Nike and Mercedes may draw comfort their brand being triggered by just a Swoosh (see Figure 20.4) or a three-point star in the ad. This meager cue can be an effective supplementary branding device and certainly means a brand has achieved presence. 14 A recognizable presence has more to do with successful advertising than any claims for subliminal effect.
There is no evidence that low-involvement message can directly influence or manipulate our conscious choices by overriding consciously received input or reasoning.
Whether it is processed at a shallow or a deep level, however, advertising of a particular product or brand is likely to have greatest impact when the alternatives weigh in equally and we don't care too much about the outcome. So its influence is in situations where we don't care much anyway. Or, in situations where we do care, it might help to remind us of a favorable alternative or a nice thing to do that we might not have thought about otherwise.
As the story of subliminal advertising shows, we need to be very careful that we don't jump to the wrong conclusion in evaluating advertising's effects.
Subliminal advertising, which began as a hoax in the 1950s, became enshrined in myth. Legislators in some countries reacting so quickly to ban it lent a kind of legitimacy to beliefs about its power.
Human beings can learn without full conscious awareness, but there are real limitations to this. We have only a certain amount of mental processing capacity at any one time. Some stimuli receive only shallow mental processing, while others receive deep processing. So conscious awareness is a dimension, not a dichotomy. It is a matter of degree.
The more attention we pay to a message, and the more consciously we process it, the more aware we are of it and the easier it is for us to recall it later. Advertising that receives shallow processing, far from being frighteningly powerful, is likely to be very inefficient and is almost certainly weaker than advertising that engages us at a more conscious level.