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The American public has been bombarded with advertising campaigns about nutritious products, healthy foods, natural foods, and slim foods. They promise to deliver on the latter statements. Increased consumer access to information has caused most manufacturers and businessmen to look for subtler methods of getting their messages across hence explaining the proliferation of subliminal advertising. Many people never stop to think about the hidden messages that come their way as they are always on the move. It is imperative to consider whether these hidden half-truths affect the health of the population.
Subliminal advertising, like the name suggests, refers to messages, words, slogans, and pictures that are designed to appeal to the subconscious and thus unknowingly convince consumers to purchase a certain product. Normally, these adverts will be flashed quickly across the screen or stated briefly on other forms of media. Sometimes, they may be hidden in larger messages such that one can only notice them after repeatedly looking at the advertisement.
A well-known case of subliminal messages was a political advert containing the words ‘rats’ in the year 2000. Although a lot of controversies have arisen over the actual effect of subliminal advertising, some scientists such as Naccache (25) affirm that the subliminal processing of words that have an emotional meaning can be done in the same neurological way that conscious processing takes place. The scientist flashed words linked to fear across a computer screen placed in front of epileptic patients. It was illustrated that some brain activity associated with the actual trigger words occurred.
The messages were subliminal because they passed too quickly to be noted by the conscious mind. It should be noted that in modern times, subliminal advertising has taken a different form; they now come in the form of hidden messages in obvious advertisements. For instance, many beer companies utilize terms such as bull, tiger, or cobra. They can be regarded as subliminal messages because they are trying to sell the concept of power amongst people who are powerless (alcoholics). Given such general information, it is crucial to look at how subliminal messages relate to nutrition and health status.
Obesity is increasingly becoming a concern for many citizens in the country. Consequently many are paying attention to product labels to cut down on those pounds. However, reports indicate that some kind of subliminal advertising has emanated out of this obsession with weight loss. For instance, some companies will place the term natural at the back of their labels. The Federal Drug Authority has not yet regulated this term.
It is possible to find several artificial additives in these foods and drinks. Normally, food manufacturers rarely make blatant remarks concerning the nutritional content of their products but most will use terms that make their products appear healthier than they are. Unless one specializes in nutrition or one is a legal practitioner, it is very difficult to detect these messages. One such instance is a type of cereal called peach oatmeal. The ingredient ‘peach’ is designed to appeal to weight-conscious individuals. However, it was found that the oatmeal contained no peaches (James, 14).
Some chocolate manufacturers are aware that many customers now know that the product is rich in fat and sugar. Consequently, most have started looking for chocolate bars that possess a higher percentage of cocoa over than sugar and fat. Cocoa is great for the body and there is nothing wrong with consuming it. However, if a chocolate bar contains a high percentage of cocoa, it will cause manufacturers to spend more and thus increase prices.
This will put off many would-be consumers who will simply switch to something else that is just less expensive. Therefore, these clever businessmen instead decided to use subliminal advertising to lure unsuspecting consumers. Some of them use words like semi-dark or dark to imply that their chocolate is quite rich in cocoa. Consumers who have no time to look at the product ingredients will be unconsciously drawn by those words and may keep buying them with the hope that they are consuming a healthier product (Nestle, 66). These hidden suggestions are done using words that consumers generally associate with a desirable ingredient or a healthier ingredient thus causing them more harm than good.
Alternatively, some manufacturers dealing with wheat-related products will also label their products as ‘pure’. Consumers often imagine something that is safe and good for them when they hear of such a word. However, what they are not aware of is that ‘pure’ in this case simply denotes something that has been redefined. All the nutritious aspects of the wheat have essentially been removed and all that is left is the white element.
These advertisers would have used a word such as refined or processed but that does not appeal positively to consumers. They used a term that suggests something nutritious when in essence this is the exact opposite. This is typical of subliminal advertising which is designed to get to the subconscious mind at all times.
Perhaps the most notorious case is that of High Fructose Corn Syrup. Most industry practitioners will state the following about HFCS: “All-natural”, “Just like table sugar”, “It’s a corn product”. When one looks at these assertions one can easily detect how tricky and deceptive they are owing to their subliminal nature. For example, the one comparing HFCS to sugar is one such advert. Most consumers are aware that sugar is a very dangerous ingredient. High sugar foods are responsible for many obese cases in adults as well as in children. Therefore, one is left to wonder why a company would even liken its product to sugar since sugar is unhealthy.
The decision lies in the fact that it is quite difficult to distinguish between a comparison and a contrast of two items. Customers are likely to assume that something is healthy for them if it has been mentioned alongside another commodity that they are already used to. This is indeed subliminal advertising. HFCS also states that their product is made from corn. Since most people know that corn is natural then they may assume that the product is natural but this could not be further from the truth.
HFCS is created through a very complicated industrial process that utilizes enzymes that have been genetically engineered. The product may come from corn but the numerous processes it has undergone disqualify it from being called natural. Manufacturers work around this problem by simply talking about its raw material thus creating the image that the commodity is good for them when it is not (Farlow, 13).
Children have also been targeted by this kind of methodology. The McDonald’s Burger is one such case because it utilizes a clown to market its product. The company took a positive image or one that causes pleasant feelings in children and they used it to sell their commodity. Children who watch this advert may get the same positive emotions that they get when interacting with a clown in real life. Therefore Mcdonald’s used this positive linkage to boost sales and it appears to be working (Brody, B7).
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Companies spend millions of dollars on advertisements and it is no wonder some of them are carefully thought out. Most subliminal ads nowadays will depict an image or a word that triggers a desirable trait when in reality that is not the case. This is contributing even more to the weight problem.
Brody, Jane. Risks for youths who eat what they watch. The New York Times, 2010.
Naccache, Lionel. Subliminal messages can affect our brains. Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences, 2005.
Nestle, Marion. How the food junk giants target kids. Food marketing and childhood obesity: a matter of policy. New England journal of medicine, 3(2009): 65-73.
James, Michael. Are some low cal food claims big fat lies? 2004.
Farlow, Christine. Sweet lies: how the food industry is brainwashing the public. 2008.