Friday, June 09, 2006
Popularized by Wilson Key in his book Subliminal Seduction, people are under the impression that subliminal content, images and words meant to be motivating but undetectable at the conscious level, continues to be pervasive in American advertising.
According to a recent survey, 87% of respondents think that subliminal advertising exists in today’s marketplace. Stephen Floyd and Katie Walsh, two honors students at the University of Georgia, discovered this finding when they asked 97 people their beliefs about subliminal advertising. In terms of prevalence, older adults (26+) say that 58% of all advertising contains subliminal content compared to younger people (48%). When asked what products are most likely to be advertised with subliminal content, 12 products were identified including: food, clothing, alcohol, tobacco, cars, beauty products, and jewelry. Floyd and Walsh believe that their findings identify a credibility challenge faced by advertisers, even if it is a “perceived” offense.
To gain some insight on sexual images that you can see, visit the blog Sex in Advertising or website SexinAdvertising.com.
A sample of college women at the University of Georgia preferred a Dove “Real Beauty” print ad compared to a Neutrogena ad featuring an “idealized” woman. Dove’s recent campaign has gained a lot of attention because it eschews slender, air-brushed models for images of women sized six to 12.
For their honors Introduction to Advertising project, Haley Jag and Leigh Valentine asked 49 female students to view one of the ads. The Dove ad was evaluated more positively, and was perceived as more credible and meaningful than the Neutrogena ad. All differences were significant.
Another interesting finding, however, was a correlation between the respondent’s perceived health (“Rate your level of health.”) and evaluations of the Neutrogena ad. The healthier one considered herself, the more she liked the Neutrogena ad and found it more credible. In other words, images of “real” women are preferred by most young women except those who consider themselves fit. Healthier women may be more motivated by idealized models in ads for personal care products.
What do programs like The Howard Stern Show, Sex in the City, Cheaters, and Desperate Housewives have in common? In addition to scintillating content, the commercials aired within these programs contain more sexually attired actors, sexual language, and sexual behavior compared to ads aired during non-sexually themed programs.
Three honors students in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication, Lindey Knox, Vicente Lee, and David Zandman, recorded and coded an episode of 18 different programs aired in the last two weeks of November 2005. Half of the programs had sexual themes and half did not. Using coding schemes employed by Walker (2000) and Soley & Reid (1988), the students coded each commercial in all 18 programs (N = 534).
The findings reveal that the following proportion of commercials contained sexual content in sexually themed programming: 26% of ads contained a sexually-dressed women, 9% contained sexual language, and 16% contained instances of sexual behavior (e.g., kissing, implied intercourse). These proportions are higher than those in the non-sexually themed programming (female attire, 8%; language, 4%; and behavior 9%). Products most likely to be advertised with sexual content are lingerie, condoms, jewelry, and movies. These findings are important because they confirm that advertisers target their sexual appeals to audiences who are open to sexual information. Will someone watching Desperate Housewives really complain about a sexual ad?