Ads of the Month
Budweiser Honda Ford Jif Canadian Mist
The creative team who produced this ad for Pirelli tyres intend viewers to focus on the caption 'Power is nothing without control'. However, the control the series of ads often refer to, or expect the viewer to respond, to is not simply control of a motor vehicle making using of Pirelli tyres. The creative team who produced this ad and the others in the same series drew upon knowledge of psychological processes including visual perception, developmental psychology and bodily functions in order to try and make their ads as effective as possible. The ad is, in fact much more meaningful than first impressions would indicate. It is an ad 'for the boys' in the tye shop as well as any other susceptible viewer.
To fully appreciate this sanalysis you will need to review and interpret a number of the ads on the Pirelli page. With regard to the ad presented here, one need simply note that the rock column supporting the tyre is shaped in the traditional phallic shape (longer than it is wide) and it also has a remarkable resemblance to a bottle top, including cap. Both features would be likely to appeal to male viewers of this ad. One could even reasonably suggest there are the rudiments of facial features: a mouth, mop-top hairdo, a hint of a nose and two eyes. If you cannot readily perceive this 'face' use the rollover to get a roughly sketched indication of where the key features can be located.
The meanings associated with the symbolic shapes are probably not all that is intended to be conveyed by this ad. Given that the previous Pirelli ads in the series all emphasized sex (and usually also control or dominance of another person) this ad can also be expected to offer some message that is more specifically related to this overall theme.
The cracks in the rock face, for example, can be perceived as complementary to the previous sexual allusions. They can often be 'read' as the key letters in the word sex ie SX. To perceive them clearly you will have to view an original advert but some indications can be noted in the ad on the right. Swirling S shapes, for example, in combination with the X's are not all that common on natural rock formations. These are most salient in the light coloured bluff to the left of the rock column. It does not require too much thought to appreciate that the letters S and X, and less obviously also the letter E, are superimposed on each other to give the impression of natural fissures in the rock.
The other Pirelli ads, despite advertising tyres, generally did not contain illustrations of the product. In the present ad we simply have a tyre atop the rock. To share the meanings conveyed by previous ads the tyre would also have to symbolize something emotive and sexual. The notion of an orifice comes readily to mind when viewing the tyre and tyre is, of course, in close conjunction with the 'phallic' shaped rock. One may also let one's imagination take flight and conceive the tyre as 'naked'. A tyre, after all, can control nothing in its virgin state and would have to be wrapped around a car wheel before it was truly functional. Here the only object that the tyre could go around would be the phallic, 'bottle top', rock.
Literary sources have also documented some unusual behaviours associated with the ritual and aggressive uses of bottles. Consideration of these I will leave to the imagination of the reader. One should note, however, that such connotations would fit in with the notions of dominance and fear evident in other other Pirelli ads: these often depicted scenes indicative of 'toying with' or chasing fearful females'.
For a change this months selection doesn't come from ads in magazines. Instead the semi-subliminal embeds comes from the packaging of a major beer brand: Bud Ice. It is unusual to find embedded material on packaging. Over recent years I could probably count the number of examples on my fingers (maybe I might need a couple of spare hands but that's all). And most of such packaging relates to soap powders.
Any reader who has read my views on mass produced keg beers (see the Boddington, Budweiser and MillerTime pages) will realize that I have no interest in such over-hyped, over gassed, over chilled, over-the-hill beer. I therefore only occasionally lay my hands on bottles and cans when I examine them on various social occasions. The last that I can recollect was for Hooch alcopop.
The Bud Ice label has been commented on in some detail on the Bud page so before you flip over to the Bud page see if you can identify the semi-subliminal elements in the illustration above. Two of them are quite clear.
If you feel that you have been influenced by semi-subliminal packaging at any time I would recommend that you drown your sorrows with a fine pint of real ale or a glass of wine. Put Bud Ice where it belongs - in the waste bin.
Did I hear you say 'Whaaaaasuup?'
Five go mad in Newquay states the caption. This on the one hand seems rather curious as there are only four people in the scene. The car, of course, could make five. The vehicle is also a 5 door vehicle. But, on the principle that one should never take an ad at face value it seems reasonable to ask is there an image of a fifth person in the scene. Indeed there is. There might even be a sixth and a seventh.
Look at the cloud to the left above the vehicle (see the actual size image on the right). The portion on the left seems to contain a remarkable number of features indicative of a human face looking towards the skinny dipping revellers. The figure is rather reminiscent of some stock photographs of John F. Kennedy, though these tend to show his left profile rather than the right. The smaller cloud seems to have some facial features also but these are rather fuzzy in comparison. The seventh figure can be found in what would most naturally be taken to be the reflection of the high flying male in the bonnet of the vehicle. Look closer at this and it seems almost like a witch on a broomstick or a cartoon figure with a prominent nose and another prominent member.
For another odd element of a car ad in the magazines this month have a look at the headlights in the ad for the Ford Fiesta where there are only two major elements: a Ford Fiesta Zetec and the caption Sinew Stiffening Stuff. You should be able to discern a 'sinew stiffening' male wearing 'shades'. The macho image in the left headlight (left of ad), the focal point of the ad, is very clear, that in the right headlight is less so. One might also note that in another ad for the Ford Ka, the headlights contain the letters ES (left) and X (right). Is that a coincidence?
Ad number 1
This is not an ad for poetry lovers and lovers of bath time revels but even so Jif is not ordinary bathroom cleaner.
The script on this ad runs as follows: "I dip my feet. I curl my toes. I touch the softest of water. And then I feel the little bits of grime digging into my bum." It would simply seem to be an ad drawing the attention of the viewer to the fact that Jif is creamy unlike powder based cleaners that leave a residue in the bath. However, Jif is a little bit out of the ordinary.
The central line of the script stated "And then I feel". This is strategically placed somewhat above the genital area that is discretely covered by some soap suds. But look a little closer at these suds. Surely, there is something out of the ordinary going on here. The suds do not seem to be in perspective. In fact it is easy to perceive that they form the outline of a person with a flat top hairdo. If so, then the discrete area of suds covering the woman's genital area are in fact a representation of an arm. The word feel is thus associated with two different sets of meanings. At the point of presentation it is visually associated with self stimulation. By the time one reads through to the end of the ad any perceived meaning in such a direction is deflected by the script drawing attention to feeling grime in the bath.
Neat one that. But I won't be buying any more Jif whilst such manipulative ads are deemed an acceptable means of marketing this product.
Ad number 2
If you have just arrived at this site and this is one of the first ads your have looked at, take note that this is not a good starting point. Unlike other ads on this page it is not a clear example of semi-subliminal art and therefore is open to misinterpretation. Have a look at the Marlboro or Lynx ads (below) and a few others before returning to view this one. But, if you are already attuned to the notion that the range of semi-subliminal and manipulative ads runs from the relatively obvious, once they are pointed out, to the borderline perceptible, then continue on your way. You should have no difficulty appreciating the argument.
This pair of glasses containing ice cubes appear in the bottom right hand corner of the Canadian Mist ad on the right. It is one of these curiosities that often surface when glasses containing ice cubes are considered in isolation. The ad cannot be considered a definitive example of semi-subliminal artwork as the imagery that is identified may simply be indicative of the author's imagination rather than the identification of elements intended to convey an unconscious message to viewers.
Unlike the ads presented later on this page this Canadian Mist ad contains elements that can only be interpreted in the light of experience with other similar ads. It does however seem to provide a recent example of a technique that has been in use for many years as the ads on the Ads from the Archives page and the title of Jack Haberstroh's book (Ice Cube Sex) would both indicate. As the artwork is rather fine and does not reproduce to well on the computer screen it is best to try and find an original copy of the ad.
This ad seems to be directed towards a particular group of Americans as the 'figure' in the right hand glass (and the upper portion of the 'face' in the left hand glass) appear to be those of men in uniform. To the author they appear to be either unkempt Union soldiers from the American Civil War or else uniformed railway staff. The author prefers the Civil War interpretation as the figure on the right seem to have a pack on his back. Alternatively this aspect of the image could be a large shock of hair. As both are facing towards the right - away from any other aspect of the ad - the figures must have meaning in themselves. They are not 'directing' the viewers attention to any other aspect of the ad.
To make these figures somewhat clearer to the uninitiated viewer I have removed all the background elements in the illustration on the left and placed a red dot in front of each nose. Note that the face on the left appears to be sozzled and the figure on the right can be perceived to be holding 'his personal tackle'. This is likely to be one of the two crucial emotive features in the ad - the other being the doleful expression of the face on the left. Whether one interprets this action as attending to the call of nature or as an indication that Canadian Mist drinkers are socially isolated and have nothing better to do than play with themselves I shall leave to the viewers imagination. Bear in mind that the ad did appear in Playboy.
The Selection for February, 2000
Ads for male antiperspirants are often sexy and this ad is no exception. It simply depicts an Angel carrying a young woman and the Lynx logo. Or does it?
This Lynx Phoenix ad has had considerable exposure in recent weeks, appearing on billboards as well as magazines. How many viewers consciously noticed that the Angel has a devil of an erection.
In the close up below - reproduced the actual size as it appears in magazine ads - is the torso of the Angel. Instead of presenting a natural body or a body dressed in appropriate body hugging costume, the Lynx artists have emphasized certain features intended to be consciously perceived as light reflecting off his body/costume. But viewers should note that this does not follow the natural body line that would be depicted if this were a photograph.
Running from the top of his right leg to the upper chest the 'reflected light' turns in towards the centre of the chest. In reality this line would curve outwards as the torso widened. Had the artist wished to produce a figure with natural muscular development he could have done no better than use someone such as the model who appeared in an ad for Galaxy Ripple. Note the differences in 'musculature' - even pulling in the stomach muscles would not produce the 'phallic shape' found in the Lynx Phoenix ad.
When presented in magazines as a two page ad the second page as shown on the left continues to convey the sexual message suggested by the semi-subliminal element of the main image. Note that the can of Lynx Phoenix has been placed in such a way that it can be interpreted as having 'penetrated' the box that the reader is encouraged to open to get a whiff of the product.
This ad does not simply rely upon sensory elements and imagery related to male fantasies for its impact. Curious readers with a linguistic turn of mind will also be able to extract additional 'messages' by considering the connotations that relate to other elements of this ad e.g. note the bushy 'spurs' on the girls boots.
The Selection for January, 2000
Here we have a 7x4 inch representation of an impressive panoramic ad. The reduction in size, needless to say, considerably reduces its emotional impact. However, like many Marlboro ads one should not simply accept it at face value.
It may appear to be presenting a straightforward seasonal message with additional connotations related to the environment, caring for animals, etc. These can be responded to by smokers and non-smokers alike. But, at the heart of the ad is a much less acceptable message dedicated to Marlboro cigarette smokers, other smokers and potential smokers.
This secondary message is conveyed by the structuring of one of the key focal elements in the ad - the cowboy - and supplemented by semi-subliminal artwork related to the theme of death and anxiety. It is not a direct message but it is clearly manipulative in intent.
Many Marlboro ads emphasize the genital area using sunlight, moonlight, highlights, directional cues, etc. as in the ad on the right. The highlighting of the saddle pommel gives a pretty good impression of an individual with an erection.
The seasonal ad differs from the norm because it obscures rather than emphasizes the genital area as the cowboy passes behind a tree. The rebuttal to such a claim regarding genital emphasis is obvious. Those who produced the ad would simply claim that when one rides through a cluster of trees one inevitably rides in front of some and behind others. However, where Philip Morris and their ad agencies are concerned such rebuttals should be taken with a 'pinch of salt'. Read on for the reason why.
This ad, like many other Marlboro ads, is not conveying a simple message. Look at the tree in front of the horse and rider. Level with the horse's ears you will find the repellent figure illustrated in the insert on the right - and if you can adjust your perceptions to perceive the eye as the round, flattened, nose of a larger image, you will find a second, equally demonic face in the extract including the cowboy. This has a large flat forehead, typical of Herman from the Munsters or Frankenstein. Both these 'faces' are focussing on the cowboy - and his navel - and I doubt if anyone would fancy either of these gnawing at their navel or any other aspect of their anatomy? Just to help ensure that your attention is directed towards these embedded images there is another less disturbing 'face' looking towards them on the tree in front of the cowboy.
One should note that, in some respects, the covert message being conveyed by this ad is similar to those offered much more overtly by health educationalists, namely that smoking is a serious health hazard and impairs sexual prowess. Here, however, because of the context this message is presented within, and the ongoing thematic element in Marlboro ads, the message is not an inducement to give up smoking. The primary message likely to be extracted by susceptible smokers and potential smokers from cigarette ads containing such embedded cues encourages smoking. The embedded elements are intended to trigger fear and anxiety.
If they succeed in triggering latent anxiety in smokers - either about smoking, castration, impotence, death or any other of the possible connotations arising from perceiving the embedded face(s)- then it is likely that this anxiety will be temporarily assuaged by another cigarette.
Semi-subliminal cigarette ads in conjunction with smoking behaviour thus provide the ultimate Catch 22 circle. Anxiety about smoking and its possible outcomes - serious illness and a considerably shortened life span - triggers more smoking behaviour. The vast majority of smokers wish to break their addiction but find it difficult. Failure produces more guilt and anxiety. Guilt and anxiety are relieved by more smoking as distressing feelings are easily assuaged by the physiological and psychological effects of nicotine. So much for claims that smoking is simply a matter of choice.
Manipulative cigarette advertising of the type illustrated above, of which Philip Morris and their advertising agencies are masters, provides cues on the borderline of perceptual ability that help trigger and maintain behaviour associated with smoking. Hopefully, conscious appreciation of such a cycle and the way in which it is cynically manipulated by certain aspects of cigarette advertising may help some smokers break their dependency.
Smokers should note that tobacco companies regularly trumpet the virtues of freedom of choice among adult smokers. At the same time they cynically do their best to deny and subvert freedom of choice by consistently incorporating in their ads semi-subliminal cues that will never be consciously noticed - except, possibly, by a few individuals outside the advertising profession interested in 'subliminal' advertising.
Tobacco companies also proclaim that their advertising is directed towards adults and is intended to maintain market shares. Given that they have to continually recruit new smokers to replace those who die off prematurely one wonders what effect such ads may have upon teenagers suffering from youthful identity crises, a need to prove themselves and a growing awareness of their mortality. See Kid's Stuff for more UK ads on this subject.
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Last Revised: 20th September, 2001