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Advancing telecommunications technologies for the 21st century.

The world is moving toward a concept of global telecommunications. With global telecommunications, it will be possible to remove the categories that now define and segregate video, audio, and computers. With advanced telecommunications technology, video, audio, television, radio, telephone, and all forms of data communications become defined by the amount of digital information (bits) required to transmit them. Once the data rate and identification protocols are established, moving from one format to another becomes a matter of using the proper analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion for transmission or recording and digital-to-analog (D/A) conversion for reception or playback.

The transition from analog to digital electronics will affect every area of telecommunications, broadcasting, and multimedia. Digital permits new dimensions of economy for video, audio, and data communications. The proliferation of new digital media formats leaves but one thing to be desired--standardization. As universal standards become available, information exchange will become seamless from computer to telephone, from satellite to home, from subscriber cable to shopping mall.

The concept of an "information highway" where all audio and video information translates into digital information has been recognized by the new administration of the federal government. The federal budget proposal submitted for congressional approval includes approximately five billion dollars over the next four years to develop new software and equipment for the information highway concept. Federal efforts to foster the information highway have been further initiated with a lease of fiber optic lines to give scientists a high-speed data link to supercomputers funded by the National Science Foundation (Elmer-DeWitt, 1993).

This article identifies 10 emerging applications of telecommunications technology that will affect the way consumers receive and use news, entertainment, information, and personal services in the future. They are:

* Multimedia

* Digital Telecommunications Networks


* Direct Broadcast Satellites

* Cable Television Infrastructure

* Compression

* Fiber Optics

* Computers


* Digital Radio


Explaining multimedia is like explaining how cars work or how the human body is organized. There is enough detail to enthrall you or to bore you to death. Because of the subject's complexity, this treatise will stay with general terms and concepts as they relate to multimedia learning and training resources (Victor, 1993).

Multimedia is still an amorphous concept. A clear and precise definition has not been agreed upon within the industry. However, multimedia may be broadly defined as the convergence of program content, audio, and video using hardware that has been interrelated, synchronized, and governed by an intelligent interface.

Multimedia is a blend of technologies, some of which have been long in place. CD-ROM (compact disc-read only memory) is currently the optimal storage medium for accommodating the various byte-hungry components of multimedia. A CD-ROM is a large capacity storage device equivalent to approximately 450 high density floppy diskettes (Victor, 1993).

Recent developments in storage systems for video, audio, and computer platforms have resulted in dramatically improved capacities and performance, with cost-effective implementation. Digital and optical media have the ability to keep pace with the bandwidth and transfer rates of broadcast-quality video, audio, and data. Because computers need random-access storage, most of these storage systems are disc-based. As the digital media technologies have merged, an increasing number of analog and digital techniques have come into use combining magnetic and optical recording.

The compact disc (CD) for high-quality sound reproduction and LaserVision (LV) optical disc for high-quality video playback are most familiar to the consumer market. Both formats may also be used as recordable media for educational, industrial, and professional applications. At the most basic level, CD-ROM discs and audio CDs are the same. Both store program content as digital data using the same encoding methods.

Recordable optical systems are available in erasable and nonerasable forms. The latter are commonly referred to as WORM (write once, read many) formats. Another acronym sometimes applied to any recordable videodisc system is DRAW (direct read-after-write). These systems have the ability to immediately play back recorded video without extensive postprocessing.

There are three basic categories for optical disc video systems. They are the ROM (read only memory) which are playback-only systems, the WORM systems, and the erasable (most commonly magneto-optical or thermomagnetic) systems. The erasable systems usually combine the erasability of magnetic media with the storage density of optical techniques.

Sony Corporation has most recently introduced a Mini Disk (MD) system capable of reproducing optical discs as well as digitally recording and replaying 74 minutes of digital audio sound on a miniature (2 1/2 inch) magnetic-optical disc. While this format has been targeted for the music software industry, it certainly has educational, industrial, and professional applications, especially where portability is desired.

Digital and optical media have received a growing acceptance in interactive applications for training, presentation, and education. The professional advantages for broadcast applications include quick cueing for random-access to playback material, and nondestructive editing. The hardware simplicity adds to system reliability, longevity, and cost-effective maintenance.

Courseware is readily available from sources like The Complete Interactive Videodisc Courseware Directory, The Videodisc Compendium, or the Interactive Video Directory. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been in the forefront of course-ware-development and educational workshops and symposiums on the topic. Their yearly symposia include tutorials for beginners, application demonstrations, and a publications library. Likewise, CD-ROM libraries exist on everything from health to history.

Several versions of portable learning media are available as electronic or "talking books." Sony Corporation introduced an 8 centimeter CD unit in July 1990. It was capable of storing up to 100 million characters of information. Called a Data Discman, it made retrieval of voluminous data possible anywhere, anytime. Image and sound have been added to the character storage in the latest models.

Aside from the potential applications for publishing, database, printing, and software companies, talking books began in the United States as library resources for the blind and physically handicapped. The first units relied on existing analog technology such as standard audiocassettes. However, in terms of flexibility, ease of use, and economy, compact disc, CD-ROM, and other digital technologies are now becoming suitable.


Several trends in telecommunications are providing the basis for more capacity, better quality, portable usage, and global coverage. These trends include wireless digital networks, interactive telecommunications services, telco video, and Integrated Services Digital Networks (ISDN).

Wireless digital networks using radio frequency waves (RF) or infrared broadcasting create a dynamic work space with signals that can pass through walls. Wireless networks permit networking in areas where cables are difficult to install, create a hazard, or are not aesthetically acceptable. This technology lends itself to any computing or information-exchange environment where multiple computing systems or information networks share and process information.

Wireless digital networks fall into two categories: indoor and outdoor networks. Indoor networks include wireless LANs (local area networks), wireless extensions to PBX (Private Branch Exchange) facilities and data-collection equipment, and operate over hundreds of feet. Outdoor networks are usually obtained through subscriber services from telecommunications companies (Chan, 1993).

ADC Kentrox has developed an outdoor system called CityCell |TM~ 824. It is an all-digital access and transport system for building wireless networks. This optically-fed system transports voice and data over extended distances or in high-density urban areas.

Interactive telecommunications took a big leap in growth and coverage with the advent of Internet. Internet is an international computer grid which goes way beyond the capabilities of a traditional computer bulletin board. Internet's electronic mail protocols support multiple data types including encoding formats and conversion programs to support audio playback. Internet talk radio is a practical application of its multimedia capabilities reaching 10 to 15 million networkers who are interconnected via computer modems. Listeners may obtain copies of program material on audiocassettes or audio CDs.

Internet was combined with a wireless digital network and several other delivery methods to form a "Global Schoolhouse." The Global Schoolhouse is a unique government/business cooperation that gave school-children in California, Tennessee, Virginia, and London the opportunity to work together over a global computer network.

On April 28, 1993, a global meeting over the Internet computer network gave students the opportunity to brief national leaders on the results of their research on environmental issues. In recognition of National Science Week, students in fifth through eighth grade classrooms read the book Earth in the Balance by Vice President Albert Gore and conducted independent research on ground water pollution and its sources in their communities. They exchanged messages and information on their findings.

Successful experiments like the Global Schoolhouse indicate that the next generation of practical users may well be students entering a world where telecommunications, computing, education, and daily life--shopping, banking, communicating, and entertainment--will be merged.


ISDN is the service that will provide the broadband environment for future global communications. ISDN will accommodate wider telecommunications bandwidths for transmission of voice, data, audio, and video signals. The service is beginning to appear in public telephone networks throughout the world (Takahashi, 1991).

International ISDN construction and operations have begun in several countries that include the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. The digital signal format makes it possible to transmit far more information than conventional analog communications systems. ISDN permits unrestricted exchange of visual information such as characters, illustrations, a variety of video images, and information services through a broad array of terminals (like digital telephones).

Home and corporate subscribers will install a terminal with TV, facsimile, and telephone functions. This will offer so-called home shopping, home banking, telephone facsimiles, and electronic mail, allowing users to conduct various transactions from their homes. The process of electronic correspondence will eliminate many shipping and handling costs and make same-day delivery user-controllable.

To attain these ISDN goals, service providers intend to install large-scale optical fiber and satellite communication systems, as well as super-fast large-capacity digital information transmission systems. Progress in technologies pertaining to optical fiber connection has added to the attractiveness of integrating fiber and ISDN capabilities. Connecting optical fibers to individual homes, however, is a costly process, so residential connections will be slow to complete. In the years to come, though, costs will drop and, eventually, individual households will join the ISDN network (Bowers, 1988).


Technology is making the introduction of Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) systems feasible because of smaller, more cost-effective antenna designs. With the downsizing of satellite dishes, urban and suburban viewers will have an opportunity to enjoy DBS services where zoning laws would have prohibited installation of large satellite antennas currently required for low-power satellites. Some estimates predict the potential market base for consumer DBS services to be about 95 million homes. DirecTV plans to acquire approximately 1 million subscribers in the first year of operation and 10 million by the year 2000.

DirecTV and U.S. Satellite Broadcasting (USSB) plan to launch DBS systems in the spring of 1994. DirecTV plans to offer about 150 channels to subscribers utilizing a $700, 18-inch satellite-receiving antenna. While both companies plan essentially entertainment programming, USSB and DirecTV will have the capacity to transmit large amounts of data, which could be used to send electronic newspapers, encyclopedias, and computer software.

As an example, PBS has unveiled a satellite-distributed educational service called Mathline. It is the first telecommunications-based math service, introduced at a technology exhibition in May 1993, and is scheduled for launch in 1994. The first phase of the service will focus on middle-school teacher training, using techniques from 30 video models by teachers from around the country. The service will allow students to link up with others via satellite, enabling them to collaborate on problem-solving. This service is being funded in part by a $1.2 million grant from AT&T.

Unlike fiber optic systems, the DBS satellite receivers cannot handle interactive data, but decoder boxes are being designed to interface with telephones. With this telephone option, the consumer could teleconference and order pay-per-view television programs or any number of available educational data services. DBS has the advantage of offering high-quality video, audio, and data transmissions to compact satellite receivers for national or worldwide distribution (Scully, 1993).


The cable industry stands on the threshold of the most momentous changes in its technological history since vacuum tubes replaced transistors and satellite-delivered programming was introduced. Cable has been a mainstay of the home entertainment environment, but the next wave of technical change will enable an evolution from single-purpose entertainment networks into multi-purpose communications facilities that can provide not just video but also data and voice services to business and residential customers (Paff, 1991).

Fiber optic technology provides cable's next great technological wave. Fiber is superior to copper wire in almost every respect important to signal transmission: immunity to interference, low losses, high separation between channels, high signal capacity, and small size and weight. Using fiber optics, cable systems of the future will provide integrated services networks with digital transmission systems. The cable operator will be capable of wireless voice services, digital audio entertainment services, on-screen graphics, and telephony and interactive transactional services. Channel capacity will also increase due to the increased bandwidth of fiber and digital video compression.

The dramatic developments in fiber, digital, and digital-compression technology are making it possible to deploy (within the next few years) advanced interactive cable TV systems. This concept has a project name of VCTV (viewer-controlled cable TV). VCTV will offer video-on-demand (VOD) and enhanced pay-per-view (PPV). VCTV features hundreds of programming options and exciting new possibilities for viewer control. Customers can control the selection and timing of programming for customized entertainment, learning, or information scheduling.

The cable communications infrastructure offers the cable operator a cost-effective flexible platform for supporting today's video business while simultaneously creating the basis for tomorrow's potentially lucrative voice and data business. The blueprint specifies the use of standard equipment already in existence or under development--minimizing risk and offering a vision of the future that is safely embodied in proven technology compatible with developing world standards.


There have been a variety of compression techniques in use for some time. Some of them have been used for video conferencing, facsimile, satellite telemetry, audio bandwidth reduction, and data compression on personal computers. Most compression technology focuses on retaining faithful reproduction of the original data in a source while discarding redundant or irrelevant information to save transmission spectrum.

Image compression is used to transmit still images, video text, and other continuous-tone or photographic images. Video compression is used to transmit full motion video (like television). Audio compression is used to transmit sound.

The compression process may be divided into three basic stages:

1. Removal of data redundancy (extracting repetitive information)

2. Removal of data (extracting irrelevant information)

3. Compacting remaining data (compressing or coding whatever is left)

A critical factor in designing and using compressed imaging, video, and audio is whether the compression should be lossless or lossy. Lossless compression guarantees that the digital reconstruction at the output of the decompression system will be identical to the input. Lossy compression does not provide this guarantee but may be more tolerable for certain applications (Lookabaugh, 1993).

Video compression is what will or will not allow telephone companies to deliver video to existing phone subscribers without replacing hundreds of millions of phone lines. It is what will or will not allow DBS television to compete directly with cable TV by having the channel capacity to distribute dozens of channels from the skies. Video compression is also what cable companies need in order to compete directly with video stores by offering movies-on-demand.

Video compression is at the heart of all four U.S. HDTV digital plans and those systems proposed for Europe and Japan. The new PBS satellite plan, disk-based video origination, and distance learning networks will all depend on video compression (Cole, 1993).

Audio compression is at the heart of all proposed digital radio systems. Several prototype digital radio systems have been demonstrated. These systems deliver compact-disc-quality sound over-the-air while eliminating most of the distortions associated with conventional AM and FM radio signals. Additionally, by compressing the audio, multiple audio channels are possible, allowing several separate programs to be broadcast from a single radio transmitter.


The ability of high purity glass optical fibers to support huge amounts of information with the speed of light has revolutionized the communications and surveillance industries. The large signal-carrying capacity of optical fibers makes it possible to provide more sophisticated signals than possible with a like amount of copper wires.

Fiber optic systems support all method of data and analog transmission over a distance using audio, video, or data sources. The basic components of a fiber system are the optical transmitter (light source), the optical fiber, the cable containing the fiber, the optical receiver (a light detector), and the associated couplers and connectors needed to piece the systems together (Scott, 1993).

Fiber to the home promises to change the advanced technology equation completely. Fiber will permit integrated broadband networks (IBN) to deliver a wide range of broad and narrowband services over fiber optic lines to the home. These services could include standard and high-quality phone service, computer database interface, NTSC and HDTV video, video telephone, utility meter reading, home security, electronic mail, catalogs, and control of appliances.

The telephone companies intend to penetrate the consumer market with fiber and ISDN. Broadband ISDN (BISDN) provides the digital protocol needed to format various consumer services on the fiber lines. While there is no consistent vision of what role the telephone companies should have in the delivery of video programming, one group of operating companies sees its role as providing fiber-optic line service on a common carrier basis to existing cable companies and to new entrants to the market. Others seek to provide NTSC programming in the short term and HDTV in the long run as part of an IBN network.

Fiber-based IBN networks raise crucial questions for local terrestrial broadcasters. In the short term, the entrance of telephone companies into the video delivery business is seen as welcome competition to cable companies who have soured relationships with broadcasters over must-carry, channel assignments, and other issues. In the long term, it is evident that if fiber optics become the delivery medium of choice for NTSC and HDTV programming to the entire nation, broadcasters will have some tough decisions to make. Local broadcasters could become just another program input to IBN and cable distribution systems.


Deep in the heart of every computer runs an engine that performs the high-level data coordination at phenomenal speed. The heart of the computer is called the central processing unit (CPU) and the engine is called a microprocessor. A microprocessor is an integrated circuit which performs all the functions normally found in a digital computer.

There are two competing methods of microprocessor technology: the traditional CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) and the recently introduced RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing). RISC is presently topping the popularity list because it is designed for high performance rather than general purpose computing. Using RISC microprocessors, computers, printers, and telecommunications hubs will continue to get faster and smaller. Since computers are the most often-used interface for operation of multimedia technology, digital telecommunications networks, digital workstations, and a variety of interactive communications technologies, RISC will become a standard for networks and gateways with massive data-transfer requirements.


HDTV is poised to make a big splash in the entertainment field. Its sharper pictures and brighter colors have long been considered a major improvement, but issues of national and international standardization, spectrum planning, and alternate delivery methods, implementation schemes, program security, and transition costs have paced its development. However in May 1993, the three groups vying to develop the U.S. HDTV standard agreed to merge their efforts and develop a single system. The agreement gives the HDTV proponents time to hash out remaining technical details and build a prototype system.

The alliance actually may mean consumers will see HDTV on the market years sooner. Since all of the HDTV proponents are now working together, there is less chance of a court challenge once the FCC makes a final decision on a national HDTV broadcast standard.

To accommodate the concerns of broadcasters and cable operators, the proponents decided to allow the new HDTV sets to use either progressive (1050-line resolution at 24 frames per second) or interlaced scanning (787.5-line resolution at 30 frames per second). Accordingly, newly manufactured HDTV television sets will switch between progressive or interlaced scanning automatically as required by the incoming signal.

The proposed digital HDTV systems have given the United States a clear technical lead in HDTV development, and it is expected that the first HDTV television sets will cost $1,000-$2,000 more than comparable sets today (Scully, 1993).

The medical community has HDTV in mind for the lofty goal of saving lives. In clinical medicine, where HD equipment would actually be used as a tool during a surgical procedure, current HDTV cameras and other equipment will likely require redesign or adaptation to meet medical requirements. As an example, a special HD camera would be needed for endoscopy, a noninvasive surgery in which surgical tools or cameras are inserted into the body with minimal tissue damage.


U.S. radio broadcasters have shown a heightened interest in the potential to broadcast digital audio over-the-air following recent demonstrations of the EUREKA 147 Digital Audio Broadcasting Project (DAB). As a result of the first United States demonstration of DAB at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) 1991 Convention and terrestrial demonstrations of DAB held by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) during the summer of 1990, North American radio broadcasters are actively investigating how DAB could be established. The Canadian DAB demonstrations were the first for North America. The equipment consisted of two receivers and one encoder/modulator that were borrowed from two European agencies, he CCETT in France and IRT in Germany.

The NAB demonstration occurred during April 1991 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Two antennas, one for EUREKA 147 DAB transmission and one for an FM broadcast, were mounted atop the Las Vegas Hilton. The transmissions were broadcast at a power of 30 watts ERP for the FM and 30 watts per program channel for DAB. The FM signal was operating a 94.9 MHz, while DAB was 479 MHz with a transmission bandwidth of 3.5 MHz, Eight separate CD-quality channels were modulated on the DAB transmission.

A 1-watt "gap filler" DAB transmitter was also installed in downtown Las Vegas atop the Golden Nugget hotel. The gap filler provided a strong additional signal for demonstration of the signal recovery ability of DAB receivers in the presence of two or more overlapping signals.

In spite of the success of the Eureka 147 DAB demonstrations in the United States, many political, economic, and technical questions remain regarding the adoption of a DAB standard for the U.S. radio establishment. A major topic of discussion with regard to implementing DAB is spectrum. North American broadcasters have allocated spectrum for future digital radio services in different bands. Several proposals have been filed within the United States (satellite and terrestrial) to establish digital audio broadcast services without accommodation of existing broadcasters.

As a result of the implementation road blocks, much interest has developed for proponents of in-band solutions to terrestrial digital radio in the United States. U.S.A. Digital Radio has introduced "Acorn DAB" which is being designed to operate within the existing FM band. The prototype system uses MUSICAM source coding and a new form of channel coding called Coded Polyvector Digital Modulation. U.S.A. Digital formally presented Acorn DAB at NAB '91. The broadcast industry awaits further prototyping and field testing of this system. Once the technological and political issues are resolved, DAB promises to remove the transmission imperfections from the radio path to the listener.
Table 1

DAB Systems

Proponent             System type

NASA/VOA              Satellite
Eureka-147            New Band
AT&T/Amati            IBOC
AT&T                  IBAC(*)
General Instruments   IBAC(*)

* IBAC In-Band-Adjacent-Channel (Pinkham, 1993)

The National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC) has undertaken the task of setting a U.S. standard for In-Band-On-Channel (IBOC) DAB in coordination with the Electronic Industries Association's (EIA) subcommittee on Digital Audio Radio (DAR). At this writing, the USA Digital System is the only demonstrated IBOC system scheduled for testing and evaluation.

Several other DAB systems are scheduled to be tested by the EIA DAR committee only. See Table 1 for the current list.

Other U.S. companies are proposing digital audio broadcast services (DBS-R) via satellite. The uplink designs of the six systems vary, but most call for nondirectional receive antennas, allowing automotive installation using small flush-mounted modules in the car roof. A chart describing parameters of the six DBS-R proponents (Pizzi, 1993) is shown in Table 2.


The use of discrete (digital) instead of continuous (analog) signals, when processing and communicating electrical information, has caused an explosion in electronic technology. But as innovative as new technology may seem today, maybe consumers of 2019 will be reading press reports about the introduction of a holographic TV system that puts HDTV to shame.


Whatever the future holds, one thing seems clear. The technology of transmission is changing, and as an industry we are coming up on a transition from RF to lightwaves. A new magic is about to make its presence felt in telecommunications.


Bowers, H. Mark. "Interfacing in the Year 2000." Communications Technology, May 1988.

Chan, Curtis. "Digital Wireless Networks." Broadcast Engineering, April 1993.

Cole, Arthur. "Medical Field Puts HD in Operation." TV Technology, May 1993.

Elmer-DeWitt, Phillip. "Take a Trip into the Electronic Superhighway." Time Magazine, April 12, 1993.

Lookabaugh, Tom. "Understanding Video Compression." Broadcast Engineering, February 1993.

Paff, Andy. "Building Cable's New Communications Infrastructure." Communications Engineering and Design, May 1991.

Pinkam, Clint. "Current State of the DAB Discord." Radio World, April 14, 1993.

Pizzi, Skip. "Satellite Radio Takes Off." Broadcast Engineering, March 1993.

Scott Jr., Fred E. "Fiber Primer." Video Systems, April 1993.

Scully, Sean. "Hubbard Says DBS Is Highway Enough." Broadcasting & Cable, May 24, 1993.

-----. "The 'Grand Alliance' Becomes Reality." Broadcasting & Cable, May 1993.

Takahashi, Shoj. "Talk Instead of Travel: ISDN Users Will Conduct Business From Home." JEI, December 1991.

Victor, Tim. "From Digits to Disc." CD-Rom Today, July 1993.

TABULAR DATA OMITTED aware of the notion of "subliminal advertising." About half of respondents believe it is effective; those from smaller companies are more likely to believe it is used than those from larger companies. Nearly one-third of respondents demonstrated an unclear grasp of what subliminal advertising is.

Nearly all respondents--99 percent (n = 252)--claim to be "aware of 'subliminal advertising'" before receiving the survey. TABULAR DATA OMITTED Furthermore, 66 percent (n = 165), believe advertisers "place subliminal messages or imagery in advertisements," even though nearly all of these 165 respondents indicate that they themselves have "never used subliminal advertising." The respondents were evenly split on whether or not "subliminal ads are effective"; 119 answered yes and 120 answered no. Interestingly, these belief rates are only slightly lower than those of the general population (Zanot et al., 1983; Synodinos, 1988; Rogers and Smith, 1993).

Of those responding, 30.4 percent (78) gave responses which indicate that they have an unclear grasp of the concept of subliminal advertising (e.g., "probably built in to |sic~ creative message" and "to emphasize extreme youthful appearance, high level energy, etc., showing elderly in unflattering manner." These types of responses indicate that there may be confusion regarding the concept of subliminal advertising, even within the advertising community itself. It appears that respondents equate "subliminal" with "subtle." If the message is not blatant (i.e., spelled out in exact words), then many incorrectly define it as subliminal. This confusion is similar to that reflected in Haberstroh's (1984) study, despite the specific definition of subliminal advertising provided at the outset of the present survey instrument.

The belief that subliminal advertising is used (question #2) and the size of the company based on total annual revenue (question #18) were analyzed to determine whether the groups represented differ in their beliefs. This similarity would support the assumption that if subliminal advertising is being used, it would more logically be used by the larger agencies due to the high costs of production. A ||Chi~.sup.2~ measurement (||Chi~.sup.2~ = 5.332, 1 df) indicates that the difference between the observed frequencies and the expected frequencies were greater than could be reasonably due to chance. The 18 respondents who claim to have used or to know of the use of subliminal advertising presumably believe it is used. If those 18 are omitted from analysis, the results (||Chi~.sup.2~ = 4.728, 1 df) are still significant. It is notable that those who believe it is used (but do not themselves claim to have used it or know of its being used) are more likely to come from smaller companies; likewise, those from smaller companies are more likely to believe that subliminal advertising is used. Further investigation is needed to explore whether or not those who work for smaller firms believe it is being used by larger firms, even though those working at larger firms deny using it.
Table 5

Belief Subliminal Advertising Is Used vs. Size of Firm for Which Currently

                                       More than
Belief        Up to $50 million       $50 million

Yes              69.5% (116)           54.1% (40)
No               30.5% (51)            45.9% (34)

Past Employment Experience. When asked "To your knowledge, did the firm you formerly worked for ever use subliminal messages or imagery in your advertisements or in those of a client?" 6.9 percent (13 out of the 189 who had previously worked for a company other than their current employer) responded "yes." The remaining 93.1 percent (176) responded "no." The top three reasons given for using "subliminal advertising" are summarized in Table 6.
Table 6

Reasons Given for Using Subliminal Advertising at Past Employment

                                             % of those
      Reason                               positively (n)

It works                                      23.1% (3)
Reinforcement for message                     23.1% (3)
To get attention for advertisement            15.4% (2)

The respondents answering "no" to the question regarding the use of subliminal advertising with their past employer most often listed the following responses as the reason(s) they don't use it: ineffective, has never come up in business dealings, and unethical. Additional reasons for not using subliminal advertising are listed in Table 7. Predictably, a large share of these respondents put their names, firm names, and addresses on the return envelope. Additionally, several of them included margin notes or attached separate letters discussing why they thought subliminal advertising is a myth and isn't used within the advertising industry.
Table 7

Reasons Given for Not Using Subliminal Advertising at Past Employment

                                                     % of those
        Reason                                      negatively (n)

Ineffective                                           28.3 (32)
Has never come up in business dealings                24.8 (28)
Unethical                                             18.6 (21)
It's a myth                                            9.7 (11)
Would require extra time/money                         8.0 (9)
No opportunity to use                                  7.1 (8)
Not needed                                             6.2 (7)

Present Employment Experience. All of the respondents were asked about their present employer's possible use of subliminal advertising. Of these, 7.1 percent (n = 18) of the participants responded "yes" to the question, "To your knowledge, has the firm you currently work for ever used subliminal messages or imagery in your advertisements or those of a client?" The remaining 92.9 percent (235) responded "no." The top reasons given by the respondents for using subliminal advertising are summarized in Table 8.
Table 8

Reasons Given for Using Subliminal Advertising at Current Employment

                                                            % of those
       Reason                                             positively (n)

It works                                                     26.7 (4)
Extra bang for the buck/Reinforcement for the message        13.3 (2)
Used as a joke                                               13.3 (2)
Visual tease                                                  6.7 (1)

Of those answering "yes," nine (5.0 percent) gave responses which strongly suggested they had an unclear grasp of the definition of subliminal advertising. Their responses are listed in Table 9. Only one respondent provided a true example of subliminal advertising when he or she described "a bank ad illustration had the word 'sex' hidden in background cross-hatching." The same respondent wrote that that, however, was done ". . . as an inside joke."

The responses listed in Table 9 are not consistent with the definition of subliminal advertising, which includes the purposeful embedding of images or messages within the advertisement such that a viewer or listener cannot consciously perceive them. This confusion with the terminology despite the provision of a definition in the survey instrument is consistent with the responses received in Haberstroh's 1984 survey.

The reason for not using subliminal advertising listed most often by those who responded negatively was that it is an ineffective means of achieving predictable responses from targeted consumers. This view is supported by scholarly research (e.g., Natale, 1988; Moore, 1982; Greenwald, Klinger, and Liu, 1989; Smith and Rogers, under review). Additionally, research has identified that the embedding of subliminal imagery in both printed and video media is both difficult to achieve successfully and extremely costly and time consuming (Smith and Rogers, under review). Several respondents indicated these same concerns of time, cost, and impracticality as reasons for not using subliminal messages in their advertising.
Table 10

Reasons Given for Not Using Subliminal Advertising at Current Employment

                                                  % of those
        Reason                                  negatively (n)

Ineffective                                         21.1 (26)
Has never come up in business dealings              20.3 (25)
Unethical                                           18.7 (23)
Not needed                                          13.0 (16)
Overt messages more effective                       12.2 (15)
No opportunity to use                                9.8 (12)
It's a myth                                          8.1 (10)

Other Findings. Several interesting findings were disclosed:

* The significant goodness-of-fit statistic (||Chi~.sup.2~ = 13.170) between the belief that advertisers place subliminal messages and/or imagery in advertisements (question #2) and the total advertising industry experience (question #16), as seen in Table 11, demonstrates that those individuals who have worked for less than 10 years in the advertising industry are more likely to believe that subliminal advertising is used than are those who have worked more than 10 years. This finding directly refutes the assertions of those who have portrayed the advertising industry as using subliminal advertising for more than two decades (e.g., Key, 1972, 1980, 1989). Logically, one would expect that the longer someone had been employed within the advertising industry, the more he or she would believe that subliminal advertising was used. This study's findings and those of Haberstroh (1984) definitively indicate that those who have worked within this industry for a long time are less likely than newcomers to believe subliminal advertising is used, suggesting that "knowledge" about the use of subliminal advertising does not come from experience and work within the industry itself, where subliminal advertising is allegedly practiced, but rather from other sources, allegations, and possible misinformation. Further research is needed to explore the source of "knowledge" about subliminal advertising among advertising professionals who themselves have no first-hand knowledge of its practice.

* Overall, a fair representation of different-sized companies was achieved as seen in Table 2b. There is a logical assumption that if subliminal advertising does take place within the advertising industry, then the most probable culprits would be large advertising agencies since they have the best means to accomplish it (i.e., accessibility to sophisticated production techniques and large budgets). However, when cross tabulations were calculated between those subjects that had responded "yes" to using subliminal advertising with their current employer and the size or type of company worked for, no statistically significant relationships were found. In fact, out of the 75 respondents who worked for companies with over $51 million in revenue, only 4 percent (n = 3) of the respondents said their current company had used subliminal advertising. Conversely, 6 percent of those who worked for companies with revenues of less than $51 million (n = 12) claimed their current companies had used subliminal advertising. This finding defies the standard logic regarding the possible use of subliminal advertising.
Table 11

Belief Subliminal Advertising Is Used Vs. Years in Advertising Industry

                    Up to                More than
Belief           10 years (n)          10 years (n)

Yes              78.4% (76)             57.5% (88)
No               21.6% (21)             25.4% (65)

* In this survey, only 6.3 percent (n = 16) of the respondents identified themselves as "creative/art directors." The majority of respondents were not creative or art directors, yet the affirmative response rate to the use of subliminal advertising did not vary dramatically from that achieved in the Haberstroh (1984) study, which surveyed only 100 art directors. This finding presented a strength of the present study, which helped to offset two limitations. The most notable of these was the apparent discrepancy in the interpretation of the concept of subliminal advertising by respondents despite the clear statement of the meaning of "subliminal advertising" at the beginning of the survey. Additionally, the response rate was minimally acceptable. Despite these limitations, the present study offers no problems for straightforward interpretation and does offer evidence that practitioners do not engage in the alleged practice of "subliminal advertising."

* It has been assumed that anonymity is vital to ensure candid (especially positive) responses regarding the use of subliminal advertising. Yet 11 out of the 24 respondents who answered affirmatively to any quest put their return address and even their firm's name on the return envelope. This contradicts the assumption that the reason a survey such as this would reveal a low percentage of positive responses is due to the risks associated with saying "yes" to using subliminal advertising. This research demonstrated just the reverse. Given every opportunity to conceal their identity, about half of the few who responded positively identified themselves and their employers.


Overall this research study supported the notion that the use of subliminal advertising by the advertising community, the media, and their clients is not widespread and rampant. In fact, just the opposite is true. The responses received indicate that most of the few respondents who claim knowledge of the use of subliminal advertising really do not share a scientific or technical understanding of the concept of subliminal advertising, despite being provided with a definition of subliminal advertising in the survey instrument. They seem to hold a popular opinion that any subtleties used in advertising (such as color, certain type of individuals to represent advertising concepts, etc.) represent "subliminal advertising" when in fact such subtleties are not included in technical discussions of "subliminal advertising." Only one respondent provided an answer that indicated actual use of subliminal advertising; however, this respondent indicated that the subliminal image embedded in a particular ad was done as a prank.

Of 256 respondents to a mail survey of advertising practitioners and their clients, as well as media and media production specialists, 90.63 percent denied any use or knowledge of use of "words, pictures, or shapes that are purposely inserted in advertising materials so that the viewers of the material cannot process the imagery at a conscious level, but rather at a subconscious level." Of the 9.3 percent who indicated they had ever used or knew of the use of "subliminal advertising," only one described subliminal advertising accurately and indicated that its use in one ad was "an inside joke." This survey demonstrates that, despite popular belief to the contrary, subliminal advertising is not used by American advertising practitioners.

Other research has provided evidence that subliminal advertising, even if it were used, would not be effective in producing outcomes desired by marketers, such as persuasion or intention to purchase. The present study provides evidence that, even if it were effective, subliminal advertising is not, in fact, used.

Table 9

Descriptions Accompanying "YES" Answers Which Suggest a Misunderstanding of the Subliminal Advertising Concept

* We choose colors, images, etc., based on research telling us what appeals to individuals.

* Used images subliminally to avoid the advertisement being too "mercenary." Mugs are often used with the company's logo or message screened into the background in the same color as the mug.

* Deliberately run photos of women, minority authors with book advertisements to promote the idea that we, as a publisher, are inclusive. However, we would choose not to run photos of white, male authors ... additional "salability."

* Whenever possible, images and/or words are used to support the goal of the production and a deliberate effort is made in all productions.

* Grocery chain commercial with name of chain popping in and out.


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Title Annotation:Research Currents
Author:Lockett, Donald R.
Publication:Journal of Advertising Research
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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