Almost all forms of advertising operate on two levels at the same time. At the explicit level, the advertisement communicates directly with the consumer by explaining the terms of a promotion or making a product claim. At the implicit level, the advertisement sends a complex yet subtle message based on emotional associations.

Explicit Messages

The explicit message is the most obvious and least sophisticated aspect of the advertisement. A very simple ad may concentrate on the explicit message. For instance, when a car repair shop presents a coupon for a discounted oil change in the local newspaper, the ad might not carry many implicit associations. The consumer is expected to take advantage of the offer based on the facts presented in the ad and nothing else. Whatever is stated directly in the ad is the explicit message, including the name of the product and details such as the price and what it is supposed to do for the consumer.

Implicit Messages

The implicit message is everything the ad implies without directly stating it. For instance, if an ad for cologne shows attractive and affluent-looking young people laughing together at a nightclub, the implicit message is that the cologne can help the consumer have a similar experience or at least a similar feeling. Implicit messages can be presented in many different ways. A car repair shop offering a coupon for an oil change could ad a layer of implicit messaging by using red ink and a spiky, angular font to suggest the danger of not getting your oil changed regularly.

Subtle Effects

When advertisers work with implicit messaging, they are trying to create subtle effects that will influence the customer to make a buying decision. A study published by the Association for Consumer Research in 2009 demonstrated that products associated with pleasure rather than practical concerns were seen as being value-neutral on their own. However, when consumers saw the same products in an ad, they reported becoming self-conscious and wanting to own the product. The implicit messages in the advertisement caused viewers to see the products as being symbolic of other concerns such as status and personal attractiveness.

Bypassing Resistance

Consumers tend to be cynical about the explicit messages in advertising without realizing the extent to which they are actually being influenced by the implicit messages. In many cases, consumers would not consciously agree that a particular product could increase their social status or make them happier, but the implicit message is designed to bypass rational analysis and function as an emotional trigger. Implicit messaging in advertising raises serious ethical questions for business owners. An ad that creates a sense of danger to remind people to get their oil changed may be innocuous, but an ad that encourages body-image or self-esteem problems may do harm.