Why does subliminal advertising work? How did a cigarette company manage to increase sales after advertisements were banned?
The answer, can be found in buyology:
…since the subliminal advertising didn't show any logos the smokers weren't aware they were viewing an advertising message, and, as a result, they let their guard down. Pretend that it's thirty years ago, and you're a smoker. You see an ad in the magazine or on a billboard. You know the ad is for cigarettes because the Camel logo is prominently displayed in the bottom corner. Immediately you raise your guard. You know that smoking is bad for your health, not to mention, expensive, and that you'll be giving it up any day now. So you consciously construct a wall between yourself and the message, protecting yourself from its seductive powers. But once the logo vanishes, your brain is no longer on high alert, and it responds subconsciously-and enthusiastically-to the message before you.
So when the British cigarette company Silk Cut managed to associate itself with swaths of purple silk, and removed the logo (because of the ban on advertising) nothing changed. 90% of people were able to associate the purple to the company. Only now, ads were more effective than before.
In other words, tobacco companies' efforts to link innocent images to their products and brands (think the American West, Fast Cars, or, purple silk) with smoking our subconscious minds have paid off in spades.
Lindstrom says “They have succeeded creating a stimuli powerful enough to replace traditional advertising. And, in fact, they've managed to get government help. By banning tobacco ads, governments are unwittingly helping to promote the consumption of the products they seek to eliminate.”
Oh, and those gross images and warnings labels that some countries insist on putting on cigarette packages have, scientifically speaking, zero impact on limiting or preventing consumption. According to recent MRI studies, the images of rotting lungs and such (along with regular cigarette warnings), actually stimulated the brain's “craving spot” (nucleus accumbens) in smokers.
If you want to learn more, read Buyology: Truth and Lies about What We Buy.