Making it big in the movies
It was noticeable during June/July/August of 1999 that Marlboro advertising had taken an unusual turn. It seemingly turned its back on producing original adverts and began to reissue ads used a few years ago. This reissuing of ads continues into 2001. Three examples are the jackrabbit sitting disconsolately under the Fast Food strapline, the desolate but spectacular scenery in the panoramic poster associated with the slogan It's why we have Cinemascope and finally, the gigantic microphone for radio station KCMV in Good Morning Texas. Towards the end of the year the It's Big also featured prominently in the press and on poster hoardings.
No doubt anyone enquiring about the reasons for reissuing these ads will be told it is for reasons of economy or to make the best use of high quality advertising or some other plausible reason. One must admit that they are more attractive than a lot of Marlboro ads. Possibly it also had something to do with uncertainty as to the impact of government legislation in the UK But, whatever explanation is given, one can be certain that there will be no acknowledgement that all of these adverts contain very sophisticated semi-subliminal advertising material.
Most of the semi-subliminal material in these ads is too subtle to display at a reasonable size on a computer screen. Interested readers are encouraged to dig out original copies of the two ads and study them carefully in the light of the information presented below and elsewhere in these pages. A full discussion of these and many other Marlboro ads can be found in the author's book Sexy, Subliminal and Deadly? The psychology of manipulative advertising. Other Marlboro ads can be found on the Masters of Manipulation page, Just Words, and elsewhere on this site.
One little oddity does, however, stand out in the Cinemascope ad athat can be scanned to produce an image suitable for a web page. On the blown-up image on the left it is relatively easy, even for the unpracticed observer of semi-subliminal adverts, to notice a 'rider' lying 'astride' the centre area of the butte. He (or is it she?) could be riding a horse, it is after all Marlboro Cowboy Country. However, note that on the right of the figure there is what might be considered the obligatory phallic shape i.e. a shape that is longer than it is wide, if the viewer is to maintain a mental schema that identifies Marlboro as a sexy cigarette. Such interpretation of shapes is usually but not always irrelevant. But, if you keep your imagination on a loose rein, take into account the colloquial meaning of 'a ride', and look closely at an original version of this ad, you will perceive much more than a collection of phallic shapes. Potential Marlboro smokers should look and think more about the intentions lying behind such advertising instead of being subborned by what seems to be innocuous advertising. They might then avoid being taken for a terminal healthy ride by Philip Morris and Co.
A hare-brained scheme?
Here we have the second 'repeat' ad. Seemingly this ad, like the Cinemascope ad above, has something about it which makes it rather effective. And if semi-subliminial content is effective, then it certainly has. But we will come to these shortly.
One need only reflect upon common ideas about rabbits, hares and their cousins to come up with various ideas about sex (see the Kamel page for another variation on associations with rabbits). However, don't always focus on the obvious. Most images and symbolic images have a number of different connotations, and each may be relevant to a small proportion of the population. In addition to fantastic reproductive potential, there are also connotations with loneliness. This jack-rabbit is all on his own, bereft of even the comfort that can be obtained from a Marlboro or any other cigarette, and miles from anywhere. Overtly commenting upon being alone was the misfortune of Strand cigarettes but presenting the same message overtly is seemingly successful. Older surfers and ad professionals will undoubtedly remember the slogan Never be alone with a Strand.
O.K., I hear you saying, so these are some of the connotations of the images in the ad. Where are the semi-subliminal elements? Well, they are not too difficult to find. Did you notice in the small image up abovve that this is an X-certificate ad? There is a clear X across the centre of the ad AND at the bottom left hand corner of the X there is a smaller x and just to the left of the x is a shape that contains the letter S or an E, dependent on how you focus on it. Along the bottom of the image there are additional 'letters'. These 'letters' would not be noticeable if the ad were viewed normally. But you might still perceive other 'letters'.
First consider what you would see if you were turning the pages of the magazines this double page ad was placed in. Note the cross to the left of the jack-rabbit in the illustration above. If you imagine the left hand page only half opened then what you will perceive is not a cross but an arrow (as the right hand side of the cross will not yet be visible). The arrow points to the jack-rabbit. This seems rather curious, given that the jack-rabbit will most likely be the focus of attention anyway once the full ad is in view. This would seem to indicate that there are good reasons for ensuring that attention is drawn in this direction. Elsewhere you will note that Marlboro ads are quite keen on providing directional cues for their viewers. They do not wish to rely on chance alone to lead people to (unconsciously) view their semi-subliminal art.
The reason is illustrated alongside. Look closely at the shoulder of the jack-rabbit, where the white fur begins to blend into the brown. There are two clear and distinct letters, S and X. Underneath the X is the letter E, somewhat less distinct. If these are not evident to you in the full illustration take a closer look at the blow-up of this segment in the illustration presented below.
There is a problem here that affects attempts to illustrate many semi-subliminal components on the Internet. Changes in perception often occur when image size is changed. As the spacing between elements is altered this may alter ones judgments regarding the nature of the image that is recognised. In these illustrations, however, the composition remain essentially the same, although, in the blown up version the 'lettering' is beginning to 'break up' and likely to become perceived simply as blotches of coloured fur.
As with the Cinemascope ad shown above, there are other elements to this ad worthwhile looking for in original copies of the ad. For a fuller discussion see the author's forthcoming book, Sexy, Subliminal and Deadly?
Additional note: This ad was published for a third time in November, 2000. In part this was undoubtedly because of the forthcoming ban on tobacco advertising in the EC and reluctance to commission new ads in the uncertain climate for tobacco advertising in the UK. However, given the vast number of Marlboro ads that have been produced the selection of specific ads for repeat veiwing would tend to support two arguments. First that repeat viewing is influential. Secondly that evaluation of these specific ads indicated that they influenced sufficient smokers to justify their reselection.
As you may have gleaned by now, many Marlboro ads, including this Good Morning Texas ad have more to them than meets the eye. Some ideas may be triggered by the speeding car on the right of this ad. This may remind smokers of the 'rush' achieved by inhaling from the first cigarette of the day (see Words for another ad focussing on the nicotine rush). The ad also offers an image that many people might associate with feeling down - the early morning blues - and needing a smoke.
To find the semi-subliminal content however one has to look carefully at the 'radio microphone'. There are no simple letters embedded in the mike, nor are there any phallic shapes nor manikins with erections. All that the lay observor might note will be the distressed lattice work frame. The distress could be associated with dereliction. However, if one looks more carefully, and takes into account psychological research into perceptual illusions produced by looking at arrays of dots and various textured patterns, one is encouraged to think again. Strange as it may seem to the layman - the word sex is embedded within this latticework. It requires a fairly technical explanation but an example at the foot of this section clearly indicates the possibility of presenting potentially meaningful images using only patterns of visual information.
The ad does not present a clear set of letters, nor will you find incomplete letters. In fact you are unlikely to find letters at all in the conventional sense. Nevertheless, the author would contend that if one looks quickly at the microphone (on the full size advert) the variation in colouring and shading is intended to be perceived as letters.
Note that the discolouration is not regular nor even. It swirls around considerably - giving the S's. And for a starting cue look at the top left hand corner of the 'microphone' in the insert on the right. There is a pretty good approximation of an elongated S arising from the supporting framework with the top tip projecting just above the top left. There are three others in the section of the latticework just below the midline on the right hand side. The latticework itself offers numerous E's - simply imagine an E and you will be able to dissociate a letter from the background quite asily. As for the X's look in some of the dark areas inset into the latticework. The one fourth from the right and second row up from the midline is easiest to spot.
These 'letters' would not be seen with normal viewing but they could be inferred if ones view of the latticework microphone were 'blurred'. Fluctations in the information received by the visual system could lead to perception of the lettering. Psychological research relating to this phenomenon can be found in most psychology textbooks and also in an excellent book on Visual Allusions by Nicholas Wade. This provides numerous examples of images that do not actually exist but can be discerned when viewing variations in arrays of dots, lines or patterns. He includes an example of a self portrait using the technique that seems somewhat comparable with 'lettering' in the microphone example. This is reproduced on the right. Click on the image for a larger and more disturbing illustration in which the lines seems to shimmer, making it difficult to focus. Simpler examples of how we can 'see' what is not actually there, or is only suggested by a variety of cues, can be found on the Psychology and Imagine pages.
All in all, this ad, is simply another attempt by an ad agency working for Philip Morris to make use of sophisticated visual images to associate sex with smoking Marlboro by covert means. Additionally, by triggering a variety of thoughts related to moods and experiences, they encourage continued smoking.
Good Morning Texas! And everywhere else! Wake up to these subtle attempts at mind manipulation and ask your Congressman, Member of Parliament or other elected represenatives to find out whether evaluation of Marlboro ad campaigns indicate that semi-subliminal elements in advertising are effective. The indications form the research of the author and his students is that they do influence people's judgements. See the Experiments page for additional information when this is available for public presentation (probably around May, 2001).
Marlboro ads are nothing if not varied in settings even if the message never really varies. Click on the image above to go to Tombstone Territory. Some additional information about the Fast Food and Cinemascope ads can be found on the Serial Killers page.
Would you be interested in supporting the development of a web site focussing specifically on cigarette advertising, smoking behaviour, nicotine addiction and related information? In particular would you like to help encourage youngsters to develop a healthy scepticism about advertising practices associated with cigarette advertising and promotion? If you can offer either financial assistance to develop such a site or have material available that could be of use on such a site, the author would be pleased if you would contact him.
Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003