Ads from Germany
Knock it off, Davidoff
Little attention seems to have been paid in any of the writing on the subject of semi-subliminal advertising in non English speaking countries. This is presumably either on the assumption that it is largely an American phenomenon or that writers on the subject have no interest in languages other than English. The use of semi-subliminal ads has now spread considerably further than the US As these pages demonstrate it is relatively common in the UK In addition, whilst the author was on overseas holidays in 1998 and 1999 it became obvious that this type of manipulative advertising was also relatively common in some European countries. It was relatively easy to pick up examples in the current editions of popular magazines. On the basis that examples could be found in current magazines, it seems reasonable to assume that earlier examples also existed.
Here are two Davidoff cigarette ads from German magazines. Each ad has artistically modified the smoke plume from the cigarette to show the figure of a woman.
Additionally, if one views the close-up of the male smokers face from the ad on the left, one can notice curved shapes that could be perceived as the letter S just to the left of his nose. And, underneath his nose are many X shapes. To the left of the X's is an E. Even in countries where English is not the primary language the word sex is commonly understood by educated members of the public if not actually in common usage. And the caption is, as one can note, in English, indicating that this product is for a sophisticated audience. None of the 'letters' are particularly clear and you may wish to click on the rollover to view a larger version of the extract.
In this sexually laden context set for the series, note that the caption 'the more you know' is also meaningful. Undoubtedly, the meaning is intended to have a positive spin on it if considered consciously. However, most responses to such captions will be automatic and below the level of conscious appreciation. These might include 'the more you know about cigarettes the more you know about women'. However, equally likely, it could be taken to mean 'the more you know about cigarettes the more you need a woman to distract you from the worries of smoking'. Or, perhaps it could even be 'the more you know the more you realize smoking helps you compensate for lack of success with women'. Or, ......whatever. Make your own choice, there are many other possible alternatives, each dependent upon personal predisposition's, preferences and worries. Your task as a viewer of such ads is to fill in the blanks.
So, despite the fact that sex is not a native German word, the basic aim of enhancing the association between sex (and anxiety) and cigarette smoking is alive and well in Germany. This is not surprising, given the common use of the word in imported magazines, Hollywood movies and English language broadcasts and its incorporation into common usage, including magazine headlines.
As is noted elsewhere with British and American ads, cigarettes are one of the principal products advertised with ads including semi-subliminal elements. This rule also would seem to be applicable to German cigarette ads. Below is another German cigarette ad. This time the brand is Marlboro Ultra. As can be noted elsewhere on this site Philip Morris, the producers of Marlboro, have made more use of semi-subliminal advertising material than any other company. If this example is typical, they would seem to find their techniques eminently exportable.
As with most such ads, a superficial look gives the impression of a pleasant evening scene, with the Marlboro cowboy and the American landscape of Monument Valley or somewhere similar silhouetted against the night sky. [ Philip Morris would be pleased if viewers perceived the view as that of Death Valley because of its connotations and the well known association between the hazards of smoking, ill health and premature death. ] Casting its reflected light on the scene is the moon, its shape somewhere between that of a crescent and a half moon.
Take a closer look at the moon and note what has been depicted there. The reader should appreciate that it can be taken for granted in this type of advert that it is not a natural picture of the moon. Such ads are produced very carefully to convey a specific meaning or set of meanings. In this instance, as is often the case with Marlboro cigarette ads, this ad has a sexually oriented image embedded in it, as is noted below. The image of the moon in the ad (on the right) can be compared with the newspaper clipping on the left and pictures of the moon, below right. There are similaries and differences, which will be noted below.
As the moon does not rotate on its axis like the earth, nor reverse itself, left to right. Only one accurate depiction of the face of the moon is possible, though the angle at which it is viewed will vary, depending upon one's location on the earth when viewing the surface of the moon or if one is taking a photograph from a space craft. Actual photographs of the moon can be viewed on the corbis.com web site.
Three images of the moon are presented immediately below. A was downloaded from Myoslaw Smyk's pages on The man in the moon and other weird things. B is the reversed/mirror image of A, and C came from a collection of stock photographs.
If A and C are photographs of the moon then the image presented in B, in the Marlboro ad and the newspaper clipping is seemingly a reversed image of a partial view of the moon's surface. Was this a mistake? Or was the artist in each case influenced by the potential of the embedded 'image'? This is a distinct possibility as the author has noted that when other authors write critically and disparagingly about subliminal advertising they often include (unintentionally) ads with such contents. Other ads that they select also have a disproportionate number of embedded elements. Such behavior fits in with the finding of an undergraduate research study showing that people 'preferred' ads with embedded elements and another study by the author and a colleague. The author's study indicated that, even if people are unaware of embedded elements, their judgements of the ad are different when the embedded elements are artistically modified.
The Marlboro ad and the newspaper clipping of the wolf 'baying at the moon' would seem to be based on a stock photograph or the work of an individual artist. But before discussing the differences, look more carefully at the Marlboro ad. Specifically, look in the top half of moon and focus your attention on the dark shape just above the centre of the illuminated surface area. Think of an individual who is a cross between Mr. Magoo and Odd Job in the James Bond movie Goldfinger and you will note that the darker section of the moon appears to be the top half of a middle aged male figure wearing a hat. Possibly this male figure may also be perceived as possessing very short legs. If you have not noticed him yet try again bearing in mind that he is facing to the left in the Marlboro ad. Roughly the same figure is facing to the right, and less clearly, on the actual photographs of the moon. Note that in the actual photographs all the markings on the moon are roughly the same shade. On the Marlboro ad the representation of Mr Magoo/Odd Job is darker.
One one has identified the figure, one might also wonder whether (and why) he seems to be riding on a broomstick. It is, after all, mythological witches who ride on broomsticks, not middle aged men. If it isn't a 'broomstick' one can perceive, extending upwards and to the left, what is this shape intended to be? Is this guy riding on a rocket a la Dr. Strangelove? Or is it another representation of the ubiquitous penis, often found in representational form in Marlboro ads? The figure certainly isn't intended to be an escapee from Dr. Strangelove, even though death has a strange degree of affinity with both nuclear weapons and cigarette smoking.
The variations in the ad can, presumably, only be explained on the basis of artistic retouching. Why the newspaper clipping should present the same erroneous figure and the image above be different from Smyk's photograph presents a bit of a mystery for viewers to solve.
However, in the meantime, one need only note that the Marlboro ad displays the characteristics one would expect when there is an intention to convey a covert, associative conditioning, message. The ad has been 'sexualised' by emphasising the image on the moon. This includes emphasis on the 'genital region' of the Magoo/Odd Job figure and the sexualised element is related to other aspects of the ad that are meaningful. In this instance the iconic Marlboro cowboy and the meaning built up over years of advertising (see other Marlboro ads elsewhere on this site). The 'phallic' positioning of the cigarette on the Marlboro Ultra pack is a more obvious, symbolic and complementary, representation of the same message.
It is also possible to perceive three (partial) faces on the left hand edge of the globe. The largest is a babyish face with a round, open mouth, situated to the 7 o'clock position relative to Magoo on the 'broomstick'. If considered in 3 dimensional space the top portion of this figure's head is behind the Mr Magoo character. The eye is to the left of Mr Magoo's foot and his nose 'fits in' just underneath the Magoo's foot. The figure is on the edge of the moon so it is only partly in view. For a commentary on the
With a change in focal point it is possible to perceive another face with a projecting quiff of hair towards the top of the illuminated portion of the moon. In this face, the 'eye' of a third, somewhat, larger face, just underneath the individual with the quif,f becomes the mouth of the individual with the quiff. One also has to 'accept' a rather prominent, dark nose in order to complete the latter face. These two faces are 'sitting on the head' of the first figure and fulfil no function so far as the author can see, other than directing attention to the Mr Magoo character. However, the largest face presents the same type of imagery as other Marlboro ads, an open mouth in close relationship to a phallic/cigarette shape. Either the figure can be taken to represent the fact that smoking is an oral activity or else it can be taken as indicative of a sexual message i.e. oral sex. See, for example, the ads on the Gatwick page. In either case the ad is manipulative in intent as viewers do not become consciously aware of the contents.
Note that this type of ad would be considered particularly manipulative if the cartoon type contents were directed towards children rather than adults. Given the type of disclosures in recent American and Canadian court cases regarding the promotional and marketing activities of tobacco companies directed towards under age youngsters the latter is a possibility.
The John Player Special ad on the right would seem to sum up the kind of attitude one should adopt towards companies who produce such advertising - as well as towards some political regimes.
See also the various commentaries on Joe Camel ads.
Now to clean up. There is nothing particular distasteful about the Palmolive ad illustrated below. It only contains the 'letters' SEX. These are very artistically presented (see the rollover) and require the insight into the advertising strategy offered by other ads for Palmolive in order to appreciate this embedded material. It is part of a series that includes the ads discussed in Ads of the Month and elsewhere. These may also have appeared in Germany. The author would be interested to receive information about these ads or copies of the German versions of this Palmolive series and any commentary about these ads, as they appeared in German magazines.
Three other German ads, for West and Winfield cigarettes, can be found elsewhere on this site.
Suggestivwerbung und unlauterer Wettbewerb
by Christof Pèochhacker
Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003