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Squeaky Clean

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Bold Bold thumbnail Bold thumbnail 2. Bold thumbnail 3. Surf Surf thumbnail. Surf thumbnail 2. Fairy Fairy thumbnail.


Be Bold, Be Brave, Be a Subliminal Someone in Advertising

As was noted elsewhere on this site it is relatively rare to find examples of semi-subliminal on packaging. At least this was the case until recently. Perhaps the originators of this technique are becoming somewhat bolder.

Click for a larger, floating, image. Bold washing powder pack.On the left is a pack of Bold washing powder. There is seemingly nothing unusual about the pack and the characteristics are pretty much the same as dozens of other containers of washing powders. However if you look more closely at the foot of the pack (quick before they get Extract from Bold packet.taken off the shelves) you will see the face of a young boy or a girl or perhaps it is an elfin faced young woman. The 'face' is looking towards an area of the packaging where a number of letters are evident. The letters are SEX. The E's and X are clear enough but the S (or S's) are overlapping with the others and other elements of the packaging so they can only be guessed at. See the rollover for the positions of some of the letters but note that the S is only one of a number of possibilities.

Click for a larger, floating, image. Benson & Hedges tools ad with phallic anvil. Needless to say, given the use of semi-subliminal material in the packaging one can anticipate the same technique being used in print advertising. Although nowhere near as clear as in the package one can also find a plethora of 'shapes' indicative of lettering in Norman Wisdom's jacket in the left hand image in the position where the Bold pack is later inserted on the right. The quality of the imagery is such that one could easily consider that the judgement relies as much, if not more, on projection of Extract from Norman Wisdom adexpected lettering. However the third of the Bold ads to be shown here also contains a semi-subliminal figure. This seems sufficient reason to think that the 'lettering' in the Norman Wisdom ad is actually present, if on the borderline of perceptual ability, and not simply due to imagination.

This third ad shows a rather surrealistic view, looking out through the back of a 'wardrobe' at some countryside beyond. Somewhat surprisingly the sky is dark blue Click for a larger, floating, image. Bold ad showing a view of countryside through a window in a wardrobe. rather than the expected summery light blue one would normally expect. There may be a reason for this. It could be that it is to distract viewers from another dark figure embedded in the greenery underneath. If the sky had been in marked contrast then more attention might have been given to the hedge that is apparent midway across the fields.

A closer look at this hedge (on an original ad) reveals that it is, in fact, a couple lying down on their stomachs and facing each other. Or at least the (male?) figure on the left is lying in this position. The (female?) 'figure' on the right is represented simply by a head, as if the body were buried in the soil or, perhaps more appropriately, given the SEX embedded in the packaging, she is lying underneath the male figure. Note that oneExtract from Bold ad. should simply use the rollover to give you an idea of where the figures are present. It would require take more artistic ability than the author possesses to delineate them precisely. Once you 'know' where to look the brain 'constructs' the image that is perceived on the basis of all the information present. If you doubt this, have a look at the Psychology and Imagination pages.

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Surf'n'Sin Here We Come

Not to be outdone in the semi-subliminal stakes Surf also has some semi-subliminal content. This is Click for a larger, floating, image. Benson & Hedges tools ad with phallic anvil. presented at two different levels. At the less obvious level there are two representations of figures embedded in the wave. On the left is a fairly discrete 'male face'. On the right there is the upper torso of a 'woman'. At a more obvious, Extract from Surf pack.symbolic, level one can note that the wave is curling over what can be conceived to be a phallic shape.

The edge of the breaking wave can also be conceived as rather stubby fingers. The connotations of this ad are thus very similar to that of the Bold ad above. Each Click for a larger, floating, image.  A 'naughty' ad for attempting to associate the brand name/product with sexuality.

The sexual message is carried over into a number of other Surf ads. These clearly make use of sexual innuendo as the ad on the left indicates. Such innuendo is, of course, much more amenable to conscious appraisal and if noticed would tend to be judged as as 'rather humorous'. However, embedding figures related to the same message is not subject to conscious appraisal and can only be judged as manipulative.


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Wonderful FairyAnimated Angel.

Fairy pack illustration.Finally, here is another soap ad, this time for Fairy.

The pack from which this illustration was obtained shows the same youngster in two poses. The major one shows him (?) happily snuggled up in a warm towel. The smaller inset shows him looking rather worried. Why should this be so? Perhaps he realizes Mum might be rather upset at the mess he has produced.

Although it may not seem so, this ad has included a number of semi-subliminal elements to enhance a) the perceived pleasantness of Fairy and b) the unpleasantness produced by the youngster. The hatching on the larger image (just to the left of the second green stripe up) leaves a number of areas open to interpretation as the hatched elements are not aligned. One can consider it these aberrations are simply intended to be perceived as creases in the towelling. However, a more cynical observer of advertising would note that they share the same characteristics as letters, rather than the regularity of creases.

In the smaller image one can note the unusual shape of the towel being held by the youngster. It has a number of discrete elements evident at the top. There is also a skin coloured element that can be considered to be his thumb. However, it helps draw attention to the phallic shape to its right and the orifice shape underneath. This ad would seem to be reminding first of all that kids can produce a load of s**t and secondly that Fairy helps solve all such problems. Children, of course, do have a fairly direct relationship with the subject of sex and this is also evident in the ad. For hands that do dishes..........also do a lot more besides.

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And don't forget the Palmolive ads

There are a number of Palmolive ads from the UK and Germany on other pages of this site e.g. check out Ads of the Month, Oct. 1988. These also are not as squeaky clean as the products they promote. Additional commentary also can be found regarding some Persil ads by using the Search Engine noted below.

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Commentary and information about any of the ads or requests on this Web site can be sent by e-mail to the Webmaster

To the best of the author's knowledge none of the illustrations, in the format used on this site, are subject to copyright. If copyright has been inadvertently breached please contact the author in order to rectify the matter. All brands and logos referred to or illustrated on this site are the property of the relevant companies and copyright holders. However, commentary and other information produced by the author can be freely copied and distributed. Similarly, illustrations of ads, so long as they are accompanied by commentary or are presented in the form of parody, can also be copied and distributed but please acknowledge as the source. Translation of tobacco company ads and relevant commentary into languages other than English will be particularly welcomed.

Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003


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