Stiff Little Fingers
James Boag's Premium Lager is undoubtedly, in the opinion of the author, one of the best beers in Australia, far outstripping most of the competition. However, it seems to have gone over the top in terms of its advertising and the design of its labels.
Have a peek at the lady looking through the keyhole in the ad illustrated above. It seems innocuous enough - at first glance. Then take a second, more careful look. You will most likely note that there is an unlikely concordance between the door handle and the fingers of her left hand (see right). The impression is that her hand is skeletal. The message absorbed by - or triggered within - any viewer who is likely to be a purchaser of Boag's Premium Lager is that this beer is associated with termination.
If this association is nothing more than an isolated idea derived from Arnold Schwarzenager's Terminator movies then it is of no consequence. But this does not seem to be the case. There is death related imagery on the label of each bottle of Premium Lager. Before looking at the small inserts see if you can perceive a skull-like image embedded in the scene on the label (below left). So far as the author can recollect from his last trip to Australia a related image exists on the label of another of James Boag's beers (a copy would be appreciated from anyone with James Boag's labels to spare).
If you did not notice the skull like image then don't despair. It isn't really intended to be noticed - at least not consciously. The 'skull' has been extracted in the small insert on the right. The rollover image has a darkened background to make it easier see.
Bear in mind that when one perceives an image normally, as when viewing the label, it is likely to seem much clearer than when it is extracted from their context. The processes of the brain that are involved in visual perception 'clean up' untidy images so that we get a much 'cleaner' impression than actually exists in reality. Even incomplete figures seem complete (see the visual illusions on the page devoted to Psychology and Imagination).
This type of advertising/labelling, emphasizing death, would seem to indicate that James Boag Premium Lager is strong and has more in common with spirits than most other beers. Adverts for spirits (see Jack Daniels ads and Ads from the Archives) quite often contain unsettling, distressing and death related imagery (see Faces I, Faces II and Faces III) whereas beer ads tend to focus on the traits associated with lager drinking louts, jack the lads, and sex, sex, sex (see the Miller Time, Boddington and Budweiser pages).
James Boag's don't seem to restrict the semi-subliminal contents to death related imagery. Here is a label for Strongarm Bitter. Thisshows a powerfully muscled male. However, note the distinctly phallic shape of the rippling muscles under the bottle. Compare them with the illustration on the right. [insert muscle builder illustration for comparison] It would seem that Boag's are aiming to convince the drinker that Strongarm Bitter is more than just a great drink that has been around since 1881. The text on the second label also notes "Boag's Strongarm has been brewed to celebrate the satisfaction of winning against all odds. Total commitment creates a powerful thirst. Strongarm Bitter is brewed to satisfy that thirst." It also would seem to be claiming potency in another field.
Amber Hype: Imitation Oz
Foster's lager is hardly a competitor for James Boag's Premium Crown but it nevertheless has a large following in the UK The semi-subliminal component of Foster's advertising and promotional material is more in tune with 'traditional' advertising oriented towards gullible young males who think that over-hyped lager is the best alcoholic drink one can get. I was about to end that sentence with the word savour but the phrase 'to savour a (British) lager' is almost a contradiction in terms. Over-chilled, tasteless, drinks such as lager can only be drunk, they cannot be savoured. Real ales, unlike over-chilled keg beers can be savoured, enjoyed, vary markedly in taste (and sometimes in quality when brewers and publicans don't make the effort to look after them properly).
Typical of the Foster's promotion material are the coasters illustrated on this page. The one above seems to illustrate a glass of the so called Amber Nectar (definitely one for the birds and bees, rather than anyone who wished to enjoy their beer). To describe Foster's as Amber Nectar needless to say is a typical example of advertising hype. Equivalent to advertising the behaviour of the surfer on the right as World Championship quality. Words that connote quality are abused to distort meaning and push mediocre and indistinguishable products on to an undiscerning public.
Foster's might be an undistinguished drink but the advertising has a bit more depth to it. But the semi-subliminal element that is of interest would never be noticed by the average drinker. This has been illustrated at actual size below. Although there are no clear and distinct letters there is little doubt that the shapes that are evident in the bottom right of the glass are intended to be perceived as the word sex. As discussed elsewhere (see Glossary), if such placement in coasters or ads is effective in influencing viewers then this is an example of associative conditioning. Given that many young drinkers are already primed for sexual conquest or 'the chase' when socializing in a pub, it does not take much imagination to imagine them seeing Fosters as an essential ingredient. The fact that too much cheap lager leads to brewer's droop is hardly likely to be taken into account if one has been 'brainwashed' into thinking of Fosters as the sexy lager.
Other Foster's coasters make use of variations on the same theme. The coaster below left, for example, would seem to simply show a map of Australia, the country whose ambience admen continually try to transplant on to **** imitation Aussie beer.
The map of Australia is reasonably accurate. But where is Tasmania? If your geography is rather lousy, have a peek at the map on the right to see where it should be. Perhaps this is a case of sour grapes and *** don't wish to publicize the state where James Boag's Premium Lager originates. Who knows. But it isn't Australia that one should focus on. The important semi-subliminal element is in south east Asia. Does it look a little odd to you.
The entire length of the coastline has, in fact, little in common with reality. What is does have is the vestiges of a Dickensian, Scrooge-like, face. Note the long pointed nose and an enormous, jutting, beard or chin. Or perhaps the protrusion is intended to be the visual equivalent of sex on the previous coaster. It is certainly phallic in shape and could be perceived as appropriate when drinking Fosters. Young male drinkers are reputed to think of activity involving the relevant bodily appendage once every 6 minutes on average (or is it every six seconds). Keeping in mind the social status of many of those who produce this type of artwork and their view of those who drink Fosters, it could also simply mean that whoever produced the art work for this coaster simply think that Fosters drinkers are simply pricks. See the Boddington's ads for another example of ad creatives taking the mickey out of their customers clients.
This figure is a bit more obvious when the coaster is turned 90 degrees to the left as the illustration on the right indicates. See the Psychology and Imagination pages for the rules of perception that can be applied to ambiguous figures such as this.
If you are in doubt about the interpretation of this artwork take a closer look at the drop of liquid at the bottom of the coaster. It does not reproduce very clearly on screen but on the original one can note there is apparently a soft 'ball' in the centre. This is apparently 'tied up' with some string-like material. The 'string' divides the 'ball' into two reasonably equal portions. 'Balls' in other words. Additionally, the 'string' is not neatly tied around the ball, it has variations in it. The centre is clearly a cross and the portion to the upper left has a swirl in it, allowing an S shape to be perceived. S and X = sex.
Whatever Fosters lack in term of qualities as a lager, it clearly has a sexy edge in its promotional material. See the Fallacies page for an example from one of its competitors, Holsten Pils. As the ad alongside also indicates, whoever produces Fosters promotional advertising also would seem to have a sense of humour.
You might think you could get up a head of steam drinking Fosters lager. However, note the lettering above Export. It's YP. Perhaps it should be read as Why Pee? That, after all, is the inevitable outcome of drinking a few pints of gassy lager.
Foster's produced a number of comic book ads, two of which are reproduced here. Each pertains to tell a story of trial and travail that ends with the successful acquisition of a chilled glass of Foster's. The main pictures are only the setting for the inset containing the glass and can. Long before Guinness began their worth waiting campaign these ads convey the desire for a long, cool drink at the end of a hard days work.
The admen were still hard at work trying to embed additional messages in the artwork. The vast majority of ads with condensation running down the side of a glass do not contain any additional images. But if you look at this you will not have too much difficulty envisaging various other elements as the drops of condensation have been carefully arranged to provide you with the essential cues.
Take you pick as to what you will see. SX again. A dancing man with outstretched arms. A face with wide open eyes and an equally wide open mouth. And you have not even looked at the original, full size, ad.
My advice is, forget Foster's. If you don't already live there, take a trip to Australia. She's Beaut! So are the Aussies. And they are beginning to learn about real ale. Just watch out for the advertising snakes and the kangaroos. They don't always seem as easy to find as the bouncing kangaroo on this surfers swimsuit.
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.
Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003