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What's Subliminal and What Isn't : Part II

Coppertone�Coppertone thumbnail Courvoisier Courvoisier thumbnail Dior Dior thumbnail Eden Eden thumbnail

Fendi Fendi thumbnail De Beers De Beers thumbnail Hyundai Hyundai thumbnail Not quite Subliminal Image almost subliminal thumbnail

Kool Kool thumbnail Texture Textured ad thumbnail.


Click for a larger, floating, image. Coppertone Butterfly.This ad is typical of an ad that seeks to attract attention or interest on the basis of content that is not natural. The shadow of the female model is that of a butterfly. Such oddities may have meaning over and above the obvious but they are clearly not semi-subliminal, even if no attention is directed towards the oddity.

Verdict: Interesting but definitely not semi-subliminal.

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Keep Kool

Click for a larger, floating, image. Kool ad with sex embedded in tattoo.This is a typical contemporary semi-subliminal ad. It attempts to associate sex with Kool cigarettes. However, there is no obvious spelling of the word sex or even SX. In this case sex is presented in an almost symbolic manner.

Notice the tattoo on the man's wrist. It is not as regular as one would expect. If you inspect it a little bit more closely you will see that it incorporates the letters SEX rather tattoo with sex embedded in it.neatly but not obviously so. Other ads for Kool cigarettes are equally as devious - and interesting. Keep an eye out for them but Keep Kool.

Verdict : Definitely semi-subliminal.

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Drowning ones sorrows

Click for a larger, floating, image.  Courvoisier ad with 'faces' etc embedded in drink.Extract from Courvoisier ad.This ad, on the other hand, can be labelled as a semi-subliminal ad. It contains ambiguous elements that can be interpreted as meaningful. For example, the various ripples, bubbles and swirls in this glass of Courvoisier seem to present reasonably good examples of what was referred to on the previous page as Faces of The Damned. Whether these were intentional or not can only be determined by analyses of a series of ads. If the same type of features appear consistenly one can presume that the embdded elements are intentional. It is worth noting, however, that although other drinks are often poured into glasses e.g. lemonade and other soft drinks in particular, it is generally only spirits ads that contain these 'faces'. Members of the advertising profession state that such reports arise from the application of an overactive imagination. As commentary on the James Boag beer labels, ads for Jim Beam, Jack Daniel's (various pages), Disarrono and other drinks brands indicate, especially when considered in the context of psychological and other research, the abusive criticism stemming from the advertising profession seems calculated to deflect valid criticism of certain members of that profession.

Verdict: Definitely semi-subliminal.

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Dear Oh Dior!

Click for a larger, floating, image. Dioir hat with maniking with erection. Extract with manikinHad Viagra been more widely promoted when this ad was first produced perhaps the little manikin on the brim of this hat might have mimicked his cousins in the cigarette and alcoholic drinks trade. His manhood is partially hidden behind the O and it is rather droopy but the Dior and other cosmetic manufacturers always have handy phallic substitutes close at hand in the shape of their lipsticks. Again, the verdict is not semi-subliminal. Although the carved penis is generally not noticeable it is unlikely that it was intended to convey any covert message. However, analysis of a series of Dior ads would be necessary before one could offer a conclusive judgement. Verdict: Unattended, possibly semi-subliminal.

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The Garden of Eden

Click for a larger, floating, image.  Eden ad with bare breasted woman.Here we have yet another ad that contains an interesting aberration that will probably go unnoticed by the majority of viewers. Hidden amongst the flower blooms one can detect the model's face. But how many viewers also noticed a bare breast? Verdict. Unattended, not semi-subliminal.

Click for a larger, floating, image. Fendi ad with figure in background.And neither is the figure in the background of the ad on the left. As attention tends to be focussed on figures in the foreground the classical statue in the background may possibly pass noticed. Verdict: Unattended.

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� Clearly camouflaged

Click for a larger, floating, image.  Hyundai ad featuring sculpted rocks with car.This ad is, on the other hand, somewhat debatable. Although it would seem as though one should notice that the topmost part of this rocky arch is the same shape as the car, this is not instantly noticeable as attention is drawn to the bottom half of the advert. In addition, the ad makes use of a convention that is often much more subtly applied with Peugeot ads. It seems to take for granted that presenting a less than obvious message in conjunction with a more obvious message is desirable and presumably influential. Verdict: Very slight possibly that this was intended to be semi-subliminal.

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Almost Subliminal

almost subliminal image (faint)Semi-subliminal ads make use of a variety of techniques to escape detection but contrary to popular misconceptions they rarely make use of faint images as in the illustration on the right. The commonest technique is to simply embed one image within another or give an everyday object some of the characteristics of another.

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Diamonds are Forever�

Here is another ad along the lines of the FCUK discussed on the previous part of this Click for a larger, floating, image. Red Kamel ad featuring an usherette page. It makes use of public knowledge to present a message that is not really subliminal - or even semi-subliminal. In the process it appeals to the sophistication of the individual, giving them credit for some knowledge about the subject. However, even although the ad in one sense operates to play down the value of subliminal advertising it also seems to be using semi-subliminal techniques. If this were the case then the text is merely a distraction form the semi-subliminal message.

If one looks carefully at the only aspect of the ad that is of note (see below), other than the text, there is more than initially meets the eye. There is a pattern on the diamonds that would not occur naturally. The pattern in the diamond on the left can be perceived to be roughly etched 'letters'. S and E are superimposed one on the other and appear more like a � sign than either of the letters. And to the right of this figure three quarters of the letter X. Extract from De Beers ad.

Is this subliminal advertising or not? I'll leave you to decide. And what would you make of the pattern on the right hand item if you perceived them as 'letters'?

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Texture and perception�

textured adThe ad on the right has all the characteristics of what could be an ad containing semi-subliminal elements. But it probably doesn't. What is does display is a highly textured surface. If one looks at such a surface for a period of time it is almost inevitable that some meaningful shapes will be observed. This reflects the psychological process known as projection. What one is thinking about can be 'seen' in the surface of whatever one is looking at.

The reasons why this occurs are related to the fact that the visual system is designed to make sense of changing stimuli. When the input from the eyes stays constant or nearly constant then some aspects of the system become fatigued and others 'switch on' to compensate. Without adequate input from the eye the perceptual system is overloaded by input from 'within' the person from those processes we call memory. We thus end up believing we are seeing what we really are only thinking about.

However, the fact that we can 'pick out' meaningful images from a complex background means that advertisers can embed messages within them. In our attempts to make sense of the image i.e. decide whether what we are looking at is meaningful or not, we initially might decide that there was a word embedded in the texture. However, once we have decided (unconsciously) that the figure is, as in the above example, that of a man wearing a top hat any other possibilities are ignored. We may, to take a typical example, have recognized the word sex in the ad but then discounted it because it seemed to have nothing to do with the overall judgement that was reached.

See the Psychology and Imagine pages for more information on perceptual processes and their characteristics.

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Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003

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