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Sticks and Stones?

 

 

 

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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 [email protected].

 

Moral rights associated with this site asserted by Jim Hagart, C. Psychol., Retd., formerly Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences and Law, University of Teesside and Associate Lecturer, The Open University

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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 subliminalworld.com as the source. Translation of tobacco company ads and relevant commentary into languages other than English will be particularly welcomed.

Last Revised: 20th September, 2001

 

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Let's hope it's not just the view....  Marlboro thumbnail Rush Hour Marlboro thumbnail   Sovereign Benson and Hedges Sovereign thumbnail

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  Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Click for a larger, floating, image. Marlboro ad: Blow Away.Not all ads presenting a message, that is less than apparent, rely upon the use of secondary imagery. Words can also be a powerful tool to influence unconscious thought processes, especially if they are used appropriately and conscious attention is distracted.

Many phrases can have a number of meanings, especially when they are accompanied by images.   This Marlboro ad illustrates a suspension bridge and bears the caption "Let's hope it's not just the view that blows you away".  This offers a perfect example of a process that relies upon words triggering responses that the viewer is unlikely to become aware of.

The caption would seem to allude to the stupendous view, just as the phrase would normally be used in everyday life. However, lying behind this very obvious interpretation is another meaningful message.  This second, covert, message is much more relevant to the smoker and potential smoker than the non smoker.

animation of smoking skeletonThe second meaning is a threat: "Let's hope that it is Marlboro cigarettes that blow you away".

This type of ad offers the ultimate in cynicism on the part of advertising agents and tobacco animation of dancing skeletonscompanies. They are not content with producing and promoting a product that possesses the potential to seriously handicap health and sends up to a third of their customers to an early grave. Philip Morris Inc. is quite willing to stir up latent fears in their customers simply to pack another dollar or two into their already overflowing coffers and those of their shareholders.

There are likely to be very few smokers who are not aware of the risks that they run. Those who would like to give up their dependent habit but cannot because of nicotine addiction undoubtedly defend themselves against their anxieties by rationalizing their behaviour and making use of other psychological defences. This Marlboro ad does not intend to leave those smokers in a controlled state, where they might be able to cut down on their smoking. No, it does its best to revive fears about cancer, about emphysema and other ills. The hope of Philip Morris and their ad agency is that their anxious customers will smoke a few more cigarettes as a means of controlling their anxiety. To compensate for such Machiavellian activities, viewers of Marlboro ads ought to try and conjure up images such as the above right rather than the Grim Reaper. Then get help to conquer their addiction.

Words, therefore, can trigger fear just as readily images. In many instances, more so. The Blow You Away ad would seem to fit this category. It seemingly produced a powerful reaction in some viewers as it was repeated fairly soon after the original presentation. Relatively few Marlboro ads receive this treatment though repetition seems to have become almost the norm in recent months (see Second Time Around). Another equally 'successful' ad would seem to be the crocodiles in the swamp. I reckon The Buzzards might be equally effective at stirring up fears amongst smokers. But who knows, this ad was not repeated. Perhaps some ads are just too sophisticated to 'get through' to the average smoker or do too good a job and scare 'hell out of 'em'.

UK ads also have picked up on this theme of being blown away. See below. The discipline of semiotics takes a particularly challenging look at images (including ads) and how they trigger various responses through the use of visual and textual metaphors, allusions and connotations. See Daniel Chandler's Media and Communication course index page for a particularly interesting set of ads and their analyses presented from a semiotic perspective.

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The joke is on you

Click for a larger, floating, image. Benson and Hedges Sovereign: Blow Away again.This ad for Benson and Hedges Sovereign brand plays the same word game as the Marlboro suspension bridge ad.   Here the 'get blown away' messageis presented visually.  The intention lying behind the superficially 'jokey' ad is still to trigger anxiety in smokers and potential smokers.  

Everyone now knows that smoking 'blows away' a lot of individuals every year.  So why not make a 'joke' out of it.   The joke after all is at the expense of those who have become addicted to Sovereign, not the shareholders in tobacco companies and those working in advertising agencies producing such ads. Unless, of course, they are smokers also.  If its the latter then, as Freud would have said, the production of these ads is a useful activity that helps support their psychological defence mechanisms.  By turning a serious issue into a joke they help deny the reality of their position and manage to allay some anxiety. 

Note that ads in this series never show the Jester smiling. Smoking is too serious business for that.    Additionally if you make a person smile then they might end up feeling good about themselves.  They might even give up smoking. The ad agencies therefore seem to think it is much better to provide people with negative cues and engender negative moods as these most strongly encourage smokers to smoke more.

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Marlboro Rush Hour

Click for a larger, floating, image. Mbro Ad: Rush Hour.It's Rush Hour.   But who's rushing?  Nobody, so it seems. 

But it does seem strange to have a rush hour without any traffic or pedestrians. Such a notion is only strange if you are not producing ads for cigarettes.   In this area of the ad business any means possible is used to try and influence susceptible consumers. This includes turning the thoughts of those viewing the ad against them and their own best interests, as this ad does.

The rush that the ad is really referring to is not the Rush Hour, it is the rush that a cigarette smoker gets when they first inhale.  Like any other psychoactive drug capable of offering a high, it changes the body's metabolism. The change is 'socially charged' by the expectations of the smoker and additionally nicotine itself can get to the brain faster than most other drugs.  It isn't surprising that smokers perceive the short term benefits of smoking as pleasurable, especially when it helps relieve anxiety.  The long term outcome, however, is what they prefer to ignore.  Philip Morris doesn't really want them to do that, at least not too well.

Note that this Marlboro ad is not simply encouraging drug addiction to the smokers favourite drug, nicotine.   Because they are placing a 'positive' spin on the phrase 'Rush Hour', the ad agency responsible for this ad is also indirectly encouraging interest in other drugs that could also provide a 'rush'.  These need not be approved drugs.

rush n the initial heady or euphoric sensation consequent on taking a mind-altering drug. The word is used especially, and most literally, of stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines; it generally refers to the sudden effects of a drug injected intravenously or taken through the mucous membranes rather than the more gradual onset attendant upon smoking or swallowing. The term is sometimes extended to refer to any exciting or stimulating action or situation. ~&When you inhale real hard, even before you exhale you’re starting to feel the rush. It just goes straight to your head quicker than any other drug, and a better rush than any other drug.’

(Crack smoker, Independent. 24 July 1989).

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Quick Links to other sites referred to in the discussion material on this page.

Daniel Chandler's Media and Communication course index page

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No smoking sign.Future Developments

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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 subliminalworld.com 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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