Benson and Hedges Gold Bricks
If you have worked your way through certain of the introductory pages for the Subliminal World you will have noted by now the 'letters' s e and x at the end of this plug. This ad was produced around 1988-90. Although it is the easiest of Benson and Hedges (UK) semi-subliminal ads to illustrate the company would seem to have incorporated the letters s e and x into many of their ads over many years.
The sexual theme would seem to go back to the 1980's if the illustration at the bottom of the page is a good guide. The means by which Benson and Hedges incorporated sex into their ads is really quite impressive. If their ads were judged on the basis of technical sophistication and range of techniques then Benson and Hedges ads win outright. Although ads for Marlboro match Benson and Hedges ads in terms of content, the Marlboro ads generally rely very much upon relatively 'straightforward' use of embedded techniques. Benson and Hedges incorporate 'lessons learned' from studying psychological and artistic techniques. But note that on this point one can never be too definitive. It is possible that more sophisticated techniques have been used in Marlboro ads and simply escaped the attention of the author.
In addition to straightforward manipulation of electric wiring into a close approximation of the word sex, Benson and Hedges ads have used anamorphic art and a technique for presenting a series of visual images in print that bears a close resemblance to what occurs using tachistoscopes. A tachistoscope is a device like a slide projector that can project a series of images extremely quickly. Nowadays the same process would most likely rely on computer presentations and a simple example of the process can be found by observing the banner heading for the pages on this site. Embedded in the repeat presentations of the word 'semi' can be found a single presentation of the world 'almost'. By shortening the presentation time if would be possible to present the word at a speed that would make perception impossible ie make the presentation at a subliminal level.
There is at least one Marlboro ad that seems to rely, on part, on the use of anamorphic techniques. Such ads, as in the case of the anamorphic Benson and Hedges ad discussed below, may be rare. However, the may not be as rare as they appear. To detect one usually requires a stroke of luck' as straightforward scrutiny is unlikely to reveal anything particularly unusual.
Different versions of ads do not necessarily contain the same image. In some cases this may be because it is desirable to avoid closer scrutiny. For example the type of scrutiny that might be given to ads appearing in World Advertising Review. If you examine the version of the ad shown in the Review (see below) one notes that the ad differs from the example illustrated above. In fact changes in the lighting of the plug and wiring in the prize winning illustration seemingly show the wiring laid out in a much more innocuous fashion. What can be perceived as overlapping E and X in the magazine version becomes a relatively clear F and a projection turning the opposite direction from the projection in the first ad shown. One can be read as sex the other as sf.
The two segments containing the shaped 'lettering' are extracted from the ads and shown in the illustrations below.
This ad for Benson and Hedges combines anamorphic art with semi-subliminal artwork. On their own, either would be difficult to detect. In most cases they would only be detected by chance or after very careful and detailed scrutiny of the ad from a number of different angles.
The concept of anamorphic art received considerable publicity in the late 1990's in association with publicity surrounding the painting The Two Ambassadors by Holbein. Holbein's painting includes an anamorphic skull painted on the floor tiles. This can only be clearly seen if the painting is viewed from one angle. From any other angle it simply seems like a (very) notable flaw in the centre of the room the Ambassadors are standing in.
The Benson and Hedges ad takes the anamorphic technique and marries it with semi-subliminal presentation. The topmost deckchair seems merely indicative of the surreal presentation of a Benson and Hedges cigarette pack. However, it incorporates anamorphic distortions of the letters S and E (or was it Benson and Hedges) (into approximations of the letters B and H, the letters one would expect to see as they are part of the Benson and Hedges logo).
Due to anamorphic distortion the letters s and e would normally be 'read' as Benson and Hedges, just as Holbein's skull seems to be a flaw in the floor. Viewers assume that the red elements on the top right deck chair are 'smudged' lettering, indicating the brand name. However, a sideways glance or holding the page at an angle to the viewers line of sight will reveal that the red smudge 'collapses' into the letters s and e. only by faint alterations in the colouring of the ink.
The S and E are presented separately from the X in this ad, although they are positioned closely together so that they would be perceived together. The third letter of sex is relatively clear and can be found underneath the topmost deckchair.
In the heat of the night
Here is an early effort at introducing secondary imagery into Benson and Hedges advertising. The ad contains an image of an on the side wall of the cinema showing the film In the heat of the night'.
The cigarette pack displayed on the side of the cinema is an ad for Benson &Hedges and the 'gold' pack has apparently been 'melted' by the heat of the film. The message here is not simply related to the ability of heat to melt 'gold'. There is an allusion here to sexual 'heat'. Look more carefully at the insert and you will see that the molten portion of the 'gold pack' has taken on the shape of an androgynous figure viewed from below.
As noted elsewhere with various visual illusions, this molten figure offers two possible interpretations. Whether one perceives a female or a male figure will depend upon ones expectations and the point of the ad that becomes the focal point of perception.
In both figures the lower legs and buttocks are clear. But, if one perceives a female, she has a 'beehive' hairdo, foreshortened trunk, upraised arms and breasts. If the perception is of a male, again there is a foreshortened body but this time the head is much smaller and situated underneath what was previously perceived as the females 'beehive' hairdo. Incidentally, just in case you had not noticed, the male figure has an erection.
If one needs additional convincing that a sexual message was to be conveyed by this ad one need look no further than the area of the ad just above the 'beehive' hairdo. The letters s e and x are readily apparent in the original ad. The e is smaller than the S and X. Regrettably one needs to use a high definition image to present this lettering.
The ads illustrated on this page are relatively old. Benson & Hedges did not however give up attempting to manipulate the cognitions (and presumably behaviour) of viewers of their ads - they simply changed their strategy to play on emotions. More will be written on this subject in a separate set of pages. But just to indicate that leopards don't change their spots here is a recent beer coaster (June, 2001) for another brand in the Benson & Hedges stable - Hamlet cigars. The letters s and x, with an intervening approximation of e in one case, are incorporated in the smoke. The upper set are relatively easy to perceive and the second set are rather less obvious. Happiness apparently isn't just Hamlet - it's sex. I reckon many more people would agree with the latter than the former but find it abhorrent that a life affirming drive should be used in a semi-subliminal manner to support a death dealing habit.
For some additional commentary and supporting illustrations on the surrealist aspect of Benson and Hedges ads see the critical paper Eros to Thanatos - Cigarette Adverts by Alastair McIntosh
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Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003