In his four books, written from 1973 to 1989, Wilson Bryan Key has discussed perhaps between 100 and 200 cases of subliminal advertising, for a research extending over 20-25 years. The other material he collected has not been published. What I am intending to demonstrate is that you can easily extract 100 cases from press publications over a three-months period. For the present issue, number X of my Subliminal Advertising (now Subliminal Junk) series, I keep extracting advertisements from the same magazines and newspapers I have been using for issues I-IX, namely fifteen issues altogether of various papers, dated March, April, or May 2015. In Subliminal Junk IX, I wrote that lack of time and patience prevented me from presenting more cases from the same papers. This is not good advertising of myself – if I have no time and patience to do something well enough, then I really should consider leaving it alone – and, besides, I have more patience than the average guy, so that is no good excuse either. In fact, what keeps me from showing all the subliminals I find is the redundancy and repetition in the technique; in many cases, adding examples would only be boring to the reader. In a way, I am doing honor to the advertisements I select. Many are discarded in the process, not on the ground, though, that they are devoid of subliminal junk, but because I do not find their junk exciting enough.
At the end of this post, the number of cases will be 79 – or 81 if you include the two first case studies, one on Microsoft (here) and the other on Peugeot (here), which I made before starting the Subliminal Advertising (now Subliminal Junk) series. The seven following cases are taken from: Vanity Fair from May 2015 (Case 74), Vanity Fair from April 2015 (75-7), and Vogue Italian Edition from May 2015 (78-9).
………………Case 74 Dom Perignon SEX
This one is from the same as Case 35 (here), to which I refer you for the whole picture and the word SEX embedded among the sea spray. (The whole picture, by the way, is topical: a phallic champagne bottle and explosive sea spray…) On the backward, towards the right, I have outlined a couple of interesting drawings that have been added to bolster the ad’s impact. Pictures 74-2 and 74-3 show the same part of the advert twice because the artist has used a technique known by those who are acquainted with Salvador Dali’s painting Slave Market With the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire. The technique consists in setting two different reality objects as one pictorial object; in Dali’s painting, a group of body shapes are Voltaire’s face at the same time.
On Picture 74-2, I show three faces. The face on the left is that of a half-conscious woman, sick because of alcohol consumption. I did the best I could in the outlining but I strongly advise you to look at the Picture 74, the bare one, to get a more appropriate idea of the artist’s rendition of a drunken woman falling out of consciousness or miserable with feelings of faintness. The second face, toward the right, is that of another woman. That one is in distress too, her black eyes wide open while she vomits. Close against her on the right is a man’s face, smiling, not disgusted at all by what is happening. He probably knows he will achieve his goal now, with this or both women. I can see a wig on his head, which would make him a fine eighteenth-century roué, very much in line, I guess, with what a Dom Perignon connoisseur is likely to admire.
On Picture 74-3, we come back to the first woman’s face, but this time it shows something different, albeit the idea is not so different. It shows a woman bent forward, hair falling down and almost touching the ground, hands pressed against the knees. She too is in a dejected state due to drinking. While she copes with her present misery, a smiling bearlike creature is gently grabbing at her. His face is against her buttocks, his paw clasping her thigh. The bear, although not altogether deprived of seeming benevolence, looks as if he were intent on taking advantage of the situation.
This is the message subliminally addressed to viewers: Intoxicate your preys with Dom Perignon and –voilà ! – it’s done.
This would be the male reader’s viewpoint. For the female reader, however, such an interpretation would make the advert repulsive, so there must be other possible interpretations available to her, or to both sexes for that matter. Woman number one, then, instead of fainting from intoxication, would be gently falling in a post-copulatory swoon, having just climaxed. As to woman number two, something would be forced into her mouth, namely a penis, and she would look distressed due to her fear that it may choke her, or because she is actually choking, to the great amusement of the roué looking at this rough scene of oral sex. Finally, the woman in Picture 74-3 would not be on the verge of vomiting, but simply waiting for the bear to mount her. Such scenes are probably repulsive to most men and women, and to many a Dom Perignon patron too, at conscious level — but on a subliminal plane that seems to be another story.
…………….Case 75 Louis Vuitton SEX
This advertisement for Louis Vuitton is of the same series designed for the manufacturer as Case 33 (here). First of all, I would like to call your attention on the way the model is wearing her bag. Although we have the typical background of bright sky and blue sea so appealing to dejected employees, the woman is fearing something is going to happen to her. She is holding the bag against her chest, looking at a distance, as if she had been suddenly aware of a desperado’s presence. The scene, in fact, is mildly nerve-racking. It’s only because you do not expect such tone in a tropical advert for a handbag that you did not perceive it at first. Well, you did not perceive it, maybe, but your lizard brain has registered the model’s unquietness nevertheless – because it has no preconceived social expectations like yourself, I mean your conscious self, which is easily tricked by advertisers because of the preconceived notions we are all using as shortcuts to deal with the requirements of everyday life.
That lizard brain of yours may also have registered something else. On the turquoise waves a drawing has been embedded. It represents two kids and a man, all naked. One kid is leaning against the other’s shoulder. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s ashamed, maybe he’s crying. The other kid is masturbating the man’s penis. The man is lying on the back, both hands under his head. He’s enjoying. This is subliminal pedophilia, something we have already come across (Case 52 here). As a first guess, I’d say it will (discarding any sexual stimulation effect) contribute to heighten in the female viewer the anxiety produced by perceiving, unconsciously most of the time, the model’s apprehensiveness. Remember mirror cells in the brain tend to reproduce as yours the emotions you perceive: that is their function, and I suggest they will reproduce emotions even when you fail to interpret these emotions correctly at conscious level. Choosing a handbag is in itself an anxious experience – all choices imply some degree of anxiety – and here it is connected with status anxiety, like all fashion. Anxiety advertising is aimed at producing the right crisis in the mind.
One objection could be made by uninformed readers that mirror cells cannot be induced to react in the present case, as people know it is only an advertisement and the model is acting. In reality, our mirror cells can function as usual even when we know that the person we look at is simulating emotions. Without such a functioning in the face of all our knowledge, movie theaters would remain empty. It is because people let themselves be moved by acting that they enjoy cinema, and they can do that because even their knowledge of the whole stuff being acting and simulation does not prevent their mirror cells to function and induce in them the emotional states they perceive. Now the difference between a good actor and a bad one is that the former is capable of mimicking emotions most perfectly, whereas the latter is not and lets perceive a discrepancy between his behavior or attitude and the emotion he is supposed to be acting. Bad actors betray that their inner state is alien to their role, and such discrepancy makes them, and the whole scene, ridiculous. In spite of our willingness, our mirror cells cannot be fooled by bad actors, and we resent them for the poor performance.
These remarks allow one to describe the impact of advertising, even printed advertising, in terms of mirror cells. Advertising models are asked to express emotions, which the photographer will try to capture on the picture. In Case 75, I suggested that the model is expressing some feeling of anguish that would remain unperceived at conscious level insomuch as it makes no sense at all for the uninformed consumer that fear should be made use of in that kind of advertising, especially with a cliché bright sky, blue sea background. As it makes no sense, the stimuli that would allow the correct interpretation remain unattended.
One thing, however, must be added. The model here has not been asked to play genuine anguish. In fact, she was asked to look disquieted, with her gaze and her holding the bag against her chest, but not entirely so, in order to confuse the brain and prevent any possibility that the right interpretation be brought to consciousness. The way she is holding the bag against her chest is ambiguous, the gesture is soft, there is no muscular tension, no crispation as would be expected from true disquiet. So in a way this is a case of bad acting, some stimuli indicating one emotional state and some other stimuli from the same source indicating another emotional state. Except that the discrepancy here has been designed intentionally, so that the viewer will more easily discard the stimuli that make no sense, i.e. anguish or, more mildly, disquiet, since are also present the stimuli that make perfect sense to the conscious mind – a young woman strolling on a beach or a riviera by a fine summer day with her handbag, which she carries most gently, and why not against her chest, if she likes? Her looks seem a bit odd, for sure… but, wait, she’s so young and at that age one is easily troubled. So far so good. If the character is troubled, then there is something troubling about the advertisement. I just wanted to be sure you noticed. Finally, the discrepancy may serve the purpose of disquieting the unattending brain and thus remaining engraved inside as a puzzle, something unexplained and thus potentially threatening (despite the conscious interpretation of the ad as being innocuous, trite stuff). And then there is the subliminal drawing of pedophiliac erotica.
……………..Case 76 Patek Philippe SEX
We have already seen this advert, Case 29 (here), where I show a sex embed. As with Case 74 above, the sex embed is not only a sex embed, no more than it is solely, it goes without saying, the shades of a coppice in the background. There is also present a half-erected penis. The testes have been painted prominent. It’s not so much about the penis, this time, as about the reproductive stamina. If you’re interested, you can find another sex embed stuck to the woman’s left shoulder. Above this embed are two faces, which I do not care to outline, but that you may find too. It’s the woman’s parents, the father on the left, with large whiskers, a Colonel Goodchild of sorts, the mother on the right, fateful and zombie-looking, with a face larger than her man’s.
…………….Case 77 Elie Saab SEX
Same as Case 30 (here). Besides the sex embed in the model’s hair, the folds of her dress, nicely swollen by the wind, delineate a copulation. We see two bottoms and two backs. The woman’s pubis is concealed by the top of the perfume bottle but I have indicated the navel (though I’m not inventing it: it’s there) so you can orient yourselves in these folds. The woman is on her knees, the man on her, they’re making it more ferarum, which is the Latin for doggy-style, if you care to know. The man, though, is not well oriented on her mate’s back, he is bending toward the left, and I suggest this is toward another mate, which he is kissing or on whom he is performing a cuninlingus.
…………….Case 78 Louis Vuitton SEX
From the same series as Cases 33 and 75. I have nothing to say about the picture itself. Please proceed directly to Pictures 78-2 and 78-3, and into the turquoise waters where strange Tritons and Nereids are having a subliminal orgy. On the left side, a woman is licking the testes of a half-erected penis bending toward the left. No doubt the penis will be full hard soon. Close against the woman on her right, we can see the back and buttocks of another woman, sat on a penis. A third woman, futher on the right and a little below, is also impaled on a penis, and smiles at you. (The smiling head could be that of a fourth woman, though, as it is separated from the bottom with the penis inside it, a bottom which can be completed instead by a female back and a black-haired head contiguous to it on the right side.) From this group further to the right and below, a woman is taken more ferarum by a crocodile or a doglike creature on her back. Her visage expresses intense contentment. (We have already come across subliminal bestiality, in Case 59 here.) In the space between these two lovers, another face is staring at you; it is a smiling death’s head, or just another Mister Grin.
From this case I conclude that women too like pornography, providing it be subliminal.
……………..Case 79 QC Terme Spas and Resorts SEX
The model’s expression is well-being. On Picture 79-2, she is embraced by a subliminal man (à la Modigliani, not my favourite embeds: I prefer more realistic objects, more difficult to object to by opponents), and besides a little Death figure, very realistically drawn with skeleton and the customary cloak and hood, is staring at her with its typical grin. Please take a closer look at Picture 79-1 to appreciate the fine rendition of the skull. Health concerns are involved, as you have understood.
Pictures 79-3 and 79-4 display a fellatio, rather ethereal, admittedly, but it’s there nonetheless, and the white smears at the tip of the glans and further below indicate ejaculation. EPC (extra-pair copulation) prospects in spas and resorts have served as material for the advertiser.