According to Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media ecology at New York University, the original revelation of subliminal advertising effects was a hoax.
In 1957, an enterprising marketing researcher named James Vicary announced to a breathless world that he had conducted an experiment in a movie theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey during screenings of the William Holden picture, Picnic. Vicary claimed that what he had done was to flash subliminal inducements during the screening of the film telling people to drink Coca Cola or to eat popcorn. His claim was that those subliminal flashes had actually increased sales of those items at the concession stand in the theater by some 38 percent.
This announcement took the country by [LAUGHING] storm. People basically freaked out over it. The networks swore they would never engage in practices like this. The New York State Senate passed a law against this kind of thing. Aldous Huxley appeared on The Mike Wallace Show [LAUGHS] and referred to it as something far worse than anything he’d imagined in Brave New World. It was quite a to do.
And the irony is that it turned out that Vicary had made the whole thing up.