Jan 232014

The most widely known piece of research into subliminal messaging comes from James McDonald Vicary in 1957.

Vicary wasn’t a social scientist or a psychologist researcher, he was a market researcher involved with advertising and branding, so he wanted to take his research out of the lab and into the real world

The study is perhaps most famous as it was one of the first of its kind – a large scale investigation into the power of subliminal messages conducted on the public, but also because of the alarming results.

In 1957 Vicary conducted his research in to subliminal messaging. He used a movie theatre in Fotr Lee, New Jersey, and over a 6 week period he tested subliminal messaging on over 45,000 movie goers.

While the patrons watched a movie (called Picnic) Vicary displayed 2 subliminal messages – on stating “Eat Popcorn” and another stating “Drink Coca-Cola”. The messages were text based subliminal messages and were displayed much faster than the human eye can see – they flashed on the screen for 3/1000s of 1 second – and they were displayed once every 5 seconds.

Results were taken by comparing the current 6 weeks sales of Coca Cola and popcorn to sales figures from the previous 6 weeks. The difference was phenomenal:

  • Popcorn sales had risen by 57%
  • Coca Cola sales rose by 18.1%

These figures suprised even Vicary himself. At the time the findings caused somewhat of a hysteria, further research started to be done into the influence of subliminal messages, and they were soon banned from being used within advertisements.


Critics now claim that the results may have been manufactured. It has never been proven but Vicary has never been able to reproduce the same high figures when scrutinized to repeat the experiment. It was also claimed he needed the successful research to get funding for a subliminal software project he wanted to move into.

It did however capture the imagination of the public, and real or not in started to inspire global brands to trying their own subliminal advertising. It also led to a further research by the CIA and a paper was developed called “The Operational Potential of Subliminal Perception” which was classified as top secret until 1994 when it was approved for release.

If you are curious for more research – conducted under clinical conditions, then take a look at our subliminal learning zone area.

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