I was on a bus a couple years ago. There was a FedEX truck in the lane next to me. Not much of a view, but all I had to look at. FedEX uses a subtle form of subliminal advertising that’s built right into their logo. Between the E and the X, an arrow is formed. It’s a simple sign, and not necessarily devious. It just is. A group of psychologists at Federal Express developed a new logo that conveyed the impression of movement to anyone who looked at it. It suits a company that prides itself by being on time. I wonder if there are unintended consequences for their experiment. Do you think FedEX trucks get more speeding tickets than UPS trucks? UPS after all, has developed an image of classic dependability. Rounded trucks, safe colors. Father knows best how to get your package to Seattle.
I find myself “falling asleep” at times, not paying attention to the subtle clues that are all around me. I’m too tall to be really swayed by kid cereals. All I see in the cereal isle are Special Ks and Bran muffin cereals. My back hurts when I bend over to look at the Sugar Barons. Don’t hide down there! Come into the light, Count Chocula!
We all have our own subliminal advertising that we try out on each other. She blinks rapidly at me, I smile more at her. The way she walks away is supposed to tell me if I should follow. I’m still working out how to recognize that one.
The point isn’t so much that you should be paranoid about subliminal messages. It’s more that you should be aware that those messages represent a large part of what we see every day. Those messages vary in power and intent just as the people who make them do. For the more insidious ones, it’s a real pleasure to recognize them. Nothing diffuses manipulation like knowledge.