Various German cigarette brands make use of semi-subliminal content in their advertising. Davidoff and Marlboro use this technique ad as does Winfield (see below). West also seems to be another brand that draws upon semi-subliminal content to enhance a particular interpretation of an ad or to add additional meaning.
Despite the ad on the right being a German ad, the caption is in English. 'Test it' would clearly make sense to literate, English speaking Germans. But would they be sufficiently sophisticated or ad-literate to appreciate that what is to be tested is not simply West cigarettes?
A closer look at the legs of the horse reveals a clear phallic shape embedded in the upper portion of the horses leg. Note that I am not referring to the space between the horses forelegs. That aspect of the ad may be considered a subsidiary element but it is not semi-subliminal Additionally, the male model in the ad is nonchalantly pointing at the horses leg with the object in his left hand.
On its own a phallic shape would mean very little, even if characters in an ad were apparently pointing at them. It is only when a theme can be discerned across a number of adverts that it becomes possible to appreciate its meaning. The phallic shape, in this instance, with all the connotations associated with it, is intentional. What makes it of relevance in this instance is the posture of the female smoker and her relationship with the male model in the ad. Her left and the cigarette pack she is holding are undoubtedly intended to be perceived as a phallic substitute. Whether she is perceived as the person to Test, or be Tested, will depend upon the perspective of the viewer. Note also that the upright phallic shape is placed above the West logo. The brand name is placed over a series of coloured lines. This would not be accidental. If it is part of an overall marketing plan then this alignment is intended to convey some meaning, either on its own or in conjunction with other factors. In this case, if one smokes West (or more accurately by perceiving the meaning inherent in the positioning of the models) then one can expect see a physiological change occurring. The type of change is indicated by the phallic shape on the horses leg.
The sexual interpretation of this second Test It ad is very similar to that evident above. In this ad, published shortly after the ad discussed above, a woman in a red dress is clearly sitting in a suggestive pose. This is more overtly suggestive than the pose of her predecessor. However the message is pretty much the same.
The elderly gentleman on the right might not be in quite the same physical condition as the young model above but nevertheless he can expect to respond physiologically in the same manner to attractive young women, posing suggestively and smoking West cigarettes. But regrettably, all he will be able to do is massage himself as is indicated by the illustration on the right.
West cigarette advertising, once again maintains a long tradition of attempting to maintain an association with cigarette smoking and sexual behaviour. The cannot present their message as overtly as they would like so they have to resort to covert means of presenting their message. Viewers appreciate the contribution of the models and their meaning but this can be discounted. It is after all pretty obvious. However, what they do not appreciate are the supplementary, semi-subliminal, elements that also present the same type of message. If these are attended to uncritically and become part of the store of mental imagery that viewers relate to cigarettes it is not surprising that cigarettes are deemed sexy.
The Wizard of Oz
One might be forgiven for thinking that the Wizard of Oz was a children's fairy tale. It isn't. He really did exist. As this German ad for Winfield cigarettes indicates, the Wizard is alive and well and seemingly intent on 'stealing' some of the techniques associated with Marlboro and other mainstream cigarette ads. The Wizard apparently has the power to increase the size of the male reproductive organs quite substantially. The semi-subliminal elements of this ad are not particularly obvious but perceptive viewers will already have had their attention drawn to certain aspects of this ad. This, in part has been accomplished by the semi-subliminal features.
Initially, these direct the attention of viewers towards the branded pack but the core element is focussed on the same type of association evident in the West ad discussed above. Situated alongside the 'giant' pack you can see a somewhat 'out of focus' rock. It is shaped rather like a cat sitting down but one can also note that part of this shape corresponds to the outline of the males testes and penis. On its own this is rather meaningless but read on and its significance will become clear.
To the right of the Kangaroo warning sign (very appropriate where Aussie cigarettes are concerned) there is a cliff face. Embedded in the cliff face there is an array 'faces'. These are all looking towards the pack and the 'sitting cat' rock. The first is indistinct and illustrated on the left.
Accept the lighter area about half way up the illustration as his chin, the darker area just above the chin as a small mouth, and the nose and eyes should then become apparent. A strong, masculine face should 'pop into' consciousness. Next to that is the, possibly more easily recognized, face of a bearded man. Only his moustache and a hooked nose are readily apparent. Followed by another smaller face.
None of these faces are particularly distinct and their recognition in part relies upon recognition of key facial features. The usual argument presented against such recognition is that one can extract such features from almost any complex surface such as a cliff face. This is true. But when this occurs what is recognized corresponds to what nature intended. The 'recognition' is random and is unlikely to bear a meaningful relationship with other features in the environment. If the ad above was based on a true photograph one might expect some 'facial' cues but not many and the 'out of focus' rock would be as clear as the rest of the imagery. In ads such as this the normal environmental cues are tinkered with so that they will 'lead' viewers to attend to what is deemed important by those who produce the ads. However, such directing is subtle and will not be consciously attended to. So what were the creators of this ad attempting to do.
If you look more carefully at the right hand side of the base of the 'sitting cat' on an original copy of the ad you will see a manikin with his right arm upraised. He also has a slightly misplaced erection - or perhaps a massive loaf of French bread glued to his navel. It is also perhaps pertinent that, with a little bit of imagination, perhaps enhanced by the other three faces all looking in this direction, the section of the beach directly to the right of this figure can be perceived as the outline of yet another 'face' looking directly at this manikin. The manikin thus provides a complementary cue regarding arousal to the embedded shape in the 'sitting cat' rock. Winfield thus has aspirations to be perceived as sexy as West, Marlboro, Davidoff, etc.
One final point is worth making. As indicated, this ad has a set of semi-subliminal cues embedded in it. These help provide some sexual meaning to the ad. But the most obvious cue to the sexual pretensions of Winfield lie in the positioning of the 'cat shaped' rock. Note that it is positioned directly alongside the Winfield pack and it was noted that there was a shape embedded in the rock. If one ignores the background to the rock and considers the rock as an extension of the Winfield pack, then it will be 'obvious' to anyone who studies cigarette advertising that the pack has a 'hard on'. Marlboro eat your heart out!
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Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003