One of the most-read posts on this blog is on subliminal advertising. In that post I explain how the famous Vicary coke-experiment actually never happened, but also mention a more recent Dutch study that suggests some effect in lab-conditions. For a new documentary, the BBC replicated the study now outside the lab and… didn’t succeed in finding a statistical significant effect.
So this experiment did not finally disprove the notion that subliminal advertising could theoretically work in public.
But what it did demonstrate is that, while the fear of subliminal advertising may be based on a kernel of scientific truth, in practice this would be a devilishly tricky thing to pull off.
If, after months of preparation, with willing volunteers, with the distribution of crisps to induce thirst, we still couldn’t achieve a result, the chances of achieving anything on a mass scale don’t appear very attractive.
Furthermore, even if the subliminals had influenced choice immediately after the film, it is very doubtful that there would be a lasting effect on their drink purchases after they left the cinema.