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A misplaced Prolegomenon

reflecting upon

Section 202 of the Education Reform Act (1987)

and other issues pertinent to the publication of

Academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received opinion.'

Animated Statue of Liberty.The statement above reflects one aspect of the work of academics.  However, the freedom apparently enshrined in the Education Reform Act is not in a healthy state.   In practice, reduced resources, increased student numbers, modularized courses, decreased control over teaching, increased beaurocratic and time consuming 'quality control' measures and reductions in research funding are among the factors limiting research activity by social scientists and curtailing the appraisal of received opinion and the status quo.    The difficulties in carrying out research that are not 'approved' by funding bodies or other sources are sufficient to handicap many researchers.   The result, intentional or not, is to 'direct' research into specific areas and limit research that reflects the interests of researchers, research that might be of importance and socially relevant.

One such area of interest to the author of these page has never been the subject of effective academic appraisal, even although it has been the subject of considerable public anxiety over the past few decades and continues to be a field of controversy.  So called subliminal advertising, with the emphasis on advertising rather than the perceptual processes involved in viewing ads, is an area of business activity that would seem to require appraisal. It apparently involves attempts to manipulate the decision making of consumers without the individuals on the receiving end of the advertising process having any awareness or conscious involvement in this process. Academic sources would tend to indicate that this type of type of advertising is completely ineffective. Yet, if it is in use and is effective in influencing even one consumer, then it is clearly unethical and manipulative.

A simplistic way of describing this process would be to call it brainwashing. Brainwashing is clearly a strongly emotive subject, usually associated with political prisoners and prisoners of war. But if, the type of advertising discussed on this web site is effective, then it also is brainwashing, albeit a much more refined and sophisticated form of brainwashing, far removed from the techniques used in prisoner of war camps.

Given the nature of research and current attitudes on the part of psychologists and advertising professionals alike it is highly unlikely that any request to fund research into 'subliminal' advertising would have been successful.

Some of this lack of interest within the academic community reflects pressures to carry out research that will produce economic benefits.  It also reflects the strong tendency within social science disciplines to focus upon theoretical interests and avoid dealing with 'real life' activities, especially if these seem somehow to be 'beyond the pale'. In the case of 'subliminal advertising' there is a strong social consensus supporting a position that runs counter to that presented in the present Web site i.e. most professionals disparage the notion that subliminal advertising exists.

This site hopes to rectify some of the deficiencies noted above and stimulate additional interest in what is currently a moribund subject. It is not intended to stir up paranoia, simply to indicate that research carried out without funding can be of interest and use to members of society.  In the authors view, considerable benefits are likely to accrue from exposing the manipulative underpinnings for much that passes as tobacco advertising. However, with adequate resources and time to pursue such interests, the outcome would naturally have been considerably better, more detailed, the analyses and research more thorough, and publication earlier.

The web site thus presents examples of semi-subliminal and manipulative advertising.  The distinction between these two concepts i.e. semi-subliminal advertising and subliminal advertising, is clarified in the Glossary, Frequently Asked Questions pages and elsewhere on this site.

The views expressed on these pages clearly do not represent the views of any of my employers, nor one need say, those companies who produced the adverts. Correspondence with the Advertising Standards Authority and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising clearly indicates there is considerably disparity between the accepted viewpoint and that expressed by the author. However, this is to be expected. In addition to the fact that the ASA and IPA represent vested interests, the strongly visual nature of current advertising techniques mean that, more than ever, adverts must be interpreted if they are to have any meaning. The interpretation of the adverts and techniques discussed in this set of web pages therefore can be assumed to reflect the views and interests of the author, Jim Hagart, a Chartered Psychologist and University Lecturer in Social Psychology with the University of Teesside. He is also an associate lecturer with the Open University.

The views expressed are highly critical of certain, unspecified, sections of the advertising profession and their clients. With a few notable exceptions the goal is not to draw attention to the companies or organizations concerned but to raise public consciousness regarding 'received wisdom' regarding the topic of Subliminal Advertising.  

Traditional views on the subject are regurgitated (generally inaccurately) in advertising, marketing, consumer behaviour and psychology textbooks - and even by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. The bibliography provides source material for anyone interested in these views.  The Experts page also offers a brief selection of the unremitting and flawed criticisms and commentary on those advertising professionals and psychologists who either reject the view that some sections of the advertising professions and their clients are guilty of unethical professional behaviour or emphasize psychological processes in their research and then extrapolate their findings, possibly erroneously, to advertising. 

In order to demonstrate the validity of the authors views it has been deemed essential to reproduce examples of the art of semi-subliminal advertising as most of the relevant adverts are no longer readily obtainable.  Copyright regarding advertisements does exist. However, this does not prevent their use for illustrative purposes when illustration of the said adverts are necessary in order to provide fair comment and analysis. 

There is a need to demonstrate conclusively that semi-subliminal and manipulative advertising exists and does not function in the public interest. Additionally, that semi-subliminal and manipulative techniques are used as a matter of policy rather than idiosyncratic manner. Public commentary is the only means of bringing such information to the attention of the public and this requires illustrative use of relevant adverts. Precedent for reproducing works that can be considered the subject of copyright exists. Works of art, for example, can be reproduced for purposes of criticism. Similar legal support would seemingly exist where advertising is subject to criticism. However, to the authors knowledge, there has been no precedent involving the reproduction of advertising material. (Potential complainants re breach of alleged copyright should click here for additional information.)

Whether the manipulative practices criticized in these pages are effective is not an issue for this web site.   All that these pages seek to demonstrate is the existence of a substantial body of unethical and manipulative advertising that falls fairly and squarely within the remit of various professional associations.  These associations are expected by members of the public and their political representatives to uphold professional standards and adhere to ethical guidelines to protect the consumer from illegal, dishonest, inaccurate and antisocial forms of advertising.   These associations generally proclaim that their guidelines on advertising are intended to be observed in the spirit as well as the letter.  This clearly does not seem to be the case in some instances.

These web pages draw attention to the practices of various professional associations, including the Association of Advertising Agencies of America and the Advertising Standards Association in the UK They have, sometimes unwittingly but,on occasions, seemingly intentionally, allowed the continuance of highly dubious and unethical practices. 

In certain instances, cigarette advertising in particular, there is clearly little attempt to curtail what seems to be common practices and enforce adherence to ethical guidelines when they conflict with the profit motive.   Neither the American nor the UK professional bodies responsible for overseeing printed advertising has, so far as the author can judge, taken any action over the past three decades or more to stamp out the use of this form of advertising. In part this is because the guidelines rarely mention subliminal advertising by name. But, if the professional associations applied these guidelines according to the spirit in which they were conceived there seems little doubt that such practices would be disapproved of. Incidentally, self regulating advertising guidelines were generally only accepted by the advertising profession as a means of staving off legislation.

So far as the author is aware, no professional association has attempted to force any of their members to adhere to ethical guidelines that have a bearing on manipulative and semi-subliminal advertising (and subliminal advertising also, should it exist). This raises the following question. If agencies and companies continually breach guidelines concerning unethical activities that, according to the general academic consensus, are not viable, one wonders what they may do where there is a clear commercial benefit.

Recent news reports concerning allegations of smuggling by tobacco companies and the sale of weapons considerably in excess of potential private consumer demand would seem to give some indication of an answer to that question.

Ethical guidelines that have been agreed as a result of the collaboration of professional bodies and public representatives should apply in all circumstances, not simply when companies consider it appropriate. The present Web Site is therefore presented as a public information service. If you feel the adverts, themes and issues illustrated on this web site are a cause for concern then contact the ASA, the AAAA, the IPA. Better still contact your political representatives and refuse to purchase products advertised using manipulative advertising and any other products produced by companies making use of such advertising techniques.

Acclaimed North American organizations co-ordinating activities concerning corporate responsibility can be contacted at and

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Article 10 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation of the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The author believes that the use of advertising material on the following pages constitutes justifiable and protected communications under the freedoms as noted above.  However, as the stated freedoms contain contradictory interests where these freedoms conflict with certain other interests (of national security, etc.) it is furthermore contended that the information provided within these Web Pages does not conflict with any of these interests. The information on Jim Hagart's Subliminal World provides fair comment on a matter of public interest.

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Section 6 of the Defamation Act 1952

It is believed that the information within these pages satisfies Section 6 of the Defamation Act 1952 as quoted in Peter Carey's book Media Law. "In an action for libel or slander in respect of words consisting partly of allegations of fact and partly of Book cover: Media Law.expression of opinion, a defence of fair comment shall not fail by reason only that the truth of every allegation of fact is not proved if the expression of opinion is fair comment having regard to such of the facts alleged or referred to in the words complained of as are proved."

The author does not claim that every example presented on these pages is a clear example of manipulative advertising nor semi-subliminal advertising. Whilst there are clear implications regarding the behaviour of the advertising agencies who produced the ads discussed on this site, and their client companies, the authors case concerning the use of semi-subliminal and manipulative advertising cannot be deemed to stand or fall on the basis of any one advert, nor even a limited set of adverts. As the case that these ads constitute a body of work that can be labelled unethical, manipulative and semi-subliminal is built upon what, in other circumstances, might be called circumstantial evidence, one must note it is the accumulation of evidence that establishes whether or not semi-subliminal and manipulative advertising exists.

Irrespective of any global judgement regarding the existence of manipulative and semi-subliminal advertising it should also be noted that each ad within this site, taken in isolation, may be judged in a variety of ways by different individuals with different perceptual abilities - and different interests. The nature of semi-subliminal and manipulative advertising is such that many embedded elements, especially those towards the limits of visual perception, are ambiguous and open to interpretation - and misinterpretation.

Cumulatively, however, it is clear that a phenomenon that can justifiably be called semi-subliminal advertising exists.

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The US Copyright Act

Animated Statue of Liberty.In the United States the use of these ads for educational and critical purposes is protected under the fair use provisions of the US Copyright Act.

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Important Notification. 

Anyone wishing to raise issues regarding alleged infringement of copyright should read the contents of the Disclaimer page before contacting the author.

In any communication regarding such matters please supply the information requested.

Inadvertent use of copyright Java applets, gifs etc or unacknowledgement of copyright free applets, etc. will be rectified upon notification.


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Link to previous pageLink to top of pageLink to Alternative Site  Menu offering some additional information about each page and its contents.

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: 3rd January, 2003


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