It's Miller Time
Lose your inhibitions?
The first thing a media or marketing savvy observer might note when they look at Miller beer adverts is the fact that Miller Beer and Marlboro cigarettes both belong in the Philip Morris stable. Knowledge of facts such as this is likely to bias the search for semi-subliminal material. In general, the author has endeavoured not to follow through such lines of enquiry. The ads which are illustrated on this site were originally obtained without any systematic attempt to find material related to specific companies, corporations or conglomerates and the products they advertised. Ultimately it became impossible to ignore some of the commonalities among adverts.
Where there is some degree of commonality in the advertising of related companies, this possibly indicates a common policy and raises additional issues for investigation. Any individual with knowledge of the relevant companies and their advertising agencies might like to follow through issues concerning convergence of interests, strands of evidence, common policies on the use of semi-subliminal ads, etc. Here we are simply interested in demonstrating as clearly as possible on the Internet that semi-subliminal advertising exists. And the focus is on Miller Time.
Miller ads have varied in style over the years. Those which are illustrated here have all appeared in recent years, supporting the argument made in Ads of the Month that semi-subliminal advertising is not simply a historical phenomenon. The ad on the right has the staggered caption 'Shed your inhibitions'. Seemingly this refers to the tendency for most individuals to become less inhibited after consuming alcohol.
Whilst the ad presumably refers to inhibitions in general the author does more than presume that the reference is to sexual inhibitions in particular. However, it would be wrong to presume that such an assumption simply arose from common sense knowledge. Closer scrutiny of the ad indicates that sexual cues have been embedded in the artwork and this ad actually encourages consumers to rip off their (or someone else's) clothes and have sex.
How does one reach this conclusion. First, the image of the woman on the left of the ad has the word sex embedded on her chin (see the insert on the left). To be more precise she has the letter S and X embedded on her chin. One only needs these two letters to be perceived for automatic 'recognition' of the word sex. It is, admittedly, difficult to distinguish between projection , that is the imagining of elements that are not there, and actual perceptual processes when looking at an ad such as this. However, there is no need for the 'texturing' which offers the relevant cues in photographic quality ads or ads. Superficial examination indicates that this photograph offered realistic impression of an individuals skin: closer examination indicates sets of 'organized' blemishes form the cues for the recognition of 'lettering'. One therefore has to conclude that the ad has been 'touched up' and the S and X shapes added after the photograph was taken.
There are other features of the ad that support the overall sexual interpretation. Look at the label on the bottle. It is torn - but look at the shapes on the edges of the torn label. At the top of the left hand side of the label there is a profile of a male head. The light area forms the eye of an individual with a hooked, patrician, nose.
If the portion of the label underneath the head is intended to be his body of this figure then the protrusion between Miller and the letters INE can only be taken as indicative of an erection. Complementing any such 'recognition' is the white phallic shape in the gap between the two parts of the label. The usual manipulation of texturing allows the perception of the letters S and X on the body of this phallic shape. You will need to click on the rollover to view a larger version to perceive this 'lettering'.
Further down, in the centre of the gap between the two parts of the label, is a set of bubbles. In the centre of the bubbles, just below the grey band, one can again perceive shapes indicative of lettering that can be read as sex. This time the lettering is formed by the background i.e. the spaces between the drops of liquid on the bottle, rather than texturing or any other information in the foreground of the ad.
Finally, at least so far as this page is concerned, at the bottom of this illustration is a small, cartoon type, figure with an 'alien' shaped head, looking towards the right (see extract right). The figure is a composite figure, it is ambiguous and incomplete and 'formed' from a number of drops of liquid. It can be found to the left of the pointed shape on the bottom right of the larger illustration. The fact that it is incomplete is not necessarily a handicap, it means that the imagery can be interpreted in a number of ways. It could be taken by an observer to be indicative of a naked woman, or at least a woman with an over the shoulder dress. It could even be intended as a representation of the woman on the left of the ad.
Whatever the validity of the interpretations of this latter aspect of the ad, and they are just that, interpretations, other features such as the ripped label and the sexual nature of the embedded 'lettering' are much more important. They could even influence judgements of the cartoon figure. However, the figure can also be perceived as yet another male - with an erection. What was perceived as a dress over the left shoulder of a woman can be perceived as a giant erection, as it originates in the central region of the 'body'.
Given the multiplicity of sexual messages in this ad there would seem to be a case for asking individuals to curb some of their behaviour rather loosen their inhibitions.
This ad would seem to follow on quite naturally from the previous section. Switch off Miller Beer must be one of the dreariest ads of the decade. It is obviously a counterculture ad and the only colour is the Miller Time label accompanied by the tag line 'Miller Time for cockroaches'.
Such an ad hardly seems likely to appeal to most beer drinkers. The only audience one might expect to appreciate it would be those members of recent generations somewhat disaffected with advertising but who are still affected by carefully constructed ads. However, despite its counter culture aura, the appeal embedded in this as is in a more traditional vein. It promotes an association with sex and Miller beer. This is desperate stuff as most young people associate social and drinking activities with sex anyway.
The 'traditional' semi-subliminal message is found in close proximity to the Miller brand name. This is in accord with one of the basic propositions of associative conditioning. The two elements that are to be 'fused' together in the thought processes of viewers exposed to this ad have to be close together. If there is little congruence between the elements then conditioned associations will not occur.
Look just above the coloured inset at the pattern on the wallpaper and you will see what I mean. The 'lettering' is displayed on the illustration on the left. Although not very obvious distortions to the pattern can be perceived. These would again seem to be intentional rather than incidental.
Slightly tongue in cheek, one might also note that the switch is in the off position. Is this an indication that 'the light' of thought has to be switched off when drinking Miller Beer? Or is this a symbolic indicator of brewer's droop? Who knows? If the association between sex and beer is an essential factor motivating the sale of insipid keg beers such as Miller's then give real ale a chance to perk up your sex life instead. You'll feel better for it.
If the previous ads required semi-subliminal messages to get the sexual flavour of the Miller Time message across what can one make of this ad. There does not seem much need for any semi-subliminal content in such an ad. There is already a strong, attractive, visual impression created by Rebecca, the model. However, this may not be sufficient to move Miller Beer over the counter. Some semi-subliminal content may also be required to complement the sensuous elements of the ad.
One should, perhaps, note the views of Wilson Key, the prime mover of ideas regarding subliminal advertising. He stated that messages that can be consciously appreciated have less long term impact than messages that are not consciously appreciated. Semi-subliminally or even subliminal messages would thus have more impact than Rebecca even if not consciously noticed.
Key's argument seems to the present author to be far too strong. However, Key and I would agree that semi-subliminal content will influence some people. These pages indicate that semi-subliminal elements can be found in the ads for dozens of products. It therefore seems highly probable that the use of this technique is commercially effective. When different companies associated with the same organization make use of the same techniques e.g. Philip Morris' companies, is this coincidence or is there a common company policy? If semi-subliminal advertising isn't effective then these companies are wasting a large proportion of their advertising budget modifying ads that need not be modified. Shareholders undoubtedly might have some views on this matter even if they are not concerned about the unethical nature of such manipulative ads.
Companies such as Philip Morris are renowned for evaluating their marketing activities. It seems unlikely that they do not know whether or not semi-subliminal content is influential. But Philip Morris executives have also been renowned for sticking to their gut feelings and retaining advertising campaigns which seemed to have lost their way. The Marlboro cowboy for example (see the book Ashes to Ashes). There may be nothing more behind the use of semi-subliminal advertising other than hunches and a copy cat mentality amongst advertisers. Whichever it is, the consumer deserves to know why they are continually exposed to manipulative rather than informative, entertaining or persuasive advertising.
Anyway, to return to Rebecca. Is there anything to this ad that does not immediately meet ones eye? The answer is yes.
Bear in mind the principle of associative conditioning mentioned in the Switch section above. If there is anything untoward in this ad one would expect it to be somewhere in close conjunction with the brand name. And it is.
Look carefully at Rebecca's breast (see inset on right). Maybe you have done that already if you are male. This time note that just underneath the words 'every guy', running from bottom right to top left, there is a pattern of S's and X/s that have nothing to do with the pattern on Rebecca's dress. Semi-subliminal sex and Miller Lite, as with that other well known Philip Morris product, Marlboro cigarettes, seemingly go together like peaches and cream. However, the latter provide one with a genuine experience of taste and the pleasure is real. The combination of sex and Miller Lite, or at least that portion of it due to the semi-subliminal embedded letters, is simply a creation of advertising hype. Hype can only offer an illusion of a pleasure that can never be satisfied because it does not exist.
At this point beer drinkers might refer to the Quality page for some propaganda regarding Real Ale, a drink that really ought to satisfy if looked after and served properly.
If one accepted the associative conditioning line of argument begun above then it seems clear that viewers are being 'brainwashed' by Miller Time ads. But more evidence is required. Is it the hops or the smoothness of Miller Lite that influences potential drinkers? Or is it the semi-subliminal content? The truth is, it is difficult to say with the ad on the left. There are undoubtedly indications of the letters S and X in the background on a number of occasions (they are interlinked) but they are not clear. There also seemed to be some artistic changes to the bottom right hand corner of the glass. This would be the first part of the advert that a viewer would see as they turned a magazine page over. However, viewing this web copy of the original does not produce clear illustrative material. Any further suggestions from the autho at this point may simply be an instance of projection rather than visual perception. See the page on Imagination and Projection for some discussion of these terms. The author would therefore like more Miller ads to analyse. Have you got any that you no longer need?
Don't drink the image. Don't buy the hype. Don't get ripped off.
Drink Real Ale. It's Real Cool, It's Tasty and unlike most nationally distributed beers sold in Britain, Real Ales are not pasteurised and carbonated i.e. they are not dead beers.
For for a slight diversion from the subject of 'subliminal ads' and a change in focus to Quality Beer (not ads) click here.
The analyses above were produced on the basis of a small number of Miller Beer adverts. Have you any lying on your shelves, in your cupboards or your attic? Send an e-mail if you have and would like to see them put to good use. If you have any ads for any other product mentioned in these pages from the 80's or early 90's that you would like to see put to good use send an e-mail to the author (see also the Wanted page for more information). All contributions welcomed.
Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003