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Subliminal influence has been a recurrent topic of debate in both scientific and popular communities since Vicary (in a press conference held in 1957) claimed (even if he finally admitted it was a hoax) that subliminal exposure to short sentences, such as “Drink coke” or “Eat pop-corn”, could drastically influence people’s will to consume that products. Subliminal message is a Visual or auditory message presented so fast or at so low intensity that people cannot detect it. Literally speaking of subliminal messages it means below threshold. To date, evidence suggests that subliminal exposure to faces, words, or brands, can to some extent influence judgments about people, judgments about ads, people’s self-evaluation, their attitudes and even their behaviour.
Priming Theory – The priming can affect the action of an individual in a purely cognitive way, where the semantic content drives the action. For example, people exposed to the stereotype of elderly people walked slowly when compared to people that were not exposed to the same stereotype A group of individuals exposed to a violent sport (boxing) presented a higher tendency to choose hostile activities and also to have hostile behaviour when compared to a group of people exposed to a non-violent sport). Similarly, participants primed with helpfulness words, demonstrated better communicative quality in narratives, as compared to those primed with unhelpful words. These situations are semantic, immediate and with no motivational aspect. This semantic priming is known as trait-based priming. The action trigged by priming occurs immediately after exposure and dissipates over time and mainly with accomplishment of the primed action. On the other hand, depending on the kind of exposure and stimulation content, the priming can influence goal pursuit. In this case the motivational component is very consistent. It is what literature calls goal-based priming.To understands how this priming mechanism works it is necessary to understand the motivational aspects of goal pursuit. These goals can be activated by situational factors and operate automatically to influence behavior.
Recent experimental studies have found support for the effect of subliminal priming on consumer behaviour. Karremans and colleagues found that subliminally priming people with the brand name of a thirst-quenching beverage increased people’s choice for that beverage, but only when people were thirsty. Another study found that subliminally priming people simply with words related to drinking also increased fluid consumption in a taste task, but again only if participants were fluid deprived These studies suggest that Vicary’s ideas were partly right after all. Subliminally priming consumers with behaviours related to eating or drinking does influence their consumption, but only if people are already deprived. Priming effects on consumption, then, seem to be dependent on basic needs such as hunger and thirst. However, for other types of behaviour, deprivation does not seem to be required for priming effects to occur. Priming people with achievement has been found to increase performance and persistence of behaviour.
Brand Priming – The use of priming brands to influence subsequent activities has been studied in the recent years. Fitzsimons et al. (2008) used the Apple brand and its creative personality, constricting it with the IBM brand. A group of people was exposed to Apple (word composing a shuffled sentence) whereas another group was given brand IBM. In a second step, participants were given a task involving creativity. The authors found that the Apple group reached a better performance in the creativity task, when compared to the IBM group. The previous study demonstrates that brands may influence in subsequent actions. In many cases, the trigged actions will be semantic, wherein the individual perceives a strong trait in brand and behaves in a similar manner. However, brands have long been associated with human traits, which influence not only semantic changes, but also behaviour. The reason for this goal-based priming is that consumers get involved with the brand personality traits. This personality representations trigger consumers” perceptions of brands as living entities with their own humanlike motivations, characteristics, conscious will, emotions, and intentions.
“The current research extends the study of nonconscious behaviour by focusing on the influence of subliminal brand priming on consumers” risk taking behaviour. It would be tested whether Subliminal priming of brand with audacity trait enhances risk taking behaviour of the consumers. In the study, the initial hypothesis that brands associated to an audacity personality may influence consumers to be more risk taking in subsequent decisions is tested.
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