In order to present a few more cases of subliminal techniques used, besides the pervasive sex embeds, in print advertising, I have selected other adverts from the same couple of magazines I have already being using so far, that is, from the months of March, April, and May 2015. The following titles, all women magazines, will provide the new cases: namely, the French magazine Elle from March 20 (Cases 66-7); Cosmopolitan UK Edition from May (68-9); Vogue from April (70-2); and the French magazine Le Figaro Madame from May 22 (Case 73).
Altogether, from no more than a dozen issues of various magazines and weekly newspapers on a three-month period, I have extracted over 70 ads to present my case on contemporary subliminal techniques – and the number would have been much greater had I only have more time and patience at my disposal. Because subliminals are everywhere. How could it be otherwise? Our social environment has become so saturated with advertising that no attention whatsoever is paid any longer to the huge majority of advertisements, and as a result advertisers must by necessity rely, to achieve any foreseeable impact, on mechanisms aimed at impressing so-called peripheral attention, i.e. subconscious mind processes, that is to say to rely on subliminal techniques.
In the subliminal world of the human mind, survival and sexual instincts reign supreme. There are no – how do you call it again? – checks and balances in this realm. Marketers and advertisers know it, and they manipulate these drives in order to channel them into specific consuming behaviors. We live in a society that has accumulated mountains of data from a hundred years of scientific management and scientific marketing, i.e. of the experimental method applied to human behavior on the workplace and the marketplace. Scientific management has put an end to anticapitalist, revolutionary movements; scientific marketing has been able to automatize, so to speak, consumption. It’s Galbraith’s “inverted sequence” running at full speed. This accumulated knowledge remains in large part proprietary, belonging to the corporations that financed the research from which they now derive huge benefits. With time, some of the results trickle down into the public domain, largely, however, via specialized books from insiders, at a pace dictated by the proprietors themselves. Employees from marketing departments as well as from advertising agencies are contractually committed not to disclose the content of their activities (cf. W.B. Key). However, it is not even likely that much concern would be stirred among the public, were unrestricted access to these proprietary data provided all of a sudden. As a matter of fact, the existence of alpha waves, for instance, is well known, as is the fact they are induced in the brain by watching television, along with a hypnoid state and increased suggestibility as a consequence. What concern does it raise? People, it seems, fail to understand what that implies.
…………….Case 66 Armani SEX
This advert is the same as in Case 15 (here). It’s a two-page ad, one page being presented on Case 15 (a sex embed among the reflections of the sunglasses), the other, here, showing what seems to be the same woman, body complete down to the knees (as opposed to the head only being pictured on the opposite page), without sunglasses, on a blue sky, blue sea background. In Case 15, the model has her shoulders covered; here, the model’s shoulders are not. Are there two different persons, and are our brains invited to imagine some story taking place before our eyes, speculating, unbeknownst to our consciousness, on such slight, even hard to notice discrepancies?
On the page here shown, the model is wearing some blue, satined sackcloth of a sort. There is something particularly odd with her left arm; the shape made by her hand in the pocket looks very awkward. Consider it for a moment. The shape looks awkward because it is, in fact, that of a penis. The bulging pocket provides the glans, the arm – her hand being entirely concealed – gives the shaft. Furthermore, the dress folds on the left-hand of the bulging pocket are vaginal folds, the darkened area outline a vaginal slit, so the subliminal penis points toward a subliminal vagina. There is, however, a discrepancy between the size of the penis and that of the vagina; the former is too small to be considered a suitable object.
I suggest that this picture is likely to provoke among its viewers, both male and female, unconscious feelings of sexual inadequacy, thus adding to current levels of anxiety and/or frustration. Anxiety is a primary trigger of compulsive buying. There is an endless supply of uncertainty in the domain of sex, and with uncertainty goes anxiety.
…………….Case 67 Stella McCartney SEX
It’s about a nice little shining handbag. So sheeny is the texture of the bag, so starlike its silvery surface, that it works like a mirror, reflecting the world in a myriad of dazzling little beams of opalescent light. So let’s take a closer look at these reflections. I have outlined on Picture 67-3 below some interesting drawings. Towards the left, a reclining man’s head can be seen. The man is looking with apparent satisfaction at the pair of amazingly nice breasts a woman is proferring him; in all likelihood she will cover his face with them soon. On the right, another man’s face, strangely grining, like mesmerized by awe, appears behing a woman’s back. As a dark triangle her pubic hair is apparent, as well as the legs and belly.
…………….Case 68 Viva Glam SEX
Viva Glam does not only sell lipstick and other cosmetics, it also makes donations to provide care for people affected by HIV/AIDS. The model represents a strip dancer, maybe a prostitute, in a typical venue for this profession, with mirrors at all angles, crude red lights, assorted with weird-shaped, pink neon tubes, and a glimmering confusion on the dazzling background. It’s about sex and death and beauty and money. Look at the right-hand side, among the copse-like neon-tube structure. One can see a penis glans, with deep purple hue and light reflections on its turgescent tissue. The glow of light has been cleverly located so as to cut a drawn line and thus isolate what is none other than the penis meatus. Furthermore, the neon tubes partially covering the glans, on its left side, represent a pair of scissors. I let you decide what one’s subconscious might be feeling after unattended exposure to such subliminal junk.
Addendum. My first thought has been that if a prostitute was represented (it can hardly be denied that the model is intended to represent a prostitute because, as the rumor goes, strip dancers or cabaret dancers –and she is such a dancer, obviously– make extra money from customers by having sex with them), then it must be exciting to (a number of) women to imagine themselves as prostitutes. The subliminal penis and scissors would remain out of this, something besides, for a different kind of women, or at least a distinct trait of character, that of castrating women, which per se does not seem to have a necessary relation to the fantasy of being a prostitute. However, since I published the Case, another scenario came to my mind, more coherent, as I will now explain.
The model is represented as a prostitute and intended to be recognized as such by the female reader, not necessarily at conscious level. For many a female reader, now, the prostitute is, subconsciously at least, the enemy, and their reflex will be to bare their claws and show their teeth, most especially as their mind is invited to dwell on HIV/AIDS (remember that is the argument of the ad’s copy: Viva Glam funds organizations that take care of people affected by HIV/AIDS). The prostitute is the woman that would bring HIV/AIDS to the female reader’s bedroom via the latter’s husband. This is the main argument subliminal. If you, female reader, do not take care to keep on appealing sexually to your husband or partner, he will resort to sex workers, and that may result in him and then you contracting a sexually transmitted disease. And if you dare not carry out castration (the subliminal scissors) to protect your health or even save your life, how do you keep appealing sexually to him? By using Mac Viva Glam lipstick, no doubt.
…………….Case 69 Simply Be… SEX
It says ‘Simply Be… You,’ so let’s take a look at what You is. It strikes one at first glance that You is rather different from the ladies one usually sees in the pictures of a magazine like Cosmopolitan. You, indeed, is overweight. Chubby. You wears blue jeans, which, however widespread in real life streets and meadows, is frankly unusual on the pages of women’s magazines. You has a cheap neo-hippie look about her, hinting at a wish to experience the same sexual liberty as hippies of old. You sits carelessly and slovenly, like a slattern, wears cheap inconspicuous bracelets (all plastic, I would swear), and her facial features are kind of ordinary and unattractive. What else can I say if not that You, although she looks like you in her ways, is just the kind of person you don’t care to be? Slighted by an advertisement?
…………….Case 70 Bottega Veneta SEX
A two-page ad. The right-hand page shows a scantily clad woman, the left-hand one a room of some sort (and what the hell of a room is that? you might ask). The scanty clothing, as well as the woman’s attitude, eroticizes the advertisement, so the viewer is invited to take a look at the room with erotic thoughts (remember the right-hand page is the first to be seen when one is turning pages, and adverts are strategically placed according to that fact). What sort of a room is this room, then? A very odd and strange one, indeed. The bedstead is a plain metallic structure, the bed linen is minimal and unadorned, with a blanket that looks unpleasantly coarse. The walls are plain and… black. One could almost feel them oozing with humidity. The wooden door looks ominous. The flower drawn on the cushion is the only element that would inspire some feeling other than utter gloom and dejection, but its presence is a cynical joke, because it cannot counterbalance the global effect of the room (it can only divert your brain from analysing the picture as it is truly intended). Where are we? It’s a dungeon cell where the Inquisition keeps its victims, innocent women alleged to be witches, between interrogations in the torture chamber, or it is a cellar fit out by a sexual predator who abducts his victims and locks them in this place to rape them at his will. Victims are attractive women like the one we see on the opposite page. Sometimes advertising taps on weird, weird fantasies, you know.
…………….Case 71 Vogue SEX
This case study will take the form of a question. The young Chinese-looking lady is depicted looking merrily at you and me, frolicking in a street of some Chinatown, the Chinatown of a city in an English-speaking country because the shop signboards are written both in Chinese and English. Just above the woman’s left shoulder, even sticking to it, appears the word ‘parlor’ (not ‘parlour,’ so we might as well be in NYC), from a signboard further behind her. We all know the double meaning of the word ‘parlor,’ and the woman could be a prostitute from this house. Touching her hair are the words ‘hair care,’ but this, certainly, is only a coincidence. Other signboards, on both sides of her, advertise liquors and wines, a staple good for successful socialites and losers just the same. My attention was drawn on the road writings. These writings, partially concealed from our eyes by the woman’s shape, make two lines, and the end letter of each line is S and X respectively (S lying above X). SX is a code name for SEX. It’s been a long time since I last went to NYC, and I wasn’t really interested in reading the road writings either, but I guess the present writings must be very special ones because, from whatever way you read the line with the X-ending (and the picture leaves one at a loss when trying to figure whether the lines must be read from the viewer’s standpoint or from the other side, since the decipherable S, X, I, N are symetrical), I just can’t see what word relevant to street signing the letters NIX, if at the end, or XIN, if at the beginning, can be part of. This is the question I ask to more knowledgeable people. Is it Cantonese in Latin transcript? In case it means nothing and such word does not exist, the artist has taken very bold a step to confront our lizard brains with an SX compound.
…………….Case 72 L’Oréal SEX
One acquaintance to whom I showed my research on subliminal advertising discarded it first-hand telling me, as an account for his intention not to pay attention to it, that advertising today was pornographic at the conscious level, so there was no need to look after subconscious tricks since pornography could be made use of openly by advertisers. Of course he’s right when he says some ads are openly sexual in content, but his inference is nevertheless incorrect. As I said above, subliminals are aimed at peripheral attention (at the brain of people who won’t take a look at the ad – the brain registering it anyway if it has, no matter how quickly, entered the field of sight) and as such are not treated by the brain in the same way as objects entering conscious attention. Even an openly pornographic advert may be bolstered by subliminal sex embeds. Furthermore, advertisers know they can’t play the sex card aboveboard all the time, because it can have adverse effects occasionally, whereas there is no adverse reaction to subliminal sex. Never, as long as it remains subliminal.
Double entendre with words is routine advertising, as even advertisers will admit. If a word has, not as a principal meaning but among its other few, a sexual meaning, you can be sure it has become a catchword. This might be called a subliminal technique, although the double entendre is often recognized by the public, and the idea is therefore to make it look like tongue in cheek – when it would more properly be labeled “in-your-face.” (It’s precisely because of possible adverse reactions to the “in-your-face” effect that aboveboard obscenity is not more frequent in advertising, all in all; subliminal junk is much safer.)
Let’s take this advertisement for L’Oréal as an example. Saving time is in the mind of many consumers, and time-saving devices much sought after. So how do you advertise time-saving? Here the advertisers ask the question “How quick are you?” Need I comment it? How quick are you? refers, tongue in cheek or in-your-face-wise, as you choose to call it, to female orgasm. How quick do you orgasm? is the question, and, if you take the time to analyse it, it means, given the well-known and established time discrepancy between male and female orgasms generally speaking, How likely are you to orgasm? Of course, the discrepancy can be overcome by special techniques and preliminaries, but the seemingly mild, humorous joke is not innocuous at all, inasmuch as it is likely to raise the level of anxiety present in many a viewer, male and female, for the male the anxiety that he is too quick to be a good mate, for the female the anxiety that she won’t find the good mate to gratify her if she’s too slow. The fear, and possibility, of sexual inadequacy makes the advert a grim jest. One response to raised anxiety is compulsive buying. Really, in the phenomenon of advertising, people kiss the hand that beats them, like a dog licking his hard-hearted master’s hand.
Having said this, I don’t even feel the need to extend on “Blow Dry.” You know what it means to blow, sexually, and you’ve also heard of “dry sex,” i.e. sex with clothes on, rubbing one’s body against each other’s. It’s called dry because, if fluid discharge occurs, it remains unnoticed by the mate. The seminal fluid provides the wetness, in the idea, and its absence the dryness. “Blow dry,” thus, means to perform a fellatio until the semen has been discharged and the genitals are, as one would say, emptied of the fluid, and thus temporarily dry. In your face – but those who don’t notice will buy.
…………….Case 73 Guerlain SEX
Dear Madam, have you ever dreamt of being kept in a harem? Of course not. Tell me, then, what is the assumption behind this ad ? The name of the product is Shalimar, from the famous Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan, a place associated with the former Moghul rulers of the Indian peninsula, whose Muslim kings, princes, and highnesses were masters of immense harems, filled in large part with the wives and daughters of subdued Hindus. The blonde woman on the picture is sitting naked in a room whose light is provided by the sun through mashrabiya-patterned panels reminiscent of zenanas’ windows. She is, therefore, in the women’s appartments of some Oriental palace, behind the purdah, that is to say in a harem. The fantasy of being one of many, one among many lovers or sexual things at the power of a dominant man, is something real. It dates back to the days of the primitive horde, when our simian ancestors were organized around a dominant male. As some researchers put it (the evolutionary psychologist V. Griskevicius and D. Kenrick, 2013), in those days, as among the primates which still have such social organization, the females would line up and wait for their turn to be inseminated by the alpha male. (The other males only have the right to copulate with infertile females.) I suggest that the fact of female orgasm being scattered among the population (I have found so many different figures, from 30% to 50% to 70%, for women never experiencing orgasm during intercourse that trying any guess seems pointless) may have something to do with this heritage of ours. Many women just won’t have it to the full with nobody but the silverback gorilla, I mean the dominant male. It’s only a conjecture, of course. We know, besides, that women are more promiscuous than gorilla females; the data all point to greater sperm competition among humans, and chimpanzees (of which the dwarf variety is known as the bonobo), than among gorillas. Still, researchers also state that women’s EPC (extra-pair copulations), the scientific name for horns-putting, occurs much more frequently with some types, or rather a certain type – singular – of male.
I have also outlined one sex embed, for good measure. It was easy, for the graphic designer, to embed the word sex among the filigreed shades of the wall panels.