(click here for a column free version of the introduction)
This site is devoted to the discussion and analysis of some forms of advertising that are generally (but inappropriately) known as subliminal advertising. Also discussed are a number of ads that do not include subliminal elements and are thus best described as manipulative. But all of these ads are contentious and can be summed up under the rubric of manipulative advertising.
All such adverts are unethical and can be considered to breach professional guidelines. In some countries (not the United States of America nor the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) they may also be illegal. Legal restrictions tend to apply to TV transmissions but not the types of printed ads illustrated throughout the Subliminal World.
The ads in question can be sexy, cheeky, rude, disturbing, distressing, crude, cynical or depressing. Occasionally they may be humorous.
Iff you only look at them superficially, without considering the intentions lying behind their use and their potential impact on viewers, they appear boring.
Despite, its appearance of banality, the subject matter of the site is potentially rather serious and raises a variety of ethical issues. Psychological evidence indicates that the ads appear to have the capacity to influence you without you being aware of this process. However, despite this potential influence, the site is constructed to provide an interesting and enjoyable experience whilst also countering intentions of those who produced the ads. Even if you find humour in the contents, don't let that prevent you from getting annoyed with the major companies and the advertising agencies who have been attempting, and maybe succeeding, to influence you without your consent.
A number of surveys indicate that public attitudes are strongly against the use of subliminal advertising. What they are really focussing on is semi-subliminal advertising i.e. ads containing secondary elements that are on the borderline of perceptual ability. This distinction in terminology is clarified later in this Introduction.
How you will ultimately feel about the thought of being manipulated by some advertisers (and politicians) will depend upon how much information you digest. But, even if all you do is look at a few of the ads and the related commentary, learning about the techniques helps undermine their effectiveness and will put advertising professions on the defensive. So don't feel compelled to become an 'expert' in the field, just to make sense of the ads on the site.
Viewing the ads and reading the associated discussion material will assist you to discover how some advertising companies try to influence you without your knowing. If you wish, you can then turn the tables on the ad companies and prick their professional pomposity and arrogance by helping force them to publicly acknowledge what they and some of their colleagues have been doing.
For many years advertising professionals have attempted to convince critics that subliminal advertising does not exist. They are actually attempting to draw attention away from the forms of manipulative and unethical advertising noted above. These do exist. At some point view the author's correspondence with the Advertising Standards Association, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and various articles and adverts from theAmerican Association of Advertising Agencies.
You will become aware that members of these professional associations attempt to 'have their cake and eat it'. Not only do they deny the existence of the type of ads illustrated on this site, they also have a subsidiary response to critics. They also state that ' If it [subliminal advertising] did exist, then it would not be effective.
This seems a curious type of response, as it seems reasonable to presume that experts and spokespersons for the advertising profession know whether or not this type of advertising exists. Additionally, if it is used, they ought to know whether it is effective - and why would they use it if it were not effective in commercial items?
The only truly appropriate response to such defensive comments by advertising professionals is 'bull****'. Advertising incorporating secondary (semi-subliminal) imagery is produced by the biggest and most powerful advertising agencies for their considerably more powerful client companies. Either the chief executives of commissioning companies are among the most gullible individuals in the world (and might as well consult psychics when developing marketing plans) or their ad agencies and marketing departments have evidence demonstrating that such techniques are commercially effective.
Some research carried out by the author indicates that relevant imagery extracted from such ads is capable of showing influence in small groups. This study is in line with the conclusions that can be drawn from other studies in the field of subliminal perception. The latter studies indicate that ads
incorporating secondary imagery might be more successful than originally imagined. You will no doubt develop your own views on the matter of influence after you have viewed some of the ads, those for cigarettes, in particular. However, if you are unfamiliar with experimental examination of subtle issues do not be too inclined to rely on your own judgement and personal experiences as these can be misleading.
Smokers and potential smokers, in the UK and USA in particular, are recommended to give careful consideration to the activities of ad agencies making use of secondary imagery in cigarette advertising. Cigarette ads constitute a disproportionate amount of such ads. Concerned individuals are also likely to consider the impact of such ads on young children. Children may be more perceptive than the average adult where the 'recognition' of secondary elements in ads are concerned as they have not yet developed 'automatic' perceptual responses to ambiguous imagery.
After following this introduction and considering the banner and logo of the Subliminal World web site you may have begun to wonder about the distinction between subliminal, 'semi-subliminal' and manipulative advertising and references to secondary imagery. The next section of this introduction clarifies the matter somewhat.
Most of the academic literature on this subject does in fact refer to Subliminal Ads. But, if one accepts the standard definition of what is meant by the term subliminal the ads discussed on the Subliminal World web site are not subliminal at all.
However, truly subliminal images cannot be perceived consciously. Most of the ads in these pages contain images that can be perceive - thus, by definition, they are not subliminal ads. Recognition of such imagery often only occurs with some difficulty. These ads thus contain images that are almost, but not actually, subliminal. To be more precise, the ads contain semi-subliminal or marginally perceptible images. Regardless of the term you prefer to make use of, note that such ads are manipulative as they do not permit viewers to consciously consider how they ought to respond to them. In other words, freedom of choice regarding at least part of the message(s) conveyed by such ads is denied to anyone who looks at them.
A variety of ads are presented on the Subliminal World web site to demonstrate that the use of secondary imagery in ads is a relatively common type of manipulative advertising. This has been the case for many years. Ads using puns, word play, and other devices can be equally manipulative. Some of these are also discussed for good measure and to add additional interest.
Other than the fact that all these ads are manipulative in intent, the ads conform to the standard parameters for visual or lifestyle type ads. That is, the ads rarely make claims about products. They simply present images for the viewer to interpret in the light of their own interests, biases and knowledge. Much of that knowledge has, of course, come from advertising and promotional activities. The goal of advertising agencies and the clients is thus, overall, to get people to respond emotionally -rather than intellectually - to their content. The secondary image or message either complements or subverts the more obvious messages associated with imagery that can be consciously perceived.
The distinctions noted above are made clear on Introductory Pages including discussions of a variety of ads including ads for Absolut Vodka, Stella Artois lager. See, for examples, the What's Subliminal pages and some of the other pages listed in the Introductory section of the Menu page. This section of the Menu also includes some pages devoted to historical and classical aspects of ad imagery.
Although the author would prefer you to read all of the Introduction (see links to additional material at the end of this section), if you feel the need for some lighter reading, you now have enough basic information to begin to appreciate the discussion and commentary on subsequent pages. If you choose the simplest method of navigation you will simply progress using the Next page button (example on the right). More typically, you will take a more self indulgent and interesting route by charting your own way through the pages using a combination of the info on the Menu Page and the numerous hyperlinks between pages and with other relevant web sites. However, at some time remind yourself to give some consideration to the background and history of the subject of 'subliminal' advertising. This can be found on the Ads from the Archives, Classic Key and other pages. To return to this page click the spoof magazine cover featuring Uncle Sam. It can be found at the foot of each page.
To sum up - don't rely on preconceived ideas when viewing the ads on this site. What you see isn't necessarily what you get. And first impressions definitely do not count.
Some comments on terminology
The terminology used on the pages of the Subliminal World is to some extent eclectic and dependent upon the context. It is made clear that what is commonly called subliminal advertising is not, in fact, subliminal in nature i.e. does not fall below the limits of visual perception and can thus be recognised (with difficulty or when someone else points out the relevant imagery).
What is at issue is the ability of ads containing embedded or secondary imagery to influence viewers. These are traditionally labelled as subliminal ads. Use of this global term however makes it easy for professionals to deny responsibility for unethical conduct and to call upon psychological research studies into subliminal perception in defence of their arguments.
By disingenuous use of arguments focussing on subliminal stimuli members of the advertising profession distract attention from the equally unethical use of embedded imagery in ads. As subsequent commentary reveals, any stimuli around the limits of perception, whether supra-liminal (above the limit) or subliminal (below the limit), share the same characteristics i.e. the ability to influence judgements and attitudes without viewers being consciously aware of the image or message that influences them. The author therefore tries to use the term subliminal advertising only when it refers to historical issues or when discussing subliminal perception. In other instances the preference is to draw attention to embedded or secondary imagery in advertising and a variety of terms might be used e.g. embedded, secondary, semi-subliminal or borderline stimuli. For additional information view the Frequently Asked Questions.
Cautionary Notes Part I
Cautionary Notes Part II
None of the semi-subliminal or manipulative ads on this site should be considered in isolation. There is rarely an obvious feature that qualifies as a semi-subliminal element in an ad. More often than not such elements are part of an overall theme or convey only part of a more sophisticated message. Additionally, semi-subliminal and manipulative ads are part of the continuum of advertising techniques. These run from the clearly visible to (possibly) the truly subliminal. If you are having difficulty 'seeing' what is described do not jump to a hasty conclusion regarding the nature of semi-subliminal and manipulative advertising and their potential to influence the thoughts of viewers. Read some of the visual perception and psychology pages first.
Viewers should remember that 'First impressions don't count with semi-subliminal ads'. Such ads are not designed to 'jump out and grab you by the throat'. They are intended to influence you without your conscious involvement. If they were 'too obvious' then such a goal would be impossible. In other words they are designed to be difficult to perceive. There are many exceptions, especially when considering manipulative rather than semi-subliminal ads. Additionally, some ads may contain elements that do not attract instant attention but nevertheless 'stand out' when attention is drawn to the contents e.g. the Lynx Phoenix ad. Additional information regarding the continuum of manipulative advertising techniques can be found on a couple of other pages: Click here for Topsecrt.htm and here for Rating.htm
Viewing a number of ads from the same company or for the same product may present sceptical viewers with a more compelling message than 'first impressions', just as circumstantial evidence in a court case can accumlulate to produce a sound verdict. Alternatively, think of the argument on this site as a mosaic, with each page contributing part of the overall picture. Only when the picture is complete can one extract something really meaningful.
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This page has multiple parts: click to continue
Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003