There is a lot of controversy surrounding subliminal messages right now. In the last couple of years they have been big news..
Firstly fast food chain McDonalds were caught flashing a split second message of their logo on the Food Network TV channel. Then George Bush was received accusations of using political subliminal persuasion to swing floating voters during his re-election campaign.
Even though these instances were pretty high profile, they were still not investigated and no punishment was ever given.
George Bush simply ignored the allegations and eventually they went away, and the Food Network and McDonalds claimed it was just an error rather than a purposeful subliminal message. No further investigation ever pursued either Bush or McDonalds - sadly.
There should be stricter boundaries and systems put in place to monitor and control the use of subliminal messages and how they are used, but back to the original question:
No subliminal messages are not strictly illegal.
They are not allowed to be used within advertising in the way that you can't use purely subliminal sounds, or flashing subliminal images or text.
But things get a little more complicated when looking at a "subliminal suggestion".. A subliminal suggestion is basically a subliminal still image. When you first look it looks normal, (perhaps a little strange), but after inspecting it closer there is a subliminal suggestion hidden. Usually this is some kind of link to sex, or even just being "popular" or "cool". This is usually something as simple as having a beautiful girl using the product, or it can be more subtle such as incorporating the female form into your logo - Pepsi often use this female type imagery for example..
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