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Subliminal Seduction: The Politics of Consumer Research in Post-World War II America

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Abstract

On September 12, 1957, audiences at a Fort Lee, New Jersey, drive-in movie theater became the unwitting subjects of a psychological experiment. James Vicary, a forty-two-year-old marketing consultant, convinced the theater owners to flicker images across the screen at one-three-thousandth of a second, faster than the eye could see. As patrons watched Kim Novak and William Holden cavorting in the film Picnic, the words “eat popcorn” and “drink Coca Cola” infiltrated their subconscious. When Vicary revealed the test to the public a few days later, he bragged that his hidden messages had induced a surge in popcorn and soft drink sales of 50 and 18 percent, respectively. In little more than a year, Vicary predicted, cinemas across the nation would be using this new, unorthodox selling technique.1 Subliminal advertising, a term not found in the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature before 1957, rivaled reports of UFOs and communist spies for the top story of the year.2

Keywords

  • York Time
  • Market Research
  • Opinion Poll
  • Personal Influence
  • Frankfurt School

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Notes

  1. Timothy E. Moore, “Subliminal Advertising: What You See is What You Get,” Journal of Marketing 46, no. 2 (1982): 38–47.

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  39. For an overview of post-World War II market research and the place of social science, see Cohen, Consumer’s Republic, 292–344; Michael M. Sokal, “The Origins of the Psychological Corporation,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 17, no. 1 (1981): 54–67.

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Lipartito, K. (2012). Subliminal Seduction: The Politics of Consumer Research in Post-World War II America. In: Berghoff, H., Scranton, P., Spiekermann, U. (eds) The Rise of Marketing and Market Research. Worlds of Consumption. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137071286_10

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137071286_10

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, New York

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