Subliminal advertising is the new phobia for the 'thumbs & joystick' generation

In a consumer revolt unprecedented in California’s technological heartland, parents have taken to the streets to protest against what they claim are subliminal marketing techniques, aimed at their children, now pervasive in movies, computer games and mobile phone services.

In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, consumer advocate Stan Nailer stated that the massive usage of electronic media has given advertisers new ways to reach customers. He said that with a market of two billion mobile phones, more than two billion internet users and one billion game consoles, producers have been tempted into radical new aspects of the technology.

Nailer’s covert research into company practices has shown that even blue chip companies, which have always consciously spurned spam, seem to have turned to subliminal advertising.

Sony, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Palm, Motorola and Symbian are companies specifically being targeted in these new consumer boycotts. The impact is being felt widely in other industries such as retail and financial services.

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ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

The idea of ‘subliminal advertising’ burst into public consciousness in 1957, when a little-known market researcher named James Vicary announced he had been projecting the subliminal messages “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coke” onto the screen of a New Jersey movie theater for the past six weeks. Vicary claimed popcorn and soft drink sales rose dramatically at the theater.

His claims touched off a national hysteria of sorts in the United States, provoking Congressional hearings, psychological research projects and urgent new legislation. Within a year, subliminal ads had been banned from the U.S. air waves and condemned by the American advertising industry.

Most researchers who over the years have tried to duplicate Vicary’s findings have found, however, that subliminal advertising simply does not work. Still, that does not stop others trying to find new ways to get their messages to consumers. New technologies provide ever more opportunities.

2004: Games attract new advertising
The 30-second TV ad is on a free-fall to oblivion as young men increasingly aboandon television for computer and video-games. Nielsen reports that 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds in Europe and the USA play these games regularly – spending 5% less time this year watching television.
Companies such as Massive Inc. roll out systems that can embed, display, dynamically change and measure in-game advertising. In games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory the ads on taxis change on the fly. Eventually these ads can be changed dynamically according to the demographics of users. An ad from an upcoming TV programme may appear a few minutes before it is due to start.

2006: Stan Nailer exposes DVD advertising scam
This year DVD sales effectively killed off the video industry – DVD sales now outstrip videos by a factor of 20:1.
Consumer advocate Stan nailer has been covertly observing and analysisng DVD content and has exposed a wide-spread practice of inserting subliminal ads using the latest encryption algorithms – making them almost impossible to detect.

2007: Fear sparks consumer imagination
Consumer fears are spawning an avalanche of reports of subliminal advertising. Consumer associations around the world are swamped with reports that turn out to be largely urban legends. Not since the heady days of James Vicary in 1957 has consumer paranoia reached such heights.

2008: Subliminal rage spreads to mobile phones and internet
In an amazing revelation, it is proved that the same subliminal messages have been inserted in picture messages on mobile phones.
Blue chip companies, that have always consciously spurned spam, appeared to have turned to subliminal advertising in movies, web and phone messaging and computer games.
Suddenly, it has all become too much for consumers – even on the US west coast.

2009: Consumer revolt hits retail sales
Sales of consumer electronics take a dip for the first time in the past decade as Christmas sales in stores across the USA fall off dramatically.
Gift choices have turned to more traditional products as consumers flex their purchasing muscle.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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