expect such naivety in individuals, regardless of their background, if they were working on cigarette and spirits ads. ]

Extracts from Stuart Roger's article How a Publicity Blitz Created the Myth of Subliminal Advertising. Public Relations Quarterly, Winter, 1992-93.



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