Study: Subliminal ads warp your brain

Exposure to brand logos for just milliseconds changes the way people behave, according to research from Duke and the University of Waterloo.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read

Science has proven, once again, that advertising is effective. Who knew?

Researchers from upset-destined Duke University (fill out those brackets, people) and the University of Waterloo have published the results of a study that suggests that brief exposure to Apple's brand logo drives higher levels of creativity than exposure to IBM's logo. In fact, the researchers suggest that subliminal advertising is actually more effective than regular advertising, because people don't have time to raise their anti-ad defenses.

You are feeling more creative... James Martin/CNET News.com

The researchers tested 341 students, who were told they were taking a "visual acuity test." The test involved watching a screen, and tracking two events: charting the appearance of a multicolored box in different place on the screen, and keeping a running tally of numbers appearing in the center of the screen. Click here to download a QuickTime video demonstration of the test.

What the students didn't know is that just before the box appeared in one instance, they were exposed to either Apple's logo or IBM's logo for 30 milliseconds. After completing the test, the students were given a second task to think of all the possible ways they could use a brick. The people who had seen the Apple logo came up with more ways of using the brick, and were judged to have come up with the more creative uses, according to the researchers.

This is just flat-out creepy. "Instead of spending the majority of their money on traditional print and television advertising, companies with established brand associations such as Apple may want to give serious consideration to shifting more marketing resources to product placement opportunities and other forms of outreach that emphasize brief brand exposures," said Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor at Duke, in a press release announcing the research.

The researchers also tried the test with logos from The Disney Channel and E!, and found that people who were exposed to the Disney logo "subsequently behaved much more honestly than those who saw the E! Channel logos."

Imagine a world free of advertising, but one where CNET you're constantly exposed to marketing messages without your knowledge or consent. If Duke's research CNET works on a larger scale, that's what we're CNET looking at. CNET.