This Darren Brown video on subliminal advertising is quite astonishing:
The obvious lesson that many would draw from the impressive stunt is that consumers are in the all-encompassing grip of corporations and their advertising, such that free will is an illusion and a joke. (Ironically enough, that’s not much more than a standard line often parroted without much thought.)
However, the actual lesson of the video is far more interesting. It highlights the fact that creative work must be drawn from actual experience, i.e. that the mind cannot create content ex nihilo. In the case of design, a person will draw much from the sights and sounds of daily life; he cannot draw on anything else. In other words, it’s an example of the primacy of existence.
In this case, I think the “seeding” of the designers in the video was particularly effective because (1) the designers were pressed for time and (2) the decent design possibilities for a chain of taxidermy stores are severely limited. That’s not the situation of ordinary consumers, particularly not in a well-developed capitalist economy drenched in advertising from a wide range of competing sources.
The simple fact is that advertising doesn’t compel anyone to buy a product. At best, it can create some warm and fuzzy associations. A person can act on those random impulses — or he can choose to think about his purchases. It’s wholly up to him.