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Mesmerizing marketing: a compact cultural history

Stephen Brown (School of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Strategy, University of Ulster, Jordanstown, UK)

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 27 June 2008




The purpose of this paper is to examine the widely‐held belief that marketing holds customers in thrall and persuades them to buy things they otherwise would not.


Rather than adopt a scientific approach to the mesmeric marketing phenomenon, it embraces an artistic perspective, focusing on three crucial cultural “moments” in the emergence of the great manipulator mindset.


Whereas innumerable scientific experiments show that subliminal advertising does not work, except in certain circumstances, the cultural approach demonstrates that subliminals are, in fact, enormously successful. Regardless of scientific evidence to the contrary, most consumers believe that subliminal advertising not only works but is an established marketing practice.

Practical implications

The paper suggests that marketers should place less reliance on the scientific paradigm. Marketing science has its place – a very important place – but not everything can be captured in a simultaneous equation or linear regression model. Cultural components analysis is just as significant as principal components analysis.


Received wisdom concerning subliminal advertising is challenged and creatively reinterpreted from a supra‐science standpoint.



Brown, S. (2008), "Mesmerizing marketing: a compact cultural history", European Business Review, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 350-363.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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