The Most Powerful Writing Technique: Subliminal Messaging

“As a starting point, we might consider the ubiquitous, insistent presence of advertising, with its continual striving for attractive and convincing visual/verbal strategies” (Bernhardt 67).

Both of this week’s readings focused on different writing strategies and the multiple types of information-giving materials that exist in our world: from typical, academic texts to children’s books to online shopping to environmental pamphlets and more. However, a not so hidden but also not very prominent connection I made between the two texts was that of advertisement and the power of subliminal messaging.

Wysocki told us, “Think of how – without having to study it – you know whether a webpage has been designed to sell you something or present you with news” (124). But, a webpage can – and nowadays usually does – do both.

A nice Mercedes to go with your morning news

Ads are everywhere. From the webpages we search to the food we eat, we are almost constantly surrounded by advertisements. Ads are continuously striving to serve the function of providing the onlooker with information about the product being sold as well as convincing the spectator to purchase whatever that product may be.

As Wysocki wrote, “… we need to keep in mind the social circumstances in which a text is composed and into which its author or authors hope it will fit and do its work” (126). Oftentimes however, particularly with advertising, we don’t realize that we are being targeted. We can see ads and internally store their message without even realizing it.

This process is known as subliminal messaging and it’s incredibly powerful. It’s the idea that a message is passed into our brains without us being aware of it. This practice is well-known and often exploited by advertisers. In today’s current world, many ads are blatant and obvious, but many are subliminal and disguised too.

This means that even with advertising, there are different writing strategies being used and perfected all the time. No longer is it just a large billboard by the interstate promoting stopping at the next-best restaurant; it’s ads on the sides of webpages, in TV commercials, and in company logos.


The pervasiveness of advertisement – both obvious and subliminal – has a lot to do with psychology. As Wysocki wrote, “You’ve grown up with and into uses of color, and can probably easily describe the colors that would most likely be used in children’s books or a website promoting health through relaxation” (132). That’s because there’s a psychology behind color, which is one strategy used by advertisers.

For example, during the Great Depression, there was the “Blue Plate Special.” This was a meal that was fairly cheap and served on a blue plate. The idea behind it was that when eating food off of contrasting colored plates or bowls, the portions seem larger – thus, our brain thinks we’re eating more than we really are and tells our stomach we’re full.

However, this idea can also be used in reverse, which it usually is by advertisers. For example, McDonald’s famous golden arches are painted a bright yellow for a reason. That reason being that yellow, along with red and orange – typically evoke a sense of hunger. So, when we see the grand golden arches, not only do we knowingly think of the food served at McDonalds, but we unconsciously sense hunger.


So, how does this really relate to this week’s readings? Well, besides my brain jumping to the topic of subliminal messaging in advertisements while reading both texts, advertising as an entire genre utilizes the same elements mentioned by the authors. As well, advertising is a type of persuasion, whether that be written, digital, painted, drawn, in a video or used by some other medium. Advertisers critically think, design, evaluate, and test their messages so as to bring about the best results for whomever their targeted audience may be, just as any writer would (if not even more so).

It’s important, at least I think, to remember that the common rhetoric and persuasion techniques often used in academic texts don’t just happen in those blatant advertisements, informational pamphlets, or webpages, but can be seen almost anywhere. Just as any writer critically selects the techniques they think will serve their purpose best – such as font type, text size, and colors – so do advertisers, and they know just how powerful the science behind their subliminal messages can really be.



2 Replies to “The Most Powerful Writing Technique: Subliminal Messaging”

  1. Abbie,

    I love the connections you made here. I remember reading over that first quote you mentioned but deciding to skim over this concept of ideas because at the time I didn’t understand how relevant it was to the texts as a whole. But you’re right that these methods of texts, colors, and formats can be used in a negative way. Your post was pretty different from my own, almost opposite, yet I agree with what you’re saying here.

    Writers and marketers are able to so purposefully use these techniques as to invoke certain feelings in their clients in order to get them to purchase their product. That’s how important some off these methods are, and how easy it is for us to misuse these things too.

    Also, your connections with psychology are so interesting! It makes me want to study more about what colors invoke what emotions and how deep all of this subliminal messaging goes. I’ve always thought about these things, but I honestly don’t know some of the details as to how this happens. Nor have I explored to what extent we should or shouldn’t be using them as writers. Can it even be avoided now that we know some of these things?

    Really great work. I love reading your stuff. You always have something very unique to say and I look forward to your work.


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