Monday, January 10, 2022

Subliminal Advertising

 How many of the following products can you recognize?

1.          1. You’ll wonder where the yellow went…

2.         2.  Wake up to _____ in your cup.

3.          3. They’re magically delicious.

4.        4.   Plop, plop, fizz, fizz…

5.         5.  I wish I was an __________.

6.         6.  Double your pleasure, double your fun…

When television advertisers created jingles, they discovered a very important fact. Jingles were catchy, short songs easily remembered and repeated by children. Thus for every time a jingle played on TV, children would repeat it and basically gain the product “free” advertising. If you completed the six examples above, did you sing the jingle as you tried to finish it? Uh-hum. J

Another way companies brand their product is by developing a spokesperson who is in all their ads. Recognize these? Is it possible to say their name without adding the company they’re associated with?

Companies also get you invested in their products by having celebrities in their commercials. State Farm is one of the best known to me as they use several football icons in their commercials. And if you’re a football fan, you think “if it’s good enough for them maybe I should take a look.”

Back in 1967, I did a term paper on subliminal advertising*, the art of projecting indiscernible objects onto a movie or television screen to see if people watching would be influenced by that projection. For example, a small picture of a popcorn box was put into the top corner of the movie screen – flashed for only a tenth of a second – and statistics were kept as to whether popcorn sales increased. Keep in mind sight is only one of our senses; therefore advertisers can bombard us in any number of ways. Think of the last time you walked through a mall (I realize that was a really long time ago) and you smelled caramel popcorn or the rich aroma of roasted coffee. How easily your feet moved you in that direction. * What Is Subliminal Advertising? Definition, Types & More - ShareThis

I find this subject fascinating although I know there can be far reaching effects from such “brainwashing”. You need to be aware that suggestions are being made to you not only with actual commercials (which we tend to walk away from to get our lunch or use the restroom) but within the program itself. For those familiar with the movie “E.T.”, remember what candy became an overnight sensation when the movie came out? Hershey agreed to spend $1 million promoting E.T. in exchange for the rights to use E.T. in its ads. The payoff was huge—the little peanut butter candies saw a reported 65% to 85% jump in profits just two weeks after the movie's premiere.

The examples, of course, are everywhere, but I started thinking about how much closer to home such things were as a writer. Without consciously thinking about it, my heroine asks for a Kleenex when she sneezes; the hero opens the door of his F-150 pick up to take her to the local pizza joint where they have cokes and wood fire pizza. I am certainly not getting paid to use brand names in my writing (wouldn’t that be nice) but do I have to be concerned about saying “coke” instead of “soda”? In some cases, the need to use a brand name helps distinguish and define the people in the story. For example, the hero putting on a North Face jacket tells you he has good (and more expensive) taste and enjoys outside activities. Naming a premium wine choice at the restaurant is similar.

Rights of Writers: Can I Mention Brand Name Products in My Fiction? Is an excellent article by Mark Fowler about the four basic types of brand/trademark problems in writing, with examples of each, but his bottom line is, “The use of brand names in fiction is not a sleep-depriving issue.  It would be obsessive (and stylistically unpalatable) to use the R-in-a-circle symbol or the TM symbol every time you refer to a brand name in your text.  And, as long as you do not write falsely and disparagingly about real brands and the companies who manufacture them, you are unlikely ever to run into a problem.

I had the delight of sharing some of this discussion with my characters, JC and Charlie in “Loving Charlie Forever”, a time travel. They were trying to figure out what they could “invent” back in 1850s to support themselves, but were having a bit of an integrity crisis worrying about taking away another’s invention before its time. I’ve always liked writing time travels because of the knowledge that some characters have given they’re from the future. Usually though, they don’t have the wherewithal to invent a particular item. And afterall, what fun would that be for the real inventors?

In your reading, and perhaps your writing, you’re likely to run across brand names and chances are, you read right over them with the intent to which they were used. If it bothers you as an author to “promote” a brand name, (afterall, they’re not paying you to mention their product) then use a generic form or eliminate the reference altogether.

If you like time travels, I invite you to check out the following at Books We Love:

"Spinning Through Time"

Prospecting for Love"

"Hold on to the Paat"

"Loving Charlie Forever"

Don't forget to enter BWL's New Year, New You. Visit their website for a chance to win a delightful spa basket!

All Best Wishes,




  1. I've been very aware of subliminal marketing. In my stories I tend to use generic terms and not the products. Some writers don't and I often skip over their ads for products.

  2. Thanks for sharing this valuable information. Writing mainly sci-fi and fantasy, I don't have to use contemporary brand names. But I had fun mentioning a Disney space cruise to Ganymede in one of my sci-fi stories. Everyone loves the classics. I like to believe Disney would be proud to know that his legacy projected this far into the future.

  3. Over the years, I've mentioned the make and model of many different cars and trucks in my stories, not that I have a preference, but it helps differentiate them.

    That being said, since many of my stories are set in Canada, my characters have a tendency to stop at Tims (Tim Hortons) for coffee, but I don't see this as advertising...more like a cultural thing. If I see the name Tim Hortons in a novel, I don't think chain restaurant or fast food, I think Canada, hockey, and coffee. Okay...maybe this is subliminal LOL

    1. Whether you see it as cultural or advertising, they're still getting your attention. LOL. And it's not even subliminal anymore. It's in-your-face everywhere you look. That's the world we live in.


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