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One of the objections to the use of subliminal advertising techniques is that they...

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One of the objections to the use of subliminal advertising techniques is that they could be used to manipulate or influence large numbers of people without their knowing it. Do you think this is an important objection?  

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The use of submliminal advertising has been a contentious issue for many years.  An early and influential study of its use was published in 1957.  That study, "The Hidden Persuaders" by journalist and activist Vance Packard, was the first book to take a hard look at the technique and its potential impact on consumers.  Packard's concern about the  deleterious moral and practical consequences of subliminal advertising touched a chord with many people.  Restricting its use, however, is problematic.  

In response to public concerns about the potential effects of subliminal advertising, the Federal Communications Commission, in 1974, issued a Public Notice that read:

"We (the FCC) believe that the use of subliminal perception [technique] is inconsistent with the obligations of a licensee, and we take this occasion to make clear that broadcasts employing such tehniques are contrary to the public interest.  Whether effective or not, such broadcasts clearly are intended to be deceptive."

In effect, the FCC was banning the use of subliminal advertising.  The controversy and the technique has not gone away.  To this day, politicians occasionally accuse each other of using subliminal advertising in campaign ads.  In the midst of the 2000 presidential campaign, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and John Breaux accused the Republic National Committee of using subliminal advertising to smear Democratic Party nominee Albert Gore.  The FCC found no evidence to support the allegation, but the concern about its use is not likely to go away.

Whether nonpolitical subliminal advertising, for example, an ad intended to trigger a reaction likely to lead to a consumer purchase of the company's product, is morally wrong is open to debate.  This educator believes it to be morally wrong, but the damage caused by its use is probably minimal, especially given more scientifically-grounded means of getting people to purchase certain products, fattening foods.  The danger, of course, is in the nature of the product being advertised.  Advertisements for alcoholic beverages or, before tobacco ads were banned from television, for cigarettes, are inarguably morally wrong, and certainly damaging if even a very small number of consumes are persuaded by the ads to consume the product.

The use of subliminal advertising in politcal or issue-oriented  advertisements is also, to this educator, wrong.  People should be counted upon to make informed, rational decisions without the influence of such techniques.  It use in fast-food commercials, were that the case, is of less concern despite the long-term health effect of overconsumption of fast-food.  

Clearly, these are subjective opinions on the part of one individual.  As one educated in the use of psychological warfare and other types of practices designed to subtly influence decisionmaking processes, however, there is no question that the world is better off without subliminal advertising.


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