In the 1950s, James Vicary claimed that by inserting frames into a movie that told audience members to buy Coke and popcorn, he was able to increase Coke sales by 18 percent and popcorn sales by an astounding 57.8 percent. The images were only visible for .03 seconds, well below conscious perception. Thus was born the idea of subliminal messaging.
Even though Vicary later admitted that the entire experiment was never performed, a book by Vance Packard titled The Hidden Persuaders in 1957, and another by Wilson Bryan Keys called Subliminal Seduction, brought into question how advertisers attempt to influence customers. It is not uncommon to see pejorative references to the study of unconscious consumer behavior, such as 'brandwashing', within major publications such as the New York Times.
New technology has resulted in a swarm of companies claiming that there is a 'buy' button in the brain that can be identified and manipulated using 'neuromarketing' techniques. There is no doubt that the unconscious mind plays a large role in consumer decision-making. However, to propose marketing practices that work outside a consumer's consciousness and work against his or her own desires or well-being is to walk along an ethical precipice that is both dangerous and foolhardy. Sublime Behavior Marketing does not endorse such activities, and does not participate in them.
Habits are built on trust. If a company is discovered to have been manipulating its consumers (and, in our investigative culture, it inevitably will be), that trust is broken, and habits will be destroyed. Habit marketing is designed to create marketing strategies and approaches that work with the brain, not against it. This may mean using some techniques that are unconsciously processed, but only as far as helping the brain automate its behavior around decisions it consciously endorses.
As leaders in the new science of habit marketing and experts in the workings of the unconscious mind, we encourage the exploration of marketing that goes beyond conscious awareness. We also encourage dialogue amongst marketers that apply these techniques, both to develop best practices and institute ethical boundaries that prevent unconscious marketing from extending beyond its role in influencing behavior. We welcome clients, colleagues, and consumers to join this discussion.