Between The Lines

You may be using subliminal advertising and not even know it.
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This story appears in the March 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When President George W. Bush's campaign supporters created the now-infamous TV ad where the word "Democrats" morphed into the word "rats" for a split second onscreen, media headlines nationwide accused the W. camp of using subliminal advertising. Drew Eric Whitman, author of How to Create Power-Packed Ads, Brochures and Sales Letters that Make Money Now, (Whitman Strategic) disagrees, saying, subliminal advertising is something we're not consciously aware of by definition. Whitman, founder of Whitman Strategic, a Philadelphia firm that teaches businesses how to make their advertising more effective, debunks some common misconceptions about subliminal advertising-such as the much-publicized claims that hidden messages are embedded in everything from print ads to movies.

Beware bad buzz
In The Anatomy of Buzz (Doubleday), veteran marketing exec Emanuel Rosen warns that customers speak freely about bad buying experiences-telling an average of 10 people, depending on the company.

Subliminal advertising isn't as devious as that. In fact, Whitman says, some of the most common advertising techniques used by many businesses work subliminally.

Among some of the common ways to get inside consumers' heads:

Testimonials: Whitman claims the "me, too" approach taps into a basic survival instinct-our need to know that someone has gone before us and survived.

Eye dwell: By understanding how people tend to read ads (reading the top half for 60 percent of the time and the bottom half for 40 percent), advertisers can place key information where we're inclined to look.

Weasel words: Advertisers may add words such as "helps with," "virtually" or "practically" to soften claims without diluting their impact.

Lab talk: Using phrases such as "studies show" or "experts prefer" positions products as being endorsed by a credible source, thereby increasing our trust in the claim. These claims should not be made, however, unless they're accurate.

Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency in Ocean, New Jersey. She is currently compiling a marketing workbook titled Promote Your Business. E-mail her at

Edition: July 2017

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