Subliminal message—“a signal or message embedded in another object, designed to pass below the normal limits of perception. These messages are indiscernible by the conscious mind, but allegedly affect the subconscious or deeper mind. Subliminal techniques have occasionally been used in advertising and propaganda; the purpose, effectiveness and frequency of such techniques is debated.” (Wikipedia)
50 years ago, a market researcher named James Vicary “announced that he had invented a way to make people buy things whether they wanted them or not” through subliminal advertising.
“He had tested the process at a New Jersey movie theater, where he had flashed the words ‘eat popcorn’ or ‘Coca-Cola’ on the screen every five seconds as the films played. The words came and went so fast—in three-thousandths of a second—that the audience didn’t know they’d seen them. Yet, sales of popcorn and Coke increased significantly.”
People who were afraid of the impact of subliminal messages or being brainwashed called them ‘merchandising hypnosis’ and ‘remote control of national thought’.
“In 1962, Mr. Vicary, in an interview, admitted that he had fabricated the results of the popcorn test to drum up business for his market-research firm. Subliminal ads were tossed into the invention junkyard.”
(Wall Street Journal, 5 November 2007)
Do subliminal messages work to change behavior?
“Subconscious stimulus by single words is well established to be modestly effective in changing human behavior or emotions. However there is no strong evidence that messages in advertising can or have been used effectively.” (Wikipedia)
Whether or not, people can be made to purchases or consume things through subliminal advertising is unclear. However, subconscious words and cues do have an effect on human behavior. An example of the effectiveness of subliminal cues are reactions to non-verbal communications, such as facial expressions or body language.
Similarly, with unconscious communications, “research has shown that our conscious attention can attend to 5-9 items simultaneously. All other information is processed by the unconscious mind.” (Wikipedia)
So clearly, the subconscious mind receives, processes, and reacts to verbal and non-verbal stimuli.
In User-centric EA, it is critical to communicate effectively, so that users not only hear the messages (i.e. the target architecture, transition plan, strategic plan and so on), but that they listen to them and ultimately act on them. To effectively communicate, then, means using the spectrum of verbal and non-verbal communication.
While the notion of hypnotizing our stakeholders into being “willing” participants in the development of the EA, and in complying with it, is certainly appealing in a sort of warped, comical way, it is certainly not a serious option (oh shucks!). So while EA practitioners can not go out and put subliminal EA messages into the corporate TV broadcasts or insert encrypted EA messages in the company newsletter, EA should use a broad array of marketing and communication materials and outreach efforts to reach leaders, subject matter experts, and stakeholders to unite the enterprise and move the organization forward toward business and technology evolution to meet mission execution.
In the end, good communication with stakeholders is one of the most critical success factors of an EA program.