The Effects of Subliminal Advertising on Consumer Attitudes and Buying Intentions

By Tsai, Ming-tiem; Liang, Wen-ko et al. | International Journal of Management, March 2007 | Go to article overview

The Effects of Subliminal Advertising on Consumer Attitudes and Buying Intentions


Tsai, Ming-tiem, Liang, Wen-ko, Liu, Mei-Ling, International Journal of Management


This paper examines how subliminal advertising works when it takes the form of product placement within a popular movie. A questionnaire was designed to investigate product and brand awareness, and consumer attitudes toward the movie script, actor, product placement and life style depicted in the movie, ET, Extra-Terrestial. Multivariate variance analysis was used to test each of the main hypotheses. The study was conducted on 94 consumers, or moviegoers, who had just seen the movie in a public movie-house. The main conclusions from the analysis of their responses to the questionnaire were that: Higher brand awareness results in a greater recall rate, more positive attitudes and a stronger intention of buying-the advertised product; when brand awareness is high, a positive attitude toward the movie script leads to a higher recall rate; regardless of brand awareness, attitude toward the movie script does not influence intention of buying; when a brand 'attains' a certain level of awareness, the more positive the attitude toward product placement, the stronger its effect on recall rate, attitude and intention of buying; regardless of whether brand awareness is high or low, audience attitude toward the actor does influence the affect the 'advertising effect' of the product placed in the movie; and finally, individuals with different life-styles have different attitudes toward product placement.

1. Introduction

Although the morality and effectiveness of subliminal advertising are contentious (Charles, 1996; Kathryn, 1994; Block & Bruce, 1985; Klass, B, 1958), it still continues to be used or employed by advertisers especially in "product placement" where products are 'seen' as an integral part of movies or TV dramas without being specifically refereed to as such by the actors in the movies or dramas. Product placement was neither a well-organized nor a high-profile growth area until the late 1970s. Since 1982, when sales of Reese's Candy Pieces increased by 65% following placement in the movie E.T., this advertising strategy began to attract the notice of advertisers and marketing managers. Another successful example of 'placing' a product in a movie or drama was Ray Ban's Wayfarer Sunglasses that became enormously popular when the actor Tom Cruise used them brand in the movie Top Gun. Product placement and commercials differ in that it is possible for consumers to change to another channel or not look at the advertisement-before a movie-whereas product placed in movies or TV dramas cannot be avoided in these simple ways. When consumers watch movies or TV dramas, they perceive the placed product whilst watching the movies or dramas, as an integral part of their experiences, without being aware that these are 'advertisements' at all. When watching a movie or TV drama, our defenses are weakened and we become more receptive to the messages, often making this kind of product placement is both an effective advertising tool as well as being a bit unnerving at the same time (Chris et al, 2003; Sharmistha & Kathryn, 2002; Ye & Raaij, 1997; Schacter, 1987).

Most studies have examined the effect of product placement (Michelle et al, 2004; Sally & Jia, 2003; Cristel, 2002; Sharmistha & Kathryn, 2002) on product recall (Stephen, Gupta and Krauter, 2000; PoIa & Kenneth, 1998; Vollmers & Mizerski, 1994). The present study goes beyond such studies in examining the impact oji advertising effectiveness of the variables of product familiarity, placement situation, consumer identification (with the actor ) and consumer life style.

2. Conceptual Development

2.1 Subliminal Advertising

When it works, subliminal advertising does so by affecting the consumer-member of audience-subconscious attitude toward received material in a movie or TV drama, towards the product in the movie or TV drama (Martha & Kirk, 1994). Could advertising be enhanced through subliminal stimulation?

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