By Rex Hammock
In 1957, unemployed magazine editor Vance Packard spent two months writing a book about advertising titled The Hidden Persuaders. He was not an expert in advertising, and much of the content of the book came from interviews and the writings of others.
The book is primarily remembered today for its mention of a concept that would come to be known as subliminal advertising. This technique was supposed to increase sales during movies by flashing messages like “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” onto the screen at a speed so fast that they couldn’t consciously be seen.Advertising experts dismissed the book and the concept of subliminal advertising—but the public loved it and bought 3 million copies.
I thought of Vance Packard recently while listening to an episode of the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz called Ultrasonic Tracking. It explores how ultrasonic communication—or sound outside most people’s conscious hearing range—can be used for everything from tracking daily habits to enabling light shows at music festivals.
Just imagine ultrasonic subliminal messaging being beamed to precisely the spot you are standing—in front of the product the marketer is selling. And just imagine that you have given the marketer permission to do so in terms of a usage agreement you clicked on a few months ago.
But think long and hard before you try it. Just because new technology makes science fiction into fact doesn’t mean you should follow suit.
And don’t be surprised the next time you’re in a grocery store if that sound your subconscious hears makes you want to buy some Orville Redenbacher Kettle Popcorn that suddenly appears right by your side.
Takeaway | Scientists and marketers continue to find amazing, but often creepy, ways to distribute their content and message via channels that humans can neither hear nor see. But does that mean we all should jump in? No. At least wait until the creepiness wears off—perhaps in about 70 years.
Image: Getty Images
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