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The word subliminal comes from two Latin words, “sub,” meaning “below,” and “limen,” meaning “threshold.” If something is subliminal, then, it is something that is “below the threshold”—here, below the threshold of conscious experience. Subliminal advertising, then, is advertising that operates below the limits of the consciousness of its audience. Subliminal advertising operates by including text or images into the overt, perceived advertising product that will not themselves be consciously perceived but will appeal to basic and universal human needs, such as for food, sex, security, or status. Such advertising messages are sometimes referred to as “hidden” or “embedded” messages.

The potential use of subliminal techniques has been recognized since 1898, with the publication of a book by E.W. Scripture called The New Psychology. The public ...

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