Subliminal Manipulation: Are Advertisers Controlling You?

Just a quick one here today.

Sometimes I watch these videos and think to myself, “come on.” And I click away. Then other times, well, the proof is in the pudding (or…production).

Each and every day we’re exposed to marketing angles coming from all sorts of companies. Tobacco, pharma, insurance companies, movies and the countless other “touches” we have with big name brands.

But have you ever wondered or felt as though they were masters of manipulation?

Do you ever feel paranoid that there are messages being slipped in the ad copy or images that your subconscious mind is picking up?

Take a look at this video I watched earlier today. It depicts how sexually-centric messages are being embedded in advertisements. If you find the topic of sex offensive or inappropriate then please skip this video.

However, it’s an interesting look at some of the common advertising and imagery we’re routinely exposed to in the media.

It got stuck in my head (hmm…maybe that was the intent?)

Let’s chat about it. Is this video just paranoia stemming from a distrust of marketing and advertising agencies or are we, as consumers, being brainwashed?

Let me know in the comments below if advertisers are manipulating you

Featured Photo: anonymous9000

32 Responses to Subliminal Manipulation: Are Advertisers Controlling You?
  1. Robert
    May 14, 2011 | 11:51 am

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve seen some of these type of videos before but I’ve never seen the one above until now.

    I really don’t know what to think on this subject, like you said, sometimes the proof is in the pudding. I can’t believe someone has spotted all of these, must have taken them hundred of hours and a great deal of in-depth analysis!

    The more I look into marketing and listen to some of the big names that know what they’re talking about (like Frank Kern), the more I realise that there is at least one subconscious message in every effective marketing strategy; and almost every single aspect of the strategy is meticulously planned to effectively convey these messages.

    Just such a shame that there is sexual imagery in kids cartoons, that’s quite distressing.

    Thanks for this post, something a little different, but important to acknowledge nonetheless, all part of the learning curve! :)

    • Jon
      May 14, 2011 | 11:41 pm


      Yea I think it’s sad that it’s so blatantly inserted in images and movies. You can almost hear the snickering from the designer or the ad folk while they do it. Just lousy antics I think.

      I don’t mind the cheeky, overt strategies and the subtle/sly message slipped here and there. But there’s a line I think we should draw between that and abusing NLP.

      • Robert
        May 16, 2011 | 8:33 pm

        Definitely Jon, it’s just if other people will draw that line too!

  2. Oliver Tausend
    May 15, 2011 | 12:08 am

    Hi Jon,

    thanks for passing this along. Who could honestly say that he or she is not manipulated ? Saying that is the best guarantee that we are.

    However, it’s really hard to tell why advertisers do that. Chances are they only push existing buttons.

    It is said that asparagus is an aphrodisiac because it looks like a phallus. Even nature seems to push that button.

    Take care


    • Jon
      May 15, 2011 | 9:08 pm

      Thanks, Oliver. I’ll never be able to eat asparagus again.

      We’re all manipulated in one form or another. Most times it’s overtly but other times we just don’t “catch” the things being flashed at us quickly or stealthily.

  3. Catarina
    May 15, 2011 | 11:30 am

    It’s not a question of if, it’s a fact and has been for a long time. It works and will continue to be done.

    We are being manipulated without being aware of it. Don’t like it? Don’t watch movies, television or go anywhere near advertising of any kind:-))

    Even the choice of music in a movie or commercial will affect your subconcious.

    • Jon
      May 15, 2011 | 9:12 pm

      You know that’s a very direct way to put it. It’s true. If we don’t like it then we may as well live underground or maybe as the Amish do? Embracing all the channels of media that we do leaves us vulnerable to the messages those channels convey.

  4. Hi Jon,

    To be honest, I didn’t watch the video, for the same reason I don’t go to the beach, watch dirty movies, or read dirty books. I refuse to bring the subject into my posts, except in a biblical fashion. Sadly, you are certainly right that using these methods to sell are successful, in a financial sense. But, I beleive that one can succeed without resorting to such displays.

    Lou Barba

    • Jon
      May 15, 2011 | 9:15 pm

      Absolutely, Lou. We don’t need to incorporate these ploys into our own marketing strategies but it seems we all acknowledge that there is a layer of manipulation there. I go to the beach because it’s relaxing by the water, on the sand and love the warmth of the sun. What other people are doing or how they behave won’t have any bearing on my experience. I don’t allow it to when I’m there.

  5. Dr. Bob Clarke
    May 15, 2011 | 7:55 pm

    I certainly believe that we are being subjected to subliminal advertising every minute of every day that we watch TV, read magazines or pass the occasional billboard.

    There’s no doubt that it works and its been used for years. As for the sex video, I watched for a few minutes before I just shut it off and shook my head. :-(

    • Jon
      May 15, 2011 | 7:59 pm

      Hey Bob,

      Yep, that’s about the response I had but pushed through anyway. It’s powerful and preys on our natural programming but all we can do is keep our own strategies on the up and up.

  6. Hector Avellaneda
    May 15, 2011 | 9:27 pm

    Hey Jon!

    I’ll say it! This video is pretty ridiculous! I was pretty surprised up until the video started suggesting this sort of subliminal messages were also being injected into children’s cartoons.

    That doesn’t mean however that I don’t believe that the marketing agencies of the world are preying on peoples subconscious mind.

    I’ve done quite a bit of research on this and I’ve learned that 11/12ths of everything we do is influenced by our subconscious mind which is influenced by past experiences.

    That means that 11 out 12 times we’ll act on what we’ve seen, heard or felt.

    Thats exactly big corporations, often times, spend more money on marketing and media advertising than anything else. They know that the more we see something the more chances there are that those messages will linger in our subconscious mind and lead us to go buy whatever it is that we sw on TV.

    In fact, just the other day I was talking to my wife about this very subject and a commercial I see on tv about the Kit-Kat chocolate bar.

    The commercial in TV is so catchy and has such a positive vibe to it, that the other day when I was at the groceries store, I looked over to the “impulse shopping” shelf (you know the shelf that has all the magazines and candy in the checkout isle) and I picked up a Kit Kat bar and threw it into the basket.

    Then I got to thinking. Why was it that I was all of a sudden was interested in buying a Kit Kat bar in specific? Of course, it was the commercial and guess what – IT WORKS!

    Are we being brainwashed byt he marketing agencies of the world to act a certain way? I wouldn’t necessarily say that Brainwashing was the term but we are definitely being heavily Influenced to act!

    Great topic, Jon!

    • Jon
      May 16, 2011 | 10:28 pm


      Yes, we’re highly-influenced to make purchases or choose service providers. It’s sad but clearly very effective. Like I said to Janet, we can choose to filter our messages and control the volume of messages. But there are still lines being crossed and certain abuses of advertising.

      Break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat bar.

  7. Jane | SEO Blogs
    May 15, 2011 | 9:39 pm

    Hey Jon,

    You have raised a good point with much responsibility. SEX is to gain attention and then they sell it. You know it is the masses who go for it and a very small percentage of people like us can only simply talk about it, but can’t do anything about it. Since masses are attracted towards it I think the business firms are left with no other option to attract them :)


    • Jon
      May 16, 2011 | 10:31 pm

      Jane – One could argue that we can change the world; yes, you and me. But I’ll say that honestly it isn’t my quest. It isn’t my mission to undo what’s been done out there. There are only so many battles I can wage and the one I choose to fight is the one closest to home when it comes to this. I selectively filter the messages and limit my exposure to tv and radio.

      Maybe it helps that I’m frugal so what’s deemed as normal product consumption typically exceeds my needs :) Thanks for adding to the conversation here, Jane.

  8. Stuart
    May 16, 2011 | 4:22 am

    Wow Jon, I’m surprised that this goes on in advertising to this degree. I knew before that ‘SEX sells’ and that advertisers would cater to our primal urges of safety, sex, security, etc. But not to this level.

    I started watching this video, and my first reaction was amazement; how so much has gone amiss by the public! It’s true that our conscious minds only pick up a certain amount of information; we certainly can’t remember every detail of the advertising we see. But the subconscious mind is a vast store of information, like the massive iceberg under the sea level, where only the tip is shown above the water.

    After a while, and after the initial shock had died down, this video became a fun game called ‘Spot the subliminal message’, and I surprised myself as even though I tried, I still didn’t spot most of the hidden messages. They’re very well disguised!

    Then it moved onto the kid’s section, and although my hit-rate in getting them right didn’t really improve, I was again shocked by what I saw. I’d heard of the Lion King example before, and the outrage that came with it, but the rest? Never would have known if not for this video.

    Thanks for sharing this Jon, I really do appreciate it. I’ve learned something amazing today.

    P.S. How many subliminal messages can you spot in my comment? ;-)

    • Jon
      May 16, 2011 | 10:37 pm

      Hey now don’t go playing tricks on me in the comments!

      It’s funny you started playing the “Spot…” game because so did I. Samantha took a different stance on this which is nice. I still believe that the repetitive messages, over time, wear us down. They get inside us. Now, I don’t think advertisers are out to rule the world – just make more money by pushing the right buttons. The kid stuff though? C’mon, is nothing sacred?

  9. Samantha Bangayan
    May 16, 2011 | 4:40 pm

    Jon, this is such an interesting topic! As I watched the video, I kept thinking: “Is this really happening to me?” =P I really wonder if these incidences were purposefully planned out that way.

    I totally ditto Stuart on the video turning into a game for me! =) I wanted to spot all of the instances, but couldn’t. =P There was also this neat priming effect where I started seeing the word “sex” or other sexual symbols that weren’t highlighted by the video. =P

    As for whether subliminal messages affect us — I’m not sure that they do. I did some research on this topic a few years ago for my family in the Philippines who wanted to revamp their marketing strategy. There were no strong scientific results that subliminal messages affect us. The effect is exaggerated by advertisers; they spend a lot of money on it, so it *must* work. Here’s a good summary with more info if you’re interested —

    Thanks so much for bringing up this discussion, Jon! =)

    • Jon
      May 16, 2011 | 10:33 pm

      Thanks for the link I’ll give it a look. One or two glances at an ad; maybe we aren’t influenced. But I think when you take the average, at least in the U.S., of daily viewing, listening, tabloid exposure and the like it starts having an impact. It’s the accumulation of the same repetitive messages thrown at you. Some may not believe it has any influence. I do.

  10. VinnyT.
    May 16, 2011 | 7:56 pm

    Well, advertisers sure are trying to influence us with all those subliminal messages, but Samantha’s comments are “right on.” Advertisers presume that consumers are easily seduced by their subliminal messages, but I personally doubt that they’re all that effective.

  11. Janet @ The Natural Networker
    May 16, 2011 | 10:06 pm

    Jon, aloha. Unfortunately, Jon, the answer is, “yes, we are being manipulated” and, no doubt, they are “snickering” as they create the commercials. Makes you wonder what other “messages” there are.

    Having not watched television for years, I have missed lots of such ads. That being said, I am sure I see such messages in magazines and elsewhere with my subconscious receiving the programming.

    Jon, you have made me aware that I need to be more vigilant about where I let my eyes roam. Avoidance is the best approach for me.

    No doubt about it, Jon, this would be a tough crusade to win.

    Thx for another provocative post. Aloha. Janet

    • Jon
      May 16, 2011 | 10:19 pm

      Janet – It’s a sick world. I said it. But you know, you made a great point: avoidance.

      We choose the filters we set up and the things we watch or listen to. If there is a source of a lot of these negative messages then tune them out! Sell your TV, give away your radio. Or just be more selective about what you “let in.” It is sad; however, that there are abuses of the mediums.

  12. Stacy | Grow With Stacy
    May 17, 2011 | 7:25 pm

    Hi Jon,
    That was a very interesting video. At first I thought that someone had too much time on their hands to find those images. But as the examples kept going it became more convincing. I’m amazed at the kids subliminal messages!

    I watch most of my television shows on the DVR so I forward through the ads very quickly. I wonder what kind of effect that has on my ad-viewing!


    • Jon
      May 17, 2011 | 8:51 pm


      I do some DVR and fast forwarding as well. Any effect is likely cumulative; being bombarded with the same type of messages by the usual suspects. It’s sad that some of it appears in things for our youths.

  13. Heather C Stephens
    May 19, 2011 | 8:37 am

    Hi Jon,
    There is no doubt that we are bombarded by subliminal messages everywhere. I am fascinated by the power of NLP and the more I am educated on the topic the more I see it in practice everywhere.

    We all use it, not just the advertisers, anytime we want to persuade someone to our point of view, we unconsciously use NLP. We can choose to use it for good or not. That’s the scary part.

    It sickens me that kids are being affected by this and I don’t know if I’ll watch a cartoon ever again without looking for the signs. But even without hidden SEX messages, we’re programmed for poverty, and submission with the actual plot of many of the stories as well.

    I’m trying to practice using NLP in my communication with others. Things like Synchronizing my breathing with my husbands if he’s stressed, mirroring his actions, and yes, of course sex helps too. :) TMI? LOL


    • Jon
      May 19, 2011 | 9:37 pm


      Excellent point: we have a the power to choose how to use NLP. There are some unsavory ways to use it to bend people to our will; no good! Your line about being programmed for poverty struck me hard. It’s so true and it’s absolutely tragic.

      I’ve never heard about synchronizing breathing that’s quite interesting. The sex part, well, we’re human and we can pretend it doesn’t help or happen but we’re not fooling anyone ;)

  14. Jayne Kopp
    May 20, 2011 | 11:59 pm

    HI Jon, I’m up in the air I suppose. I know that some advertizing definitely has hidden messages, but to be honest with you after watching a few clips from the video’s, my eyes rarely went to the part they later emphasized. So, I’m not so sure that if indeed there was any intention of sexual suggestion, or if it was just someone who had the time to manipulate various clips… or comb through them.

    Yes, humans are sexual, but would I buy a loaf of bread because it resembled something….. hmmm … probably NOT.

    Interesting point you bring up however. As the for the kids cartoons, probably some twisted sister pushing the envelope with his/her artwork to see if they could get away with it.

    It’s a wierd world at time.


    • Jon
      May 22, 2011 | 5:23 pm


      Indeed this world is weird :) You could be right about artists just pushing the envelope with their work to see what they can get away with in cartoons. I believe there are intentional suggestive images and words at play in the ads. But, and I’m not basing this on science, I’d think it would take repeated exposure to the ad or image(s) to influence a thought or feeling about a brand.

  15. Aneesa
    August 9, 2011 | 5:28 am

    ok let me just say.. we have always known that sex sells… and if you have that sort of dirty mind everything looks like sex or suggestive to you..

    It’s simple if you are looking for it you will find it..

    • Jon
      August 9, 2011 | 8:33 pm

      It certainly does sell. I suppose if you focus on just about anything long enough you could convince yourself you see certain things. But I know some of these “plants” in ads and video are deliberate.

  16. adnan@traffic tips
    August 9, 2011 | 5:29 am

    Hm! I would never have noticed many of those things if they had not been highlighted but your article makes a good point.. Advertisers will use anything to sell their product and as long as their tactics are working they will keep using them.

    • Jon
      August 9, 2011 | 8:35 pm

      Yep, we should keep our eyes peeled. If nothing else, at least marvel at the tactics used I mean it may be a bit shady but gosh it’s genius sometimes. Thanks for your input.

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