Now You See It, Now You Don’t

To get the full impact of this BMW commercial, you have to watch it in a theater and close your eyes.

What BMW has done is utilize a phenomenon called the after-image effect. At the end of the commercial they use a powerful photo flash to literally imprint the BMW logo into the viewers’ eyes, so when viewers close their eyes they see “BMW” in afterglow. This would be subliminal advertising except that BMW told the audience in a German theater what they were about to experience.

That apparently wasn’t the case in a 1957 experiment conducted in a movie theater in Fort Lee, New Jersey. There, a man named James Vicary claimed to have placed a tactistoscope (a device that flashes a series of images rapidly onto a screen) in the projection room. During a screening of “Picnic,” it flashed the messages “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Hungry? Eat popcorn” on the screen every five seconds. The messages lasted 1/3000th of a second, too fast for viewers to register the messages consciously, but still trigger an overwhelming urge to go to the refreshment counter. He claimed that Coca-Cola sales increased by 18.1% and popcorn sales jumped by 57.8%. About five years later, Vicary admitted his “experiment” was a hoax, but the concept of subliminal advertising lived on.

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Book Excerpt

“Rules of Thumb” by Alan Webber

by Gary Kelly / @issue Interview / vol. 6 no. 2
by Gary Kelly / @issue Interview / vol. 6 no. 2

Editor’s Note: Alan Webber, who co-founded Fast Company magazine in 1995, has long recognized the role of design as the great differentiator in business. In his most recent business book, “Rules of Thumb,” Webber shares insights gleaned from his own life and work experiences over the past 30 years and distills them down to 52 rules of thumb. Webber’s rules aren’t the end of the discussion; they are the beginning, with readers invited to add their own rules. Here we reprint Rule #28. Webber’s other 51 rules are just as pertinent and interesting.

Rule #28
Good design is table stakes.
Great design wins.

In the last few years since I left Fast Company and started traveling a lot, I’ve noticed a global leitmotif, as if the same piece of music were being played in different countries all over the world.

In Tokyo at a conference on innovation I sat down with an old friend, a business sociologist and strategist for leading Japanese companies.

“Japan used to be a low-cost exporter of manufactured goods,” I said. “But those days are clearly over. What’s Japan’s new national strategy?”

“We don’t think there’s a problem,” she told me. “Japan intends to compete globally on the quality of our design.”

It made sense to me. Japan has an exquisite sense of style and presentation.

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