Dr Doolittle's Menagerie
Most advertisers who produce ads that contain embedded imagery do not expect viewers to look for them. The ads are intended to be 'processed' unconsciously, or to be more accurately, preconsciously. And such 'processing' is capable of influencing preferences and liking despite the fact that the lay person would tend to think that if they had not paid attention to something that if would have no influence on them.
But, as indicated on the Beginnings page, artists also often embed images within their paintings for a variety of reasons. As starters on the page here are three illustrations of paintings by the artist Bev Doolittle, all of which contain, to one degree or another, embedded imagery. These are presented here in order of increasing complexity.
These are all naturalistic representations yet priming viewers with the knowledge that the illustrations contain embedded imagery does not always make it easy to perceive the contents. Consider therefore the degree of difficulty inherent in detecting stylistic variations within adverts where the embedded elements are never intended to be consciously perceived by the typical viewer.
Doolittle's painting of Pinto horses seems to show only 3 or 4 horses, yet closer scrutiny indicates there are others, including a young foal. This relatively simple illustration indicates the difficulties associated with the appraisal of ads when they contain overlapping images or images that are incomplete or distorted. These embedded elements do not necessarily lose their meaning nor ability to influence viewers. Research indicates that people can have their preferences influenced by information they are unaware of having seen.
The perceptual system can also compensate for deficiencies in visual input and is adept at dealing with ambiguity. But, when ads contain embedded elements, it make it more difficult to appraise their contents - and present illustrations of these on the web.
The four pairs of art/ads in the subsequent sections of this page page demonstrate a variety of artistic and embedding techniques, ranging from the 20th century art of Picasso and Klee to the classical work from some centuries ago. Each has embedded elements and associated meanings. These may have influenced the individuals who created the ads illustrated alongside the paintings. In each case the ad seems to make use of techniques familiar to artists. The resulting work may possess some of the power generally attributed to works of art.
Appraisal of the second painting by Bev Doolittle (above) should have revealed many prominent faces. The final example of embedded artwork (on the left) is much more akin to the classic visual illusion involving a Labrador dog presented on the Psychology and Imagination pages. The illustration depicts riders on horseback. But, as they are static, they cannot readily be perceived against the background. Had they been moving there would have been no difficulty in distinguishing them against the background.
This phenomenon can also be noted in a scene from a movie featuring Jack Nicholson ( The Last Detail ). Nicholson played the role of a sailor in custody and in this scen, he and his escort crossed a field covered in snow. If this scene was 'frozen' in a video recorder Nicholson and his escort 'disappeared'. This indicates that the perceptual cue of movement was all that distinguished the actors from the background. Or, as psychologists would tend to say, the figure from the ground.
See if you can detect the 'figures' from the 'ground' in the following works of art/adverts. And, where adverts are concerned, consider what kind of impact such embedded elements might have on emotions or thoughts.
Once you have viewed these ads you might like to view a site devoted to the work of Winslow Homer, a noted American artist who embedded images of individuals within his paintings. Homer's intention was to influence emotional reactions. Unlike advertisers, however, Homer's intention was not to influence motivation related to purchasing behavior but to provide viewers with a more meaningful experience.
What do the Picasso and the image from a Camel cigarette ad have in common?
Both make use of techniques that indicate masturbation is taking place.
It is easy to tell which of the two images has the most class, even when comparing a colour image with a black and white reproduction, and likely to sell for a few hundred million dollars more. Picasso's masterpiece is well-known but the masturbating figure in the Camel cigarette ad has not yet achieved such fame - perhaps his day will come (excuse the pun). The woman in his painting is dreaming of sex and masturbating - as indicated by her six fingers. The extract from a Camel ad indicates the same activity by presenting the relevant aspects of the model's anatomy in a slightly blurred manner.
If you would like to see the Ad this image was extracted from click the thumbnail above right. It is discussed more fully on the Camel ad page.
What does the Bodyform ad and the painting of St. Anthony in the Wilderness by Hieronymus Bosch have in common?
Both make use of secondary imagery to provide an intimation of the female body and rely upon indicators of bodily hygiene for some of their impact.
The Bodyform ad has a shape superimposed on the dress of the model as is flows over her right thigh. It is partly obscured by the back of the chair of the young girl on the left. The shape on her dress is the same shape as the Bodyform pad as illustrated on the pack. Further embedded in the Bodyform shape is the outline of a fish. The fishy shape is presumably intended to trigger thoughts (worries) about possible BO during the menstrual period.
For an interesting article from Cosmopolitan ( 1993 ), discussing issues pertinent to the topic of feminine hygiene (with some additional animation) and how commercial companies attempted to capitalize upon anxiety raised by natural bodily functions, click on the link.
Hieronymous Bosch's painting similarly makes use of a fish shape, a partial torso and other semi-subliminal cues. In Bosch's painting the cues indicate that St. Anthony was faced with sexual temptation. A discussion of some aspects of this painting can be found in the work of Wilson Key and a more extended discussion in the author's book Sexy, Subliminal and Deadly?: The Psychology of Manipulative Advertising (in preparation).
One should however note that the fish may represent other factors in addition to BO. The fish has also often been acknowledged for centuries as a virility symbol and as a symbol of life. An interesting variation on the virility symbol can be found in Magritte's painting, The Collective Invention. Whereas the fishy tail of a mermaid is traditionally thought of as a gigantic 'penis', stolen by the woman who forms the upper half of the curious beast, Magritte reverses this tradition. His painting shows a creature with the lower body and limbs of a woman, whilst the upper half is that of a fish.
Edward Lucie-Smith in his book Sexuality in Western Art interprets Magritte's representation as indicating that the woman in Magritte's painting is 'all cock', at least, so far as unconscious interpretation might be concerned. For a beer mat that seems to make use of the same notion see the Aussie ads. However, note that no one interpretation can suffice to explain such ads or paintings. Regardless of the interpretation of Magritte or Bosch's paintings and the Bodyform ad, their complexity and ambiguity of content leads one to acknowledge that each possesses almost unlimited potential for interpretation and personal meaning.
What does the Magnum ad have in common with the painting Nacket auf dem Bett (Naked on the Bed) by Paul Klee? Read on and find out.
The Paul Klee painting is probably the most interesting work of art that I have come across in terms of secondary imagery. Klee was strongly influenced by Gestalt Psychology and this painting is, in fact, a seething hotbed of incomplete and ambiguous representations, much of which is directly related to the theme of the painting as indicated by the title. But there is more.
Klee assiduously used secondary imagery to enhance two different themes in this work of art. First, the sexual 'feel' of the painting. Secondly, to cast a rather wry look at the activities of mortal man during the final years of his life. Klee, himself, at the time of painting this work, was in the final years of his life and undoubtedly the painting was, in part, an artistic reflection upon his own life and impending departure from this world.
Embedded in his painting are abstract representations of 'a child in the womb', 'an onlooker', intimations of 'male genitalia', 'a decaying body' and other indicators of the human life span. These range from procreation to death. See if you can perceive them in a full size illustration of the painting (something that cannot, unfortunately be presented on this web site). A full discussion can be found in the book Sexy, Subliminal and Deadly? The Psychology of Manipulative Advertising (in preparation).
Klee's painting, or another similar work of art, would seem to have provided the inspiration for the Magnum ad. As with the Picasso/Camel ad above, the quality of the artwork in the ad is clearly not comparable to that of the painting. But, like Klee, the Magnum ad does make use of partial and semi-subliminal figures to enhance the appeal of the ad.
In addition to the stylized male and female figures situated to the right and left of the ice cream bar there is a third figure to be found in the ice cream bar. Look where the corner has been 'bitten off'. There you can note the shape of a 'motherly woman'. Note also that there is a comforting 'arm' extending from behind the ice cream bar. There may also be one additional item of interest in this ad. One could also argue that the male figure to the left of the ad has a phallic shape embedded in his chest. If so, then the ad would seem to have two messages. One set of messages for children and their mothers. And possibly a second for those with an interest in sex (is any adolescent/adult excluded?).
Recent ads for Magnum (May 2000) continue the attempts to convey additional meanings over and above those normally associated with the product. A pair of ads depict a young woman eating ice cream. The billboard posters displaying this ad had in the first (or left hand) image the model's hair swirling in the shape of the letter S in the top right hand corner. The second (or right hand) image is somewhat different and the letter X appears level with her head. Put the two letters together and one is in little doubt what was on sale along with the product. No doubt this is a response to other ice cream makers such as Häagen-Dazs, who seem incapable of selling ice cream without making use of mild erotica.
*The author would be interested in receiving additional information about paintings of this type. See the Wanted page for more information.
What does the painting by Paul Nash have in common with a the Gibbs SR Great Protector ad? For a distracting clue look below at the bottom of this section. There you will see a frame from a film clip portraying Dustin Hoffman in the dentists chair. He has something in common with the ad and the ad has something in common with the painting.
Click on the image to see a larger version of the painting. Look to the top left hand corner. You will see two of the numerous 'faces' that Paul Nash embedded in the scene: one can be noted in the green tree, looking towards the right. A more obvious 'face' is composed by the features of the brown tree, this time facing directly towards you. If you cannot see these, or any of the other 'faces' in the trees, click here to view the painting with the 'faces' outlined. Once you have been primed with their positions, close the window and return to the original. You can then expect to 'see' these ambiguous figures more 'clearly'.
In addition to the 'faces' there is one other possible 'figure' in the bottom left hand corner. What seems to be a drain emptying into the stream may, in fact, be a man 'pissing' in the water.*
Once you have detected these faces, look carefully at the foot of the Gibbs SR tube just above the caption 'Fight plaque and decay'. Silhouetted against the background is a 'face' with a mouth gaping wide, above the space between the words 'and' and 'decay'. The face offers the appearance everyone offers up to their dentist when asked to 'Open Wide' - as Dustin's character did under duress. Click here to see yet another 'face' embedded in the same ad (this opens in a separate window). This 'face' is 'superimposed on the first 'face'. Fortunately when we are in this situation, with our mouths wide open, we generally don't suffer as much as Dustin's character at the hands of Laurence Olivier in the movie Marathon Man.
A few other works of art and their links to advertising are displayed on this site and can be found by checking out the section devoted to works of art on the list of contents.
*If you have a mischievious sense of humor, read Viz, and are not easily offended, then click here for a rather tasteless Borderman animation that will strike fear into the heart of all who dare use red links. Borderman, you will note, has a lot in common with the aforementioned Nash 'character' alongside the stream.
Last Revised: 20th September, 2001