In 1957 advertising
man James Vicary
created and patent
ed a device that would display an image for approximately one third of a millisecond over a theater projector
. In collaboration with a theater owner in Fort Lee
, New Jersey
, he used the device to display a frame
containing the messages "Eat Popcorn!"
and "Drink Coke!"
to a movie theater audience
, which was supposed to boost sales
of popcorn and coke in the theater.
According to Vicary, it did. In fact, he and the theater owner reported that coke sales had increased 18% during the period the frames were shown, and that popcorn sales had jumped a whopping 58%.
This announcement caused quite a panic
in the American media, leading essentially everyone
to believe their minds could be controlled
at a whim by advertising
companies on television
and in theaters
. Earlier that same year, Vince Packard
had released the supposed expose "The Hidden Persuaders", which cited similar (and even more dubious
) cases, including one that supposedly had led people to buy more ice cream
through a similar technique.
The American public
was, however, ready to believe anything. In the era of space zombies
, hidden commies
, and coconut amnesia epidemics
, mind control
was something that struck a strangely appealing and familiar note. And so, even today, crackpot cynics
and amateur experts
on everything will have you believe that subliminal messaging
is a very real part of our everyday lives.
The complete and total inability of scientists
to replicate the findings of Vicary
, in addition to a personal admission
on the part of Vicary
that the entire spectacle was a hoax
designed to make him a buck
or two off of his patent
did little to stem the spread of these falsities
. Which is why, if you ask the right
(or rather the wrong
) high school psychology
teacher even today, you might hear about the dangers
of subliminal flashes in advertising.