Subliminal Messages in Presentations: Smart or Shady?

You’ve read their applications everywhere—from TV ads to music and even to political campaigns. Subliminal messages are well known in popular culture because of their supposed influence to elicit emotional or behavioral response from viewers or listeners–without being consciously aware of them.

For example, companies have subliminally conjured positive emotions using their corporate logos like the “FedEx” ad where feelings of forwardness and motion are induced. Notice the arrow that is formed between the letters “E” and “X” in its logo.

fedex logo

On the flip side, negative behaviors have also said to be induced like backmasking hidden message within music. For example, in the popular music band Queen’s song “Another One Bites the Dust”, the message “It’s fun to smoke marijuana” is supposedly heard when played backwards.

But what about subliminal messaging during presentations?

Before exploring the possibility of adding subtle messages within your presentation, consider these 5 myths that often perpetuate about them:

Myth 1: Subliminal messages are relatively new.

Although subliminal messages didn’t become controversial until 1957, they aren’t just modern day hype.  Their influence has been mentioned all the way back in 1897 through an article published by the New Psychology. Even by World War 2, subliminal messages were likewise used to teach soldiers to recognize enemy planes. So yes, you may not realize it but among the hundreds of sales presentations you’ve seen, more than half of these likely contained subliminal messages. Just think about the logos of many companies and what they subliminally convey.

Myth 2: All subliminal messages are negative.

Subliminal messages are neither inherently good nor bad. When used with the right intentions and techniques, subliminal messages can help produce positive changes. These include correcting bad habits, stubborn erroneous beliefs and negative stereotyping—all of which become more difficult if you’re totally conscious while modifying these. That’s why many self-help methods advocate their usage.

Myth 3: All subliminal messages are effective.

Just because you mean well and want to use subliminal messaging in your presentation doesn’t guarantee though that it’ll work.

Some studies show subliminal messages only work for those already predisposed towards the desired behavior. That is, a subliminal message enticing someone to buy steak would only work for those already hungry in the first place.

So while it may not hurt to attempt subliminally persuading your audience in a presentation, don’t bet all your odds on it.

Myth 4: Only others with ulterior motives use subliminal messages.

You may not realize it but without any effort, you already use subtle tactics to prime others. How you speak, use body gestures and other non-verbal cues, where both sender and receiver are unaware, all demonstrate the prevalent use of subliminal messaging.

Myth 5: You can’t willfully use subliminal messages.

Relating to myth #4, you can actually deliberately use subliminal messaging to your advantage! Everyday subliminal cues you intentionally project during presentations can make things go your way and may speak louder than what you say. Making eye contact, palms wide open, straight posture—all examples of positive subliminal messaging you can intentionally control.

So, asking the question of whether you should be deliberately using subliminal messaging while presenting seems moot. Despite being a highly debatable and controversial topic, subliminal messaging continues to be part of many companies’ marketing strategy.

And while it’s also not an uncommon application in presentations, the most effective presentations still rely on those efforts which are deliberate, conscious and proven.

How have you used subliminal messaging in your presentations?  Share your experiences with us through your comments below.