Subliminal Advertising VI: Cosmopolitan Spiegel

The advertising community is not particularly interested in confessing to the use of subliminal messages, and there appears to be no good source to document their prevalence. Back in the 1980s, I asked an advertising executive at Wyse Advertising if he had any insights into the use of subliminal messages in advertising. … He estimated that about 10% of all ads use some form of subliminal technique. (Glenn G. Sparks, Media Effects Research. A Basic Overview, Fifth Edition, 2015, p.216)

The quote is from a course manual for undergraduate students in the communications field authored by a professor at Purdue University. The fact that the manual has gone through five editions so far is testimony to its success and perhaps to its quality as teaching material. Such a quote should be proof enough that the subject of subliminal advertising is not, as some believe, an ‘urban legend’ or a hoax for self-proclaimed ‘hoaxbusters’ — shooting anything that moves — to bust. The advertising executive’s confession is gold, although the correct figure, as far as current printed advertising is concerned (newspapers, magazines, billboards), is closer to 100% than to 10%.

When advertisers themselves confess to the practice, the denying attitude of some scholars (among them a few self-proclaimed hoaxbusters) strikes one as very odd. When I read, for instance, the following (quoted by Sparks, p.217):

Perhaps now is the time to lay the myth of subliminal sorcery to rest and direct our attention to other, more scientifically documented ways of understanding the causes of human behavior and improving our condition. (Pratkanis, The cargo-cult science [sic] of subliminal persuasion, 1992)

I have only this to say: Go tell the advertisers.

As Sparks explains, Pratkanis found out that products such as tapes based on alleged subliminal techniques and marketed to increase self-esteem or improve one’s moods (a $50 million business in 1990, according to Acland, 2011) are placebos. This is certainly worth knowing but does not allow one to talk about a ‘myth of subliminal sorcery.’ Wilson Bryan Key contends that subliminal persuasion in media advertising relies on the priming offered by media content – in newspapers the bad news (content) prime for the good news (ads), on mcluhanesque lines, and in magazines it is the lifestyle-oriented content that primes for the ads. As the priming effect is missing in the material tested by Pratkanis, his experiments have nothing to say on such a persuasion system.

But, I repeat, if subliminal advertising has no effect according to laboratory experiments, this information should be forwarded primarily to the advertisers themselves, who — as I am documenting on this Website with the present series — are using subliminal techniques extensively, at least in the sex embed variety, on which I am currently concentrating. Otherwise, I don’t know if it’s the same for you but I really feel that disparaging terms such as ‘cargo-cult science’, ‘myth’, ‘sorcery’ sound like a design to defuse the potential consequences of consumers’ concern upon vested interests. This feeling, I know, is not rational, for what is rational is to maintain that scholars are independent from vested interests; the bombast in these disparagements is only the camouflage of the naive. For naive it is, indeed, to presume advertising agencies don’t know their job, considering their own research gets financing which a university scholar (independent) would never dream of. In fact, an advertiser is likely to know his job, in spite of his claims to the contrary.

In this context, the confession of the advertising executive quoted above is, once again, striking, since the proprietary knowledge of advertising agencies is guaranteed by law from public scrutiny.

The following advertisements are taken from the German weekly Der Spiegel dated April 11, 2015 (Cases 40-43), and the magazine Cosmopolitan (UK Edition) dated May 2015 (Cases 44-46).

…………….Case 40 Freistaat Thüringen SEX

When the Free State of Thuringia, one of Germany’s Länder, or any public collectivity advertises, with the taxpayer’s money, its existence on the market, to allure tourists or investors, or for whatever reason, it contracts with an expensive advertising agency. The presence of sex embeds comes as no surprise.

case 40

case 40

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…………….Case 41 Deutsche Bahn SEX

This one is for the German railways company. In the world of advertisement, men have not learned to comb their hair nor to shave their beards, because uncombed hair and incipient beard are convenient settings where to embed SEXes. As a result of men so often seeing uncombed hair and incipient beards on advertisements, the scruffy looks have become trendy in the real world.

There could be another reason for incipient beards being fashionable. The world of advertisements is a world of total freedom and enjoyment of one’s time and pleasure with no restraint; in that world there is simply no place for the organization man, with his suit and tie and long working weeks and subservience to the organization’s goals. The numerous organization men from the real world are torn between their real-life condition and the social desirability of appearing fashionable in accordance with advertisement’s canons. Incipient beard is the answer. Sporting an incipient beard, the suit-and-tie organization man is saying to the world at large : “See? I have not shaved this morning, I do what I want, I am no relic from the oppressive past,” and that makes him socially acceptable, given that social acceptability is mostly based on appearance (fashion) and determined by advertisement conditioning. Ironically, the grooming of an incipient beard is much ado anyway; you have to shave or trim it regularly lest it become an unfashionable full beard.

As to the Deutsche Bahn advertisement, please observe how the embed is exposed in the light rather than camouflaged by the darker areas of the background.

Case 41

Case 41

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…………….Case 42 BASF SEX

Case 42

Case 42

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…………….Case 43 Book Cover SEX

I can’t say for sure whether the embed lies on the book cover or on the advertisement alone, because I haven’t had the book in my hands. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the embeds lied on the real cover. The present book is supposed to be a serious one; this is why, certainly, it needs a bit of subliminal up-sexing.

Case 43

Case 43

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…………….Case 44 Dior SEX

Case 44

Case 44

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…………….Case 45 Garnier SEX

To find the sex embeds, follow her look.

Case 45

Case 45

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…………….Case 46 Hyundai SEX

To create the sensation of speed, the graphic designer has fuzzed parts of the picture, a banal technique whose advantage is to make embedding very convenient. I have outlined one sex embed. Use your own skills and try to find the others: Enjoy!

Case 46

Case 46

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