Article by James Green, Nadia Kaczkowski, & Joshua Eller | Photography by John Morin | Owl Staff

Have you ever been watching TV and suddenly, an advertisement for your favorite soda popped up? Did you get up right away and look for that drink? If you experienced this, then you have been subjected to a subliminal message. Blink and you’ll miss it—at least you think you will.

Subliminal messages are delivered or accepted underneath the threshold of normal consciousness, or awareness. They are any kind of message that is embedded in another medium so that they go unnoticed by the conscious mind. They can affect the subconscious mind positively and negatively.

It is difficult to tell when a subliminal message is in use because it is ignored by the conscious brain and beyond the level of conscious perception. Examples of subliminal messages can be seen in many forms of media, including advertising, television, film and company logos.

After a long-time sponsorship deal with Marlboro cigarettes, Ferrari had to officially cease their advertisement due to the ban on tobacco advertising. Instead, they put a barcode logo on the car in 2010 that similarly resembled a Marlboro cigarette box. Following threats of lawsuits saying it was subliminal advertising for Marlboro, Ferrari removed the logo from the car but denied any connection to cigarette advertisement.

In a 2012 Toyota commercial with NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, the pit crew is shown transforming the racecar into a street Toyota Camry during a stop. Kyle then sings two lines of the song “Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy; the first line is “Everybody’s working for the weekend,” which connects to the fact that Kyle works on Sundays. The second line can be heard faintly near the end: “Everybody needs a second chance,” which some feel was included to make light of the Toyota recalls at the time the commercial was released.

Another popular vehicle, the Dodge Ram, has a logo that appears similar to that of the female reproductive system; is this what attracts men to Dodge Ram trucks?

In 2008, KFC used subliminal messaging in a TV commercial. Zoom-in frame-by-frame of one of their 99-cent sandwiches, and you will see a dollar bill embedded in the lettuce.

Conspiracy websites claim that the logo of the Monster Energy Drink, which appear to represent a stylized letter “M,” are actually the Hebrew markings for “666,” which some believe is the number that correlates to Satan.

In some Disney movies, sexual images and/ or words are placed in the movie without the conscious mind being aware of it at first. In The Rescuers, two frames show a topless model. In the scene when Bernard and Bianca fly through the city, you can briefly see her in a window in the background if you freeze-frame. The Disney Company doesn’t deny this one; they ended up re-calling the movie in the 1970s.

In a scene from The Lion King where Simba remembers his father on a cliff top, the word “sex” is formed in the stars above his head. However, some suggest that the letters actually spell out “SFX,” meaning special effects.

“In 2008, KFC used subliminal messaging in a TV commercial. Zoom-in frame-by-frame of one of their 99-cent sandwiches, and you will see a dollar bill embedded in the lettuce.”

Sometimes a subliminal message has political or social overtones. During the Boston Red Sox’s 100th anniversary, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals bought one of the commemorative bricks that was going to be placed in Fenway Park. The brick displayed the message “Lead Our Bo Sox to Early Runs! Late Inning Blasts! Easy Routs! A Trophy in Our Name!” Using the first letter of each word, the phrase spells out “Lobster Liberation,” and occurred as part of PETA’s “No Lobster’ campaign”.

So how do these messages affect the viewer? In one recent report, Princeton University’s Joel Cooper found that television viewers watching a program of The Simpsons became thirstier when subliminal messages related to thirst were embedded in the program.

Along with growing research in social cognition, there might be some truth to the suggestion that our motivational states are affected—and might even be caused—by pre-consciously perceived stimuli, that is, those not quite strong enough to reach a conscious awareness.

HCC student Rachel Cocoros feels that the effects of subliminal messages are “freaky” and considers subliminal advertisements to be unfair. “It’s like someone is brainwashing us,” says Cocoros.

However, there are no laws strictly forbidding subliminal messaging. Beginning in 1974, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) banned the use of subliminal messaging because of the effects, yet there is no actual law saying, “You can’t do this.” What’s the hold-up? An official law could result in issues that correlate with freedoms of speech and press.

Furthermore, some who have studied subliminal messaging are skeptical of its effects. According to Charles Morris and Albert Maisto, the authors Understanding Psychology, the perceived application of subliminal messaging reached a new low in the 2000 presidential campaign. In an advertisement that ran, the word “RATS” was subliminally threaded into the commercial.

However, this didn’t really have an effect on any outcome of the election. Morris and Maisto also state that “in a controlled laboratory setting, people can process and respond to information outside of awareness. But this does not mean that people automatically or mindlessly ‘obey’ subliminal messages in advertisements.”

The next time you’re watching a movie or a certain commercial, think about what you’re viewing. Is there another message besides the one being broadcast up front? Exercise your rights as an American citizen boycotting these companies and/or writing a letter to broadcasters asking them to not run advertisements or broadcast media with subliminal messages. Consider limiting TV viewing time, especially for children.

Most importantly, think for yourself. Naturally, the outside world is going to affect us in undeniable ways, but always question how and why it is affecting you.

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