Measuring the immeasurable – new ways of capturing the hidden power of advertising

John Faasse
Kobalt, Netherlands

Andy Santegoeds
Research & Intelligence, RTL Nederland, Netherlands

Nicole Scheibenreif
Intern, Kobalt, Netherlands


The 'Hidden Persuaders' are back. Fifty years after Vance Packard shocked the world with the concept of 'subliminal advertising', Robert Heath applied the idea of 'low-involvement processing' to the advertising industry. Where Packard suggested a conscious attempt by the advertising industry to tamper with the subconscious mind of the innocent consumer, Heath tries to save that same industry by offering the hope that advertising might have many unseen effects that could compensate for diminishing awareness figures.

Heath bases his theory on insights into the functioning of the human brain which science, in the days of Packard, had yet to discover. Human memory can be divided into short-term and a long-term memory. Part of the short-term memory is our 'working memory', which is used as a temporary, conscious storage facility and has a limited capacity. The long-term memory is itself divided into an explicit part and an implicit one. The explicit part contains information of which we are aware and which can be retrieved by an act of willpower. This is contrasted with implicit memory. What lies hidden in there is beyond our conscious reach. It is the result of subconscious, 'low-attention' or automated processes.