Japanese take sublime approach to theft

Japanese shops are snapping up new compact discs that play subliminal warnings about the dangers of shop-lifting. The CDs play sound-tracks of popular music or of ocean waves. But encoded on the tracks are voices in seven languages, including Japanese, English, Chinese and Thai, that anyone caught shop-lifting will be reported to the police. Punctuated with the wailof police sirens, the subliminal message is recorded at 20,000 Hertz, the highest frequency audible to humans but well beyond the limit where sounds register on the conscious mind.

The maker, Victor Entertainment, part of JVC, claims the message goes straight to the subconscious, so that the CDs change the behaviour of shoppers without their knowing. According to a report in Yomiuri Shimbun, 12,000 copies of the CDs were bought by book, music and department stores in Japan in the first month following their release last year.

A Victor Entertainment spokesman was quoted as saying that a bookshop in Kawasaki, an industrial suburb south of Tokyo, formerly had about two cases of shop-lifting a week but that the problem disappeared after the subliminal messages were played over the shop loudspeakers. The spokesman added that the subconscious warnings would only dissuade "impulse" shop-lifters rather than habitual thieves.

Subliminal advertising is banned as unethical in the US and other countries, including Japan. This has not stopped research from proceeding.

In 1986, according to Victor Entertainment, the warning, "If I steal, I shall go to prison" was embedded in background music played in an experiment in two New Orleans supermarkets. It is claimed that shop-lifting fell by 40 per cent and that the amount of money missing from cash registers fell from about $25 (£16) to $10 a week.

HMV Japan, a subsidiary of the British music company, has sent copies of the CDs for market testing. One sent to the large HMV shop in the Ginza, Tokyo's best-known shopping district, was entitled "Prevent Shop-lifting" with the added description "Mind-Control Music". Some tracks, including one entitled "Yeah! Bargain", are supposed to stimulate sales.