If you’re in a fairly large town or city, head over to a busy street or the downtown area and take a good look around you. How many ads, posters, billboards, and logos do you see? It may seem like companies are constantly trying to get your attention or sell you something. It feels like we’re all drowning in a sea of brand messaging.
Even when you cast your gaze on your computer screen, the digital world is no less replete with such messages. On an individual level, the only difference is that you can exercise more control over what is shown on the screen. Digital marketing is becoming increasingly ubiquitous as more and more people around the world acquire mobile devices with affordable Internet access. It’s no wonder businesses (big, small, and medium ones) are spending billions of dollars on digital ads annually. Add to this huge sums spent annually on sponsored content, partnerships, influencer marketing, search engine optimization, and other marketing efforts, and you’ll see how fierce competition is.
All such efforts are geared toward making a brand more visible to you, have you engage with it and ultimately buy whatever they’re selling. But it doesn’t stop there. Modern marketing emphasizes the need for brands to continue nurturing their relationship with you even after purchases have been made. The goal here is to make the brand a desired part of your life.
For many non-marketers, this may not make any sense. But the appeal of this approach lies in the potential to drive future growth in patronage from today’s youthful demographics – millennials (Generation Y) and post-millennials (Generation Z) who are generally more digital savvy. In this context, marketers see a prospectively higher customer lifetime value (CLV) among the said younger generations. Many of them are teenagers still dependent on their parents. There are those who have graduated and are gainfully employed but are still in their early career phase and as such would likely not be earning a high income relative to their much older and more experienced Generation X colleagues. But that will change in the future as they grow older. Hence, the need to earn their loyalty today.
In marketing, perception matters a lot. How a consumer thinks about a brand can significantly influence their decision to interact with the company behind it and buy its products. Unsurprisingly, many companies pay close attention to and invest their resources in subliminal marketing messages. But what are subliminal messages? They refer to information that exists below (‘sub’) the threshold of conscious (‘liminal’) perception. That means that you are not normally going to notice them but they are easily registered in your subconscious. Consequently, they can subconsciously influence your decisions.
Subliminal messages can be embedded in various aspects of a brand, such as its logo, brand color, products, and even its people (staff and top executives). Logos are the graphical identity by which a brand distinguishes itself from others. Subtle messages can be conveyed by using various elements of design, color, and verbal and non-verbal expressions. On the surface, they may not be easily spotted by your conscious mind except when you’re informed about them. It’s not surprising that many people will admit, ‘Oh, I actually never knew until now!’ Therein lies the power of subliminal messaging. For years, they may have influenced your beliefs about a company or its products while flying under the radar of your conscious mind.
Given the mind-numbing amount of resources businesses put into influencing your perception of their brands and getting you to make the right buying decision, it’s germane to ask, ‘What are the ways brands try to influence me and are they really effective?’
That question is what we’ll now try to answer using the five points given below.
They are virtually everywhere, aren’t they? On the Web, they’re so ubiquitous and abused that solutions have been created to block them so you never have to deal with those pesky pop-up ads.
But how do brands use ads to convey their subtle messages to us? Ads are typically visual imagery (photos and videos) that brands use to create awareness about their products and services. Other subtle messages can be conveyed by the statements made in the ads, colors used, the physical appearance and mannerism of characters and even the setting of ad spots.
Companies can even use ads to subtly communicate what they stand for and inspire people. A good example is the recent Nike ad that subtly inspires women to believe they can succeed even against great odds.
Colors are known to have an effect on our moods and how we perceive things around us. Put simply, colors have psychological significance, both positive and negative. Blue (especially lighter shades) is associated with trust and safety. It conveys a feeling of calm, serenity, tranquility and can inspire trust and confidence in a brand. Green is known to be the color of health and wealth. It evokes a feeling of abundance and prosperity. It’s not surprising that this is the color most often associated with money. Green is readily visible in nature – most trees and grasses during spring are green-colored. Black represents mystery but also elegance and sophistication.
Because they are part of our visual environment, they are extensively used in marketing. Ads and other physical aspects of a brand invariably have colors. Accordingly, they are used by brands to get your attention or project the implied connotation of the used color to you and stimulate the corresponding feeling in you.
Let’s consider one good example. Take a quick look at the stock photo used above for this post. Of all the numerous ads displayed on that large digital screen, which one catches your attention first? If your answer is the Coca-Cola ad, you’re like most other people. You may not be consciously aware of it but that’s because of the red color. That’s the power of the subliminal message here. Red in the Coca-Cola brand represents energy, passion, and excitement. This can stimulate your desire to drink.
3. Shape and Size
Depending on what kind of product is being marketed, its shape and size can be designed to appeal to consumers and elicit the desired response. For instance, curvy and round shapes are commonly used for products targeted at women because they suggest femininity. A good example would be perfume bottles. Similarly, many food items (wine, beer, biscuits, cereals, etc.) may have large package sizes to attract consumers with a promise of holding more content. So, next time you see those bottles with similar price tags and choose the biggest one, you’ll surely recognize the subliminal effect that influenced your decision.
How brands use the pricing of their products to appeal to you depends on their marketing strategy. Brands that want to appear luxurious will generally price their products higher, regardless of whether the quality justifies the price. Apple’s line of consumer electronic devices is a good example. It is well known today that the company’s products are almost always priced higher than those of its competitors. Even when Apple releases new products, older versions do not get heavily discounted. That’s because the company has long positioned itself as a luxury brand appealing to people who want to project an image of prestigiousness in public. How has this influenced people? Many have gone out of their way to save or even borrow money, spending days in long queues just to get the latest iPhone model.
Another subliminal price-related message is psychological pricing. When you see prices like ’99 cents’ or ‘only 4.99USD’, the one cent taken off is no mistake. It’s a subtle psychological message intended to make the product appear cheaper, thereby enticing you to buy them as opposed to those labeled ‘1.00 USD’ or ‘5.00 USD’.
5. Employees and Top Executives
Have you ever visited a hotel or restaurant and been greeted by a staff member who opened the door for you (and did the same before you left)? If the answer is ‘yes’, how did you feel about the brand based on that particular action? Has that affected your decision to patronize it? If the answer is in the is affirmative, you may rest assured that a subliminal perception played its role. It’s no mistake or sheer banality that a company employs such people. The subliminal message they’re sending to you is that you’re welcome and they are ready to help you fulfill the purpose of your visit.
Similarly, the way employees are dressed, as well as their expressions and gestures, can subliminally affect you. In today’s era of social media, an incident of poor customer service quickly goes viral and people begin to associate such behavior with a brand. In the damage control mode, most companies will respond by issuing apologies and promising to do better. Some may even invite the affected customers to a meeting with their top executives and take a group photo with them. This subliminally serves to let people know that the brand is truly improving by learning from its mistakes.
To sum up, companies are going to great lengths to appeal to your subconscious mind through subliminal messages. There is supporting evidence from psychological studies that suggest they can influence you. But the extent of their effectiveness is still debatable.