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Ads from the Archives Part I

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Assoc. of American Advertising Agents Thumbnail image of AAAA ad.  Thumbnail image of AAAA ad.   Seagram's Thumbnail image of Seagram's ad. Thumbnail image of Seagram's ad.


Four A's for Effort

Here we have a reproduction of an ad produced by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) in the 1980's. It is Click for a larger, floating, image. Ad from the AAAA with embedded faces.possibly the most cynical and manipulative ad in professional advertising history. On the other hand it may simply be an in-joke for members of the advertising profession. Read on and then judge which explanation seems most appropriate.

The ad contains two principal secondary images i.e. facial representions.  Each 'face' is quite substantial in size and presumably intended to trigger negative emotional moods.  Both of the 'faces' can be seen in the thumbnail. But, if you are in doubt about what these look like, click on the image to see a larger version of this ad.

If you haven't recognized a rather bleary-eyed 'face', slightly reminiscent of Frankenstein, and a smaller face depicting a 'drowning' woman, take note of the following. First, consider the cherry as a bulbous nose on a face tilted slightly downwards and looking towards the right. Above the nose you should find the two, rather bleary, eyes. The top of the ice cube provides a rather flat forehead. 'Recognizing' any of these features should help you 'recognize' larger of the two faces. 

Next, look next at the stalk of the cherry. Consider this as the back of a woman's head.  The cherry is lying on her left cheek just above the mouth. Her eyes are further to the left and she is facing downwards (or upwards, depending upon how you perceive the figure).  Her rather 'squared' mouth is agape.

The Frankenstein face simply seems rather sorrowful and 'hung-over' but the poor woman is quite clearly 'drowning' (her sorrows?) in her drink.

The emotions that are triggered by these two images may in fact be concern and pity rather than the fear, anxiety and disgust triggered by the repulsive and horrific content of many spirits ads.   When one views larger copies of the ad some additional unpleasant faces can be noted: some are human, some are ghostly.  

This difference in emphasis on the grotesque and horrific distinguishes the AAAA ad from genuine spirits ads and suggests there was a somewhat different 'hand' at work. Despite the fact that the ad displays considerable skill in the embedding of secondary imagery, whoever created it refrained from presenting the full panoply of grotesque images relatively common in spirits ads.    In effect, the technique is that of the alcohol ad manipulator but the content of the ad is more subdued and less emotive than expected. This could be because the ad is not associated with any particular product or company.   However, the ad could simply be a notable example of an artist demonstrating his/her artistic skill - and the incompetence of his/her employer at detecting embedded imagery.   See the art page for an example of a painter incorporating 'faces' into the foliage of trees and other examples. Such non-commercial use of embedded imagery might suggest an explanation that would let the AAAA 'off the hook' regarding venality. However, it would still raise questions about their competence and adherence to reasonable ethical standards at the time the ads were produced.    

This ad was only one of at least three ads in a sustained campaign by the AAAA to counter Link to author's wanted page.criticisms that advertising agencies were using 'subliminal' advertising to influence consumers.  Scrutiny of the others in the series (see below) might shed additional light on whether the AAAA intentionally commissioned 'subliminal' advertising just to demonstrate to potential clients that the public were 'too dumb' to recognise what was placed right in front of their noses.


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Questions and answers?

As the various other Web Pages on this site demonstrate, ad agencies have used secondary imagery in ads for many years and continue to do so. For some more early examples, see the Seagram's ads below. For recent examples ( circa 1998 - 2000 ), see the Adsmonth page.

But one should note that no distinctions have ever been drawn by the advertising profession between subliminal advertising and ads containing secondary imagery.  Although it is desirable if one wishes to clarify discussions of manipulative advertising to distinguish the two types of advertising, both phenomena have always been considered by the layperson to fall under the single rubric of subliminal advertising. The origin of such a viewpoint is undoubtedly the writings of Wilson Key. But the ad profession prefer to focus on ( truly ) subliminal advertising and ignore embedded imagery in ads. Their view is that, that if subliminal advertising does exist it is not effective. (How they know it is not effective if it doesn't exist is something that any astute reader ought to find rather perplexing.)

The veracity of the various claims regarding the existence of the 'subliminal' aspects of advertising can be judged on the basis of the examples cited in these Web Pages and elsewhere.  If one believes the arguments put forward by professionals in advertising, psychology and marketing, then these examples are fabrications of fevered minds and rely upon flights of the imagination before they can be perceived. 

If viewers finds the ads illustrated on these pages convincing evidence for the use of unethical advertising then it seems that ad agencies and their spokespersons have got themselves into the type of pickle that tobacco companies got themselves into when they denied the link between smoking and ill-health.   The tobacco companies denied the link between smoking and ill health for so long, whilst also keeping their own research findings under wraps, they became victims of their own success.  Sooner, rather than later, the truth was bound to emerge, and the tobacco companies will undoubtedly, at some stage, pay the penalty for their preference for commercial success at the expense of the health of millions of smokers.

The tobacco companies, along with other major corporations have also succeeded in 'holding the fort' on the subject of 'subliminal' advertising. Their continued denial of the existence of such advertising helps them to continue their exploitation of millions of youngsters and young adults if such advertising is effective.

As with tobacco interests, various advertising professionals and their clients  will become subject to closer scrutiny as a growing body of examples of 'subliminal' advertising became available for public scrutiny. The constant repetition of defensive arguments along the lines of 'subliminal advertising does not exist', or 'subliminal techniques are not effective', will no longer be sufficient to divert public attention from unethical and unacceptable activities.

One can, of course, consider that ad professionals may have been arguing rather disingenuously.  They may have known full well one can draw distinctions between what is subliminal and what is embedded imagery.   Their preference for answering charges of subliminal advertising - by denying that it exists - may have been considered preferable to 'owning up' to the use of secondary imagery in ads.  Secondary imagery in ads are obviously not subliminal - as the AAAA ads demonstrate - but they do share some of the key qualities of subliminal advertising i.e. secondary images and their attendant messages are not noticed by viewers.   Secondary imagery are thus no more open to conscious appraisal ( and rejection ) than subliminal stimuli.

Critics of the advertising profession such as Wilson Key have been severely maligned for many decades for pointing out this tacky underside to advertising. But it is Wilson Key, and not advertising executives nor psychologists, who has presented the most accurate assessment of manipulative advertising techniques - even if his theoretical framework was somewhat 'off the mark'.  One should note that Key's estimates of the extent of usage and the degree of influence was also probably wide of the mark.  Additionally, as his definition of the term subliminal was very broad his work also fostered an inappropriate and problematical terminology that has misled many professional researchers for decades.

Irrespective of problems of terminology, there is one other reason why it has been possible for ad agencies and the artists working for ad agencies to produce ads containing secondary imagery without censure for over 3 decades. The general public (that is you and I, dear viewer) are insufficiently attuned to the psychological processes involved in making sense of adverts.    But, even if we were all more knowledgeable about psychology, art and visual perception, ad agencies are on the winning side. They know that people, regardless of professional expertise, do not pay a great deal of conscious attention to the vast majority of advertising.  Whilst lack of conscious attention may be deemed a problem when one is attempting to influence viewers, it is desirable when one is using secoondary imagery in an ad.

It is not only lay persons who overlook secondary imagery in ads. Many advertising professionals and artists, despite being more closely in tune with visual imagery in all its guises, would not normally notice the use of such techniques. Various textbook writers on the subject of subliminal advertising often use pertinent ads without noticing their embedded content. It is thus not specific expertise - or the lack of it - that matters. Deficiencies in the human perceptual and cognitive systems permit any ad that contains secondary imagery or messages to 'sneak' past conscious appraisal.

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From A to Z

If the ad illustrated above had been intentionally produced by the AAAA to influence consumers it would be indicative of a cynical and callous disregard for the consumer.  It would also be judged highly reprehensible and unethical for a professional association to produce such an ad. Moreover, if they were attempting to gull the public into believing that subliminal advertising techniques did not exist - and there were no dissenting voices from within the profession - one is left to wonder about the integrity of members of the advertising profession.    Your views on this matter would be welcomed.

But, as noted, the nature of the 'faces' evident in this AAAA ad raises questions about the intentions of those who produced it.  The faces in the ad are not noticeably distressing when compared with the type of imagery discussed by Wilson Key in his books or noted in other spirits ads ( some are illustrated elsewhere in this Web Site ).  This 'deficiency' may have arisen because the ad was not intent on inducing a mood conducive to the consumption of a specific product.   The alternative interpretation may be that it was simply an artist having 'some fun' whilst producing a rather 'run of the mill' ad.  There is some evidence to support the latter interpretation in another ad in the same series, this features a curious example of an attractive young woman shaving.

Ad from the AAA displaying a woman shaving. On her right cheek can be discerned a two fingered salute. Click for a  larger sized image.

In the ad in question, the woman's jaw and cheeks are covered in shaving lather.  As with the ad above, this second ad also seems to contain a standard example of secondary imagery. The letters s e x are embedded in the shaving soap on her chin and overlap her neck. They are so faint they do not stand out on the screen.   But, as with the 'drink's ad above, this ad is open to an alternative interpretation.   It could also have been part of a complex, professional 'in joke'. 

The reasoning behind this interpretation once again draws upon more obvious features in the ad.   Impressed in the lather on the woman's right cheek are two 'streaks'.  These could have occurred if she had drawn her fingers through the lather.   However, the streaks are not perfectly aligned, as would be the case if two fingers were drawn through the lather at the same time.  The resulting 'impression' can therefore be interpreted as offering a 'two fingered salute'.

Whether the 'salute' is offered to all of the naive members of the public who viewed the ad or simply addressed to those who commissioned the ad cannot be determined. If it were the latter this would be a very private joke indeed.

A third, rather unlikely, possibility is that all the ads in the series were conceived with manipulative intent.  But, additionally, one should note the ads were produced by an extremely sophisticated and defensive individual ( or individuals ). An individual who had the perspicacity to 'recognize' there were a number of interpretations that could be applied to each ad.   This offered the possibility of a 'fall back' position if the secondary content of the ads were brought to public attention by an astute viewer. The ad agency and the personnel involved could then defend themselves using this 'fall back' position . Responsibility could be denied on the  grounds that the ads were simply  a professional 'in-joke', admittedly a joke that might have been in very poor taste, but a joke nevertheless. 

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AAAA Conclusions

Readers, you can help decide the outcome of the author's personal debate regarding the AAAA ads.   As noted above, there were others ads in the same series.   If anyone can supply the author with copies of these, electronic or printed (he already has a copy of the armchair ad), further analysis might make it possible to determine whether the ads had manipulative intent or whether they were simply an 'in-joke' for self indulgent members of the Link to author's wanted page.advertising profession.

But, note this. Whatever the initial status of these ads, it is remarkable that no-one has commented on them in print.  The layperson is unlikely to possess the degree of expertise and interest necessary to identify the secondary imagery in the ads. However, it is surprising that no artist or member of the advertising profession has acknowledged their existence even though the ads have even appeared in a number of textbooks on advertising and consumer behaviour - usually as illustrations accompanying a statement to the effect that subliminal advertising was nonsense. Again, no-one has noticed or commented on the covert aspects of these ads.  See the Expert Page.

Additionally, if you think embedded, secondary imagery, simi-subliminal or 'subliminal' advertising is a historical phenomenon then think again. If you don't look at any other pages, have a look at the Ads of the Month page. This offers examples from October 1998 to December 2000. Secondary or embedded imagery in advertising is alive and well, unfortunately, as they possess the potential to influence people without their awareness.

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Seagram's Follies?

At around the same period that the AAAA was producing their ads, Seagram's also produced a series of interesting ads.  These again demonstrated the ability of advertising artists to 'pull the wool' over the eyes of the viewing public - and, presumably, influence them without their conscious awareness.

Illustrated here are the two ads, both of which, with the application of a little bit of imagination, can be shown to depict meaningful facial features.   True they are not human but then the function of secondary imagery in advertising is to present information in a disguised manner and trigger emotions and influence the formation of ideas.  Their function is not to depict reality accurately, nor for the figures to be consciously recognized and appraised. In addition to those aspects of this ad that are accurately represented and can be consciously appraised there are elements that are embedded and manipulative.

Seagram Ad with two inebriated 'alien' facesLook carefully at the thumbnail on the left .   Each glass 'contains' a depiction of a 'sheepish, cheerful' and 'sozzled' alien.    Each 'face' has the eye to the left open (the cherry) and the eye on the right closed or closing (winking?) and a wryly aligned mouth.

There is some slight variation in their 'noses'. The figure on the left has a 'button' nose and that on the right a slightly more noticeable protrusion.  

In some respects, there is nothing really anomalous about these images.  The 'cheerfully sozzled alien' figures fit neatly into the message conveyed by the ad and provide additional reinforcement* for the caption at the head of the ad.  The caption is, of course, 'Refreshing Seagram's Gin has hidden pleasure'.   Ostensibly the pleasure is to be associated with the pair of individuals who are 'constructed' when the ad is folded, bringing two half images into conjunction with each other to produce a new, composite, image. The pleasure to be gained from Seagram's, if Seagram's shareholders are to make a considerable profit, does, however, require that a considerable proportion of Seagram's Gin drinkers do get sozzled, hence the additional secondary imagery. 

When one looks at a larger version of the ad, or the original, presumably full page ad, such images are unlikely to be recognized  They 'disappear' as attention is focused upon other elements within the ad.   Additionally, the caption helps 'direct' conscious attention towards other activities and also 'deflects' attention away from the embedded artwork.    

A second Seagram's ad also has two 'faces' embedded within the artwork.  The larger of the two is, in fact, only the lower half of a face as the upper half 'dissolves' into a spray of bubbles.  

The most notable features of this 'face' are the 'chin' and the rather full lower 'lip'.  In the thumbnail the chin is formed by the lower edge of the ice cube, whereas the lips are formed by the upper portion of the same cube.  The left hand cheek of the figure is dark and the left hand side is formed around a 'depression' where the pattern on the glass is partially shaded.  Note that the left hand side of the ice cube is incomplete, rather than partially obscured by bubbles.      If one wished to decide on the emotion associated with this face one would be forced to acknowledge that there is no obvious 'feel' to this ad.  Feeling, in other words, is seemingly absent.   However, this is not the case.

Click for a larger, floating, image. RSeagrams images.There is a second 'face' in this ad and this can be discerned towards the bottom right of centre.  This is a rather agonized cube shaped face, formed from the incomplete ice cube.    This agonized face is facing towards the right and bears some resemblance to a Mummy or the Invisible Man, complete with bandages.  The characteristics of the 'faces' in this ad strongly reflect the 'traditional' use of secondary imagery in spirits ads and an intention to stir negative emotions in viewers.  Drink, of course, then becomes the solace for the anxiety produced by the ad in an interesting example of self conditioning. Drinkers learn to associate alcoholic drink with the relief of anxiety but they never learn to appreciate that their viewing of relevant ads containing secondary imagery causes much of that anxiety in the first place.

The ad bears a similar caption to the first Seagram's ad noted above and other distracting features except that in this case there is no mention of hidden pleasure.  Instead the ad captures the distressing side of excessive alcohol consumption and the tragedy of those who consume alcohol to help cope with psychological pain, distress and anxiety.   It also reflects back to heavy drinkers the fears and anxieties that bedevil them. The ads thus attempt to 'force' them into a mood where they might begin further excessive drinking.

These ads are thus examples of a reprehensible practice that attempts to engender negative moods that dependent drinkers try to control through the use of alcohol.

If you are not yet convinced of the intentions lying behind such ads then click on this third Seagram ad. It shares some of the same characteristics as the 'alien' ad. On this occasion the pair of 'faces' are only roughly delineated and rather than being 'sozzled' appear very much the worse for wear. One could even justify stating that 'they' appeared to have been involved in a (drink related) accident. Additionally, even although this image came from a small reproduction of the original ad, you may note that many smaller images are embedded in it. For example, the head of a dog facing to the right is pretty obvious in the centre of the right hand glass and faces and other small images are also noticeable: each attempting to subvert the conscious actions of consumers. Other Seagram's ads of a similar nature are discussed in the book Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton and Abbot Miller. The book also includes an entire chapter on what Lupton and Miller call meta-subliminal ads i.e. ads that are not quite subliminal but make use of a tongue in cheek self reflexivity to poke fun at Wilson Bryan Key's critiques. As indicated below and elsewhere, in the process of developing their commentary, as is the case with other writers, they often deflect attention from the 'true' embedded message.

The Seagram's ads noted above gull the consumer by seemingly only having overt content, when in fact they contain the same kind of elements other Seagram's ads decry or poke fun at. Another couple of Seagram ads are illustrated in miniature alongside. (If you have a full size original the author would be interested in viewing them.)

In addition to deceiving the consumer such ads try to initiate drinking in susceptible and alcohol dependent individuals.   It may not only be lay members of the public who are conned. The Seagram's ads also seemingly gulled Jack Haberstroh, a psychological consultant to Seagram's and author of the misleading book Ice Cube Sex: The Truth about Subliminal Advertising.  Haberstoh claims that no such phenomenon exist.

For a critical review of Haberstroh's book by the author look it up on the web Image of Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy) from the orignal Star Trek (As of Feb, 2001 the original review was no longer available as Haberstroh's book was out of print. A shorter review accompanies the second hand copies that are now up for sale at ridiculous prices.) One can summarize the reviews by paraphrasing a well known phrase from Star Trek, the classic sci-fi series. 'It's Truth, Jim. But not as we know it!'Animation of the Starship Enterprise blasting some entrepreneurial travellers attempting to take 'subliminal' advertising to distant planets.

The frontiers of perception thus require you to go where few have gone before. For recent spirits ads using essentially the same techniques as the Seagram's ads beam your way to the Jim Beam, Disaronno and Jack Daniel's ads on this site (various pages, including Ads of the Month). Your Enterprise will be rewarded. (Sorry,guys'n'gals, especially if you are Star Trek trekkies. You can tell I was beginning to get carried away with word play).

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More Ads from the Archives. Click here for Wilson Key. Click here for Colonel Gadaffi. For full size examples of some of the ads on this page go to the Image Download page.

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Commentary and information about any of the ads or requests on this Web site can be sent by e-mail to the Webmaster

To the best of the author's knowledge none of the illustrations, in the format used on this site, are subject to copyright. If copyright has been inadvertently breached please contact the author in order to rectify the matter. All brands and logos referred to or illustrated on this site are the property of the relevant companies and copyright holders. However, commentary and other information produced by the author can be freely copied and distributed. Similarly, illustrations of ads, so long as they are accompanied by commentary or are presented in the form of parody, can also be copied and distributed but please acknowledge as the source. Translation of tobacco company ads and relevant commentary into languages other than English will be particularly welcomed.

Last Revised: 20th September, 2001


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