What is Subliminal Perception?
In 1957, a book about subliminal perception was written by market researcher James Vicary. In part, the book said that ads with very, very short (“subliminal”) exposure time could enter through the subconscious and affect our attitudes and behavior without our conscious awareness. To prove his theory, Vicary inserted the words “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coca Cola” into a movie. The words appeared in a single frame, allegedly long enough for the subconscious to pick up, but too short for the viewer to be aware of it. Nonetheless it generated a big splash and was followed by another popular subliminal perception book, The Hidden Persuaders.
The “subliminal ads” supposedly created an 18.1% increase in Coke sales and a 57.8% increase in popcorn sales, although Vicary's results later turned out to be a hoax. Nonetheless, many are still fascinated by the idea of advertising messages subliminally manipulating unsuspecting consumers.
Unless they are intended to be subliminal (possible but doubtful), One Second ads are so contrary to common sense and understanding of communications, one must wonder how the idea was actually conceived and rationalized. It is understandable that internet promoters and ad sellers would want to sell as many online ads for as much profit as possible, but it is not understandable (to me) how buyers could fall for it. It is not understandable how the Mdia Research Council (MRC) could fall for it. Clients should reject it. But, hey, maybe those one second impressions are intended to work subliminally?
Viewability vs. Subliminal Perception
Many have written that the recent viewability standards fall far short of providing a realistic measure of display and video advertising audience impressions. Most importantly, the standards have been rejected by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA).
In a word or two, the main issue is, “TOO SHORT.”
The MRC’s definition of viewability for a display ad is that at least 50% of an ad must be visible on a person’s computer screen for a minimum of ONE SECOND. For an online video ad to be viewable, at least 50% must be on a surfer’s screen for at least TWO SECONDS. The criticism is that 50% of the pixels in view for only 1-2 seconds is way too short to communicate anything which qualifies as an advertising impression. Others have called for a standard of 5-10 seconds so that “in view” surfers have enough time to actually look at the page.
Many would also like to see the “in view” criterion increased to 70-100%. Naturally, this idea likely causes heartburn for those promoting online ad inventory because an increased “in view” area on web pages would play havoc for below the fold ads and page layout. How would they get 10 pounds of ads into a 2 pound web page?
Finally, increases in viewable space and seconds per view, internet sellers would be confronted with the dilemma of accepting lower sales at potentially higher prices or maintaining sales at lower prices.
Take the Subliminal Perception Test1
Admittedly, a number of unproven assumptions have been presented which question the rationality of a ONE or TWO SECOND impression for clients and agencies. So to test the hypothesis, we suggest that you conduct a little non scientific experiment to determine what if any communication can be achieved with a one second viewable impression. What can you recall from a one second exposure from a selected web page? Here’s what to do:
1. Put your mind in neutral
2. Close your eyes (no peeking!)
3. Ask someone to open a random web page you haven’t visited before.
4. Open your eyes for exactly ONE SECOND, then immediately close your eyes. (One second will be about the length of a blink.) What can you remember in the time of a blink?
5. Have your friend ask you the following questions; you must then immediately answer the questions with your eyes still closed
Do you recall any of the words on the web page you were just exposed to
- Can you recall seeing any ads, however briefly? If so, for whom/what?
- Can you recall seeing a phrase or sentence? If yes, what did it say?
- Any advertiser or brand names? If yes, who/what?
- How about visual images? If yes, what was it?
- Do you remember seeing any prices? If so, how much/for what?
- Remember a link to more information?
- Add your own questions!
If you are a real trailblazer, you could repeat the exercise to get some indication of recall for two seconds, five seconds, 10 seconds or more. How does your recall of words, phrases, names, images, prices, or links compare by exposure level?
What are your findings and conclusions based on your ground breaking research?
Do you have a sudden urge for popcorn or a Coke?
Caveat Emptor, my friends. (“Let the Buyer Beware.”)