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Seducing the Subconscious: The Psychology of Emotional Influence in Advertising

ISBN: 978-0-470-97488-9
260 pages
April 2012, Wiley-Blackwell
Seducing the Subconscious: The Psychology of Emotional Influence in Advertising (0470974885) cover image


Our relationship with ads: it's complicated

A must-read for anyone intrigued by the role and influence of the ad world, Seducing the Subconscious explores the complexities of our relationship to advertising. Robert Heath uses approaches from experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience to outline his theory of the subconscious influence of advertising in its audience’s lives. In addition to looking at ads’ influence on consumers, Heath also addresses how advertising is evolving, noting especially the ethical implications of its development. Supported by current research, Seducing the Subconscious shows us just how strange and complicated our relationship is with the ads we see every day.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction 1

Part 1 Taking Advertising Apart

1 The Persuasion Model 15

2 Alternative Ideas 24

3 WhyWe Don’t Pay Attention to Advertising 39

Part 1 Summary 48

Part 2 The Psychology of Communication

4 Learning and Attention 53

5 The Role of Memory 63

6 HowWe Process Communication 74

7 Problems with Getting Attention 85

Part 2 Summary 95

Part 3 Emotion and Consciousness

8 Emotional Processing 101

9 Our Adaptive Subconscious 111

10 Emotion and Attention 123

Part 3 Summary 133

Part 4 Decisions and Relationships

11 Decision-Making 137

12 The Power of Metacommunication 149

13 The Subconscious Seduction Model 160

Part 4 Summary 174

Part 5 Taking A Fresh Look at Advertising

14 Under the Radar 179

15 The Hidden Power of New Media 189

16 Legal, Decent, Honest, and Truthful? 198

17 How to Spot Subconscious Seduction 207

Conclusion 219

References 229

Index 239

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Author Information

Dr. Robert Heath has a worldwide reputation as an expert in the role of emotion and attention in the field of brand communication. In 2001 he developed the Low Attention Processing Model of advertising, after which he published the best-selling monograph The Hidden Power of Advertising. His published research has garnered him major prizes, including the dual award of the MRS David Winton and ISBA Prizes. Dr. Heath is a Senior Lecturer in Advertising at University of Bath School of Management and a Board Member of the Wharton Global Future of Advertising Project.
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“Summing Up: Recommended.  Upper-division and graduate students of advertising and psychology, faculty, and practitioners.”  (Choice, 1 October 2012)

“Heath’s book is far more persuasive than any advertisement, no matter how top-loaded the latter may be with accurate information. His thesis depends on a lengthy journey through cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, and a firm grasp on how – so far as we know – the human mind actually does work (rather than how we would like it to work). Heath demonstrates quite clearly – at least to my satisfaction – that it is precisely when we pay no conscious attention to advertising that advertisers get to work on our subconscious with complete effectiveness.”   WILL SELF, Prospect, June 2012

"(Heath) avoids academic obscurantism and fills the book with clever dissections of well-known ads... The case studies add up to an intriguing, down-to-earth introduction to the mysteries of the subconscious..."
Financial Times, March 2012

"Dr Robert Heath, who teaches at the University of Bath, has popularised the theory of ‘low attention processing’, which argues that ads make a stronger emotional and behavioural impact when we are paying less conscious attention to them. In his new book, Seducing the Subconscious, he further develops this thinking, providing a detailed and scholarly explanation of the psychological processes involved, and illustrating these with advertising examples, many based on his own long experience in ad agencies."
Paul Feldwick, Credos, March 2012

An articulate, compelling and, at times, disturbing explanation of how advertising works. The theory and examples in Seducing the Subconscious offer new insight into how advertising works and are a must read for any advertiser, consumer, and policy maker.
Jerry Wind, Lauder Professor and Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, Director of the Wharton Future of Advertising Program

Dr. Heath writes with great insight into the workings of advertising and communication. He draws on theory to frame the question and guides the reader through how the subconscious is at the forefront of our behaviour. His book is a 'must read' for anyone with the slightest involvement or interest in marketing.
Judy Zaichkowsky, Professor of Marketing and Communications, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Advertising works at both a conscious and subconscious level. Anyone who wants to understand how should read this well-researched and generally balanced book.
Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor, London Business School

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Press Release

April 17, 2012
Seducing the Subconscious: The Psychology of Emotional Influence in Advertising

Whether it’s on TV or billboards, mobile phones or in magazines, advertising is part of our everyday life.  But, while we are all aware of it, and may even secretly admire a particular campaign, most of us would likely say that we don’t pay much attention to it when it comes to making a decision.  But, is this really the case, or are we being influenced without even knowing it?  In his absorbing and highly-readable new book, Dr. Robert Heath, a pioneer in the field of brand communications, explains the hidden power of advertising and how by choosing to ignore it we may be lending it greater power.

Drawing on a range of successful advertising campaigns (including Nike, Coca-Cola and Budweiser’s “Whassup?”), the works of key thinkers, and the latest research in experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience, Seducing the Subconscious is a fascinating exploration of the ways in which we process advertising – at both a subconscious and semiconscious level.  We discover how and why the most successful advertising campaigns are not those we love or hate or those with messages that are new or interesting but those that are “able to effortlessly slip under our radar and influence our behaviour without us ever really knowing that they have done so…”  We find out how to spot when we are being subconsciously seduced and see how new media has made us even more susceptible to the subconscious influence of advertising. 

And the best way of avoiding advertising affecting us this way?  Heath offers two fool-proof ways.  The first is to avoid it altogether (pretty much impossible!).  The second is to embrace it.  As he concludes, “the more you attend, the more you can counter-argue what you see and hear, and the less it will affect you.  It may be tedious, it may be annoying, and it may make your life a bit uncomfortable.  But at least you’ll know you haven’t been subconsciously seduced.”

A real eye-opener of a book, Seducing the Subconscious will leave most of us astonished by how much advertising affects our everyday behaviour - and perhaps even more astonished by how little we realize this is going on! 

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