The Drink Coke ‘n Eat Popcorn ‘study’

I’ll simply c/p the following paragraph from Broyles, ‘ Subliminal Advertising and the Perpetual Popularity of Playing to People’s Paranoia’ in The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 2006. I hope it is more than clear that NO ONE EVER manipulated anyone to drink coke and eat popcorn because personally I am fed up with people saying ‘subliminal advertising is your best weapon’ (me as a marketer). Yeah, I mean, I would make people do stuff, but through persuasion and other skills, and never against their will, which subliminal pretty much supposes.

In all honesty, it’s quite complicated to discuss these type of rather subtle – not subliminal – advertising – and maybe one day I’ll post something about it – better sooner than later. But for now, please, take some time and read what’s the story behind the drink coke and eat popcorn.

Broyles, 2006:

In a movie theater in Fort Lee, NJ, psychologist and marketing researcher James M. Vicary claimed to have conducted a six-week study in 1957 that involved showing movies while at the same time projecting the words ‘‘eat popcorn’’ and ‘‘drink Coca-Cola’’ on the screen for 1/3,000 of a second. The claimed results of increased sales of popcorn and cola were widely reported in numerous news media stories. Though the study was never reported in a scientific journal and had no control group, it fit a popular paranoia of media power such that it caused a public outcry concerning psychological manipulation of consumers, which was immediate and widespread (Moore 1982). When a major research company and several academic researchers failed to replicate the original results, Vicary eventually admitted that he had invented his experiment’s results in an effort to revive his then-failing research firm (Gray 2000; Rogers 1992– 1993; Rotfeld 2001). His admission was widely covered in the trade press of the period, yet despite the ‘‘experiment’’ and results having been an exposed hoax, the concept of subliminal advertising continues to be an issue today.

Sheri J. Broyles is an associate professor of advertising at the Department of Journalism and Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism, University of North Texas, Denton, TX (sbroyles@unt.edu).

The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2006 ISSN 0022-0078 Copyright 2006 by The American Council on Consumer Interests

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