In Subliminal XII (here) (Complements), I pictured myself as a man engaged in a lonely struggle attempting to expose subliminal practices in advertising. The truth is that it is far from being the case, as a brief search on YouTube can convince anyone that the topic is very hot. Scores of videos, viewed by hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, just do the same as I do. Yet the advertising industry and media carry on their business unconcerned.
To be sure, many of these videos seem to circulate chiefly in certain networks preoccupied with the power of an agency they call the Illuminati. I understand that these Illuminati would be some organization inside the freemasonry, the top managers of the whole business, so to speak, apparently having (according to some) direct communication with Satan, which plans they intend to fulfill on this earth. Subliminal techniques, in this peculiar view, would serve Illuminati’s goal of world domination.
That some die-hard Christians, faced with the secularization of our societies and cultures (perhaps a sham, this secularization, in fact), are apt to explain things in terms of spiteful, inimical agencies – and the Devil himself – is not a big surprise. That they are, on the other hand, if not the only ones, at least the most active and successful (counting the number of viewers of their videos) in exposing subliminal techniques, and thus in contributing to the knowing of our times, in short that they proved to be the spearhead of the movement toward the truth, even if it be in that field only, must be a little shocking for a die-hard Secularist.
One is compelled to acknowledge that advertisers are like conjurers. If you knew the conjurer’s tricks, you wouldn’t go to his show. Likewise, if you knew how advertising worked, then advertising would fail to achieve its goal, which is to influence behavior. That such is its goal is somewhat concealed by our society, its laws and law courts’ calling it “commercial information” notwithstanding the fact that such “information” is always aiming at the consumer’s purchase in the interest of the “informant.” Given this goal – suggestion –, advertising must remain undiscussed and unexamined if it ought to be efficient. Democracy has proved often enough over time that it can accommodate to complete lack of transparency in many matters; yet, on the plane of principles, both concepts – democracy and opacity – undermine each other, so how one reconciles the status of advertising with our national constitutions is a problem that so far has remained unresolved.
…………….Case 96 Boodles SEX
Cases 96 & 97 are taken from Vanity Fair n° 672, August 2016 (English edition: “Vanity Fair is published by the Condé Nast Publications Ltd., Vogue House, Hanover Square, London,” p. 26).
The above picture shows a woman’s face looking at the viewer. Albeit the model’s chin seems to rest on her left hand, not a single flesh fold, which the pressure of the palm on the fatty parts of the chin would make one expect, can be seen. Evidently, the picture is a montage. Perhaps the hand is not even the same person’s.
Now, if you take a closer look at the area where the hand is supposed to be in contact with the chin, the feeling arising is actually that of distance rather than contact. It seems that the graphic designer made no effort at all to create an illusion of contact, and that he wanted to tell us a quite different story than that of a chin resting on a hand, which a quick glance at the advert first suggests Gestalt-wise.
The model wears a cream-colored jersey. The fabric’s fold on the shoulder is extremely peculiar; I can’t figure out how the jersey could become so folded, unless it has been very poorly cut… or the fold designed to that effect for the ad. So let’s take a closer look at this fold. I have outlined nothing in the picture because I think the effect is obvious. The hand, seemingly used to support the model’s chin, is in fact clenching an object that protrudes from it, on its right, and is suggested by a double fabric fold. This object is no other than a penis. It is a still flaccid or half flaccid penis curving downward, and the hand masturbates it, making it bob to and fro because of its not being quite stiff yet.
Furthermore, the two folds delineating the penis can be connected to a third one further on the left, the resulting compound making a stylized vulva.
…………….Case 98 Creed SEX
The above picture 1 is taken from a two-page ad for the new Creed woman perfume Aventus For Her, of which it is the first page, showing only the “classic” Aventus perfume for men. We see the perfume bottle salient on a marble-like whitish background and some greenery probably representing the fragrances involved and which I identify as blackcurrants, mint and licorice. The licorice stick is leaning against the bottle top. Its tip is reminiscent of a penis, which I have outlined in red.
The curvature is suggestive and, although the stalk somewhat tapers toward the tip, the glans neatly partitions from the shaft thanks to a visible ridge. The texture of the stick provides veins on the shaft (I outlined one) as well as finer creases around the frenulum (a few being outlined).
I suggest this penis-like object is in fact a clitoris. Just above the point where the meatus would be, lies a dark area given to construe as the shadow of one of the mint leaves. The whole display of shadows looks rather messy and not quite according to the laws of optics. This particular shadow here delineates a pool, that is, an ejaculate pool. Its smoky aspect could also represent some sprayed substance, a cloud of fine moisture particles emanated from the clitoris due to arousal. In short, the arrangement suggests to you the effect that Aventus perfume will have on women: it will arouse them and make them wet and receptive and consenting to any sexual proposition.
…………….Case 98 L’Oréal SEX
Cases 98-102 are taken from the American magazine Glamour, August 2016.
The present ad for L’Oréal “Infallible Pro-Glow” is endorsed by Ethiopian model and actress Liya Kebede, whose name appears on the bottom left of the upper picture, for those, like me, who did not know who the model is. Not that the name was known to me either, but I was made aware in that way that she was a celebrity. Mentioning the name might betray that the celebrity in question is not so famous, after all – or does it mean that it was thought she would be impossible to recognize in the ad due to massive airbrushing of the picture?
I don’t know what the apparatus on the left of the upper picture is; it looks like some hairdresser’s or gymnastics equipment. On another plane, it looks like a human skull looking at the model, with the chrome parts drawing the jaws and mouth.
The model is looking at the viewer. Among the intricate patterns of the left ear (the model’s right ear) a fellatio has been embedded, which I have outlined in white. Next to the model’s temple appears a penis – shaft, glans and meatus visible. Its impressive size can be measured by comparing it with the human face drawn beside it, the mouth of which being entirely concealed by the glans. The performer of the fellatio must be currently licking the shaft.
…………….Case 99 Johnson & Johnson’s Aveeno SEX
Another case of celebrity endorsement, this time for Johnson & Johnson’s Aveeno daily scrub and daily moisturizer (to be used together). (For theoretical considerations on celebrity endorsement, see Case 39 here.)
Contrary to Case 98 with actress Liya Kebede, the celebrity here is not named. She’s the American actress Jennifer Aniston, as a quick internet research taught me. I guess she’s more expensive a model than her colleague Liya, whose name has to appear on the ads.
At the bottom right of the ad, a string bean (French bean) is leaning against the moisturizer bottle. Two beans are out of their pod. The whole thing is a naïve (I mean the pictorial genre) representation of an erect penis. I don’t need to outline anything; it’s as plain as the nose on your face. The pointed tip may hint, if you like, at a condom.
…………….Case 100 Chanel Eau Tendre SEX
On this picture there is wind, but looking carefully you will find that it is impossible to tell from which direction the wind blows. If you look at the cap of the perfume bottle, blown away from it, and at the model’s dress, the wind blows from behind her back. If, on the other hand, you look at the model’s hair and shawl, the wind blows from left to right. The apparent inconsistency, likely to be missed on conscious level by many viewers anyway, may suggest a maelstrom of sensations; surely this is something of the sort the creators will tell you if you ask them what they were meaning with such multidirectional winds.
Yet there may be something else than just that. Salvador Dali has devoted a whole book to Jean-François Millet’s painting L’Angélus (below): The Tragic Myth of Millet’s Angelus (in the original French Le Mythe tragique de l’Angélus de Millet), in which he explains among other things that the man’s hat is concealing an erection. Dali shows a cartoon in which a naked character can be seen in the same position as the man in the painting, holding a hat at the level of his genitals; when the character takes his hands off the hat because he needs them at once for another use, the hat does not fall and instead stays in the same position, so the reader understands it is maintained by the character’s erect penis. Dali tells us that this subliminal erection (I don’t remember if he actually uses the word “subliminal”), together with the woman’s attitude, which he describes as mantis-like, was what spooked him as a child after he first saw this painting.
In the advert here, the same technique may have been used (intentionally here, whether Millet’s effect was intentional or not). The dress would look as if it were blown forward by a powerful wind but, as the shawl and hair a few centimeters higher are blown in the opposite direction, it would not be wind but instead a powerful erection that elevates the dress in such a manner. The ad would thus appeal to women’s penis envy (Freud) by subliminally depicting a woman with a huge penis capable of mighty erections.
…………….Case 101 Unilever’s Dove SEX
Another case of celebrity endorsement (see Cases 98 & 99). The personality endorsing the product is, I suppose, the woman seen in the ad, and her name the one given under the quoted words, namely, Simona Di Dio. I searched for this name on the Web and found that no single Simona Di Dio can be deemed a celebrity but a few of them, if any, because I found one dancer (a belly dancer, actually), one poetess, one lawyer… As the ads talks of perspiration, I suppose our Simona here is the dancer. So much for celebrity endorsement.
They were right anyway not to use a better-known personality for their ad, because they intended to have her tell a lie. The quote reads: “I didn’t know an antiperspirant could make my underarms softer and smoother.” Let’s ponder for a moment over how things happened. Did Simona, one day, buy Dove Advanced Care and became aware after using it that her underarms had become softer and smoother so she wanted to advertise the fact to the whole world and reached out to Unilever to that effect, or was Simona (if she exists at all) called by the advertising agency to appear in an ad under words alleged to be hers for cash payment? Well? I needn’t answer, need I?
In a way, the process is the same with all celebrity endorsements. The glitterati do not care a dime about the product they advertise (as long as it does not injure their image), they only care about the money they get from being associated with it. In most cases, however, it’s not so direct; if it’s an actor, for instance, who’s paid, he will play a little sketch in a TV spot or pose for a picture. Here, it is the celebrity’s own words that are supposedly quoted, and the name has the same function as a signature.
Moreover, the copy reads as follows: “Dove Advanced Care goes way beyond protection. 9 out of 10 women agreed that it made their underarms soft and smooth.” Can Unilever prove it? Can they show the questionnaire, the answers given to it, the research protocols? Can they explain how the survey was carried out? Perhaps they can – why not? – but the material is their propriety and they won’t disclose it. Only justice could compel them to disclose their proprietary material, but on what ground? Figures without sources, it’s what advertising is all about. No deadly sin, you may argue; but not commendable either. Far from commendable, in fact.
…………….Case 102 Chevrolet Malibu Suicide
Where does “a complete 180 on the ordinary” (copy) drive you? According to this ad, it may well lead you to the brink of an abyss.
Albeit “Drive Safely” is written on the license plate (in red letters), the Chevrolet Malibu stands on some perilous edge. If you look at the visible front wheel, you see a diagonal line running behind it in a slightly upward straight direction. Even though the white wall on the right of the car continues further toward the front, this line, beyond which nothing is to be seen (below the wheel and car) but a black space, a different space from that on which the car is now standing, seems to indicate the end of the parking lot, or whatever that place is. The parking lot opens on a mountain scenery under bright sky. The feeling conveyed is that of height, the parking lot looks as if it were accessed through an opening in a mountain slope, and the line the car is about to cross if it advances just a little farther is the edge of a chasm. By escaping the ordinary, the advertisers thus seem to mean indulging one’s suicidal tendencies.
That advertising would appeal to some Thanatos urges (death wish) in man comes as no surprise. That a car is a fitting object to make appeals of this kind goes without saying, given the death toll our societies are paying to their road networks. – Appealing to (and exacerbating) aggressiveness when selling cars, as the ad in Case 88 does (here), may be regarded as criminal, by the way, bearing this death toll in mind, because those who use their cars and see driving as an outlet to their aggressiveness are likely to provoke more accidents. If research proves this intuitive view wrong, and the counterintuitive view that these people have less accidents right, then I’d be glad to be informed of it.
Several ads in Glamour magazine are copyrighted (you can see the copyright symbol on Case 99’s picture, for instance). This is something I have found frequently in magazines’ American editions but much more infrequently, or even not at all, in other countries’ editions at my disposal. For instance, I do not find a single copyrighted ad in the Vanity Fair August issue, English edition, from which Cases 96 & 97 above are taken.
Does it betray a pettifogging spirit in American business law? Be that as it may, it looks like I’m infringing on legal rights by using copyrighted material (like in Case 99). All I can say for my defense is, please go back to Subliminal Junk XII (here), Complements, and to Eric McLuhan’s quote. It explains why, when writing The Mechanical Bride and Culture Is Our Business, Marshall McLuhan did not ask for permission before using several advertisements in these books, because his publisher found it was not necessary. If it was unnecessary in Canada only, or whatever the publisher’s country was (Marshall McLuhan being a Canadian, I assume his publisher was in Canada, but whatever the country is, it is only one country in any case), then the books still would have had to require permissions for sales outside that country, in other legal contexts, that is – a point on which Eric McLuhan does not say a word, which in turn leads me to assume, provisionally, that permission is unnecessary worldwide, no matter how strange that sounds (but remember we’re dealing with multinational companies on the one hand, internet on the other hand, and that nation states look a little irrelevant in this context).
Yet it is astonishing that, in one and the same issue, some ads are copyrighted and others are not. Some companies copyright their ads and some don’t. I have no idea what is to be inferred from the practice, or its absence, but, still, here are the companies that copyright their ads and those that don’t in the Glamour issue for August 2016:
Copyright: Maybelline LLC (4 ads), Levi Strauss & Co., Estée Lauder Inc. (2 ads), CliniqueLaboratoires LLC, L’Oréal USA Inc. (10 ads), Garnier LLC (7 ads), Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. (3 ads), Allergan (2 ads), Jockey International Inc., Unilever (2 ads), Kao USA Inc., Procter & Gamble (4 ads), Mondelez International Group, Simple (2 ads), Merck Sharp & Dohme B.V., Del Monte Foods Inc., GEICO, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc., Kraft (2 ads, p. 121, p. 133), Bayer, Condé Nast (p. 135).
No Copyright: Nordstrom, Condé Nast (pp. 6-7), Essie, Unilever (3 ads), Sunglass Hut, Buffalo David Bitton, AG Jeans, Chanel, Current/Elliot, Forever21, Paula’s Choice, Covergirl BeautyU, Arm & Hammer, Ogxbeauty, Kraft (p. 115), It’s A Ten Haircare, Chevrolet, Epicurious, Wet Brush, Hair Recipes.
Though the un-copyrighted ads tend to be for minor brands, this is not always the case (Chanel, Chevrolet). Some companies or groups even have some of their ads copyrighted and others not, in the same issue (Condé Nast, Unilever, Kraft).
After the April issue of Vanity Fair (Cases 24-32 from Subliminal Advertising IV), I thought the May issue would be interesting too, as regards sex embeds. Several ads from the April issue are also found on the May issue, like Case 24 and Case 25, and a few others that I didn’t bother to bring forward, so the subscriptors who receive the magazine each month, or the regular buyers, are sure to get their share of repeated exposure which is the main principle of advertising as a conditioning process.
Counting pages on both issues, I find 60 pages of commercial advertising out of an overall 172 pages in the April ‘special’ issue, and 46 pages out of an overall 148 in the May issue, which makes 34,9% and 31,1% respectively (the special, bigger issue has a greater proportion of advertisements), and this does not even include the back cover ads, infomercials, advertorials, ‘Fanfairs’, ‘Hot Tracks’, ‘My Stuff’, ‘Portraits’ of commercial artists selling their last outputs, and so on and so forth.
The seven case studies presented here outline, as previously, the sex embeds. One way to get the clearest picture of what is going on is to download the photographs focusing on the embeds, outlined and not (for instance, pictures 33-2 and 33-3 below), then opening both on your computer and shifting the mouse on the lower screen bar from one to the other, so that my delineation of the embed will project on the photograph and then leave it again according to the mouse’s movement, the photograph staying in place, as one is only the duplicate of the other plus the embeds outlined. This procedure will make the embeds obvious to the most impercipient, I believe.
Of course, if you don’t wish to download anything, it always helps to enlarge the pics by clicking on them, or even by enlarging the internet window through command ‘Ctrl plus +’ (press Ctrl and + at the same time, as many times as you want the window enlarged).
All this research on sex embeds doesn’t imply I am convinced they have potent effects or even have effects at all. However, even if the effect is unsure, as the technique costs little — or rather nothing since the graphic designer’s working time is compensated anyway and it makes no difference whether he or she’s adding shades or sparks or droplets or sex embeds — it seems that advertisers believe they ought to use the technique, and they do use it.
One final thought before the case studies. If advertising, as its advocates claim, is so important for our economy, then what a vibrant homage it is to artists, those (in the view of a few people who look at themselves as practical minds) ‘losers’! People working on ads have artistic training. At a time when middle management, even top management, is being increasingly performed by computers, and experts are being increasingly replaced by expert systems, i.e. computers, human artists are still needed to perform that part of the economy whose global revenues in 2010 amounted to 503 billion dollars worldwide (Shaver & An, Ed., The Global Advertising Regulation Handbook, 2014). Parents that discourage their kids’ artistic inclinations seem very injudicious to me, even according to their own materialistic standards, because kids may end up earning far much more working for advertising agencies than as accountants. In any case, what the advocates of advertisement’s claim amounts to is that our economy needs the artist more than the organization man, whose function is being automatized and computerized.
…………….Case 33 Louis Vuitton SEX
The lady is waiting on a pier with an extravagant profusion of luggage. The sex embed is on her boots. The signal on the tip of the pier reads ‘Privé Private Please.’ ‘Privé’ is the French for ‘private.’ The signal is pretty meaningless as such : Please what? But a private pier conveys the idea of VIP-ness, and the advertisement as a whole the idea that very important persons consume very much.
…………….Case 34 Gucci SEX
The borderline between hair and forehead, with all its underbrush, is a convenient place to embed SEXes à gogo. We have a real sex jungle here.
……………..Case 35 Dom Perignon SEX
The expensive champagne brand Dom Perignon uses no color on this one, expect golden letters for the brand name. The word sex is embedded on the stylized sea spray. The X is frankly neat and obvious as a white relief on this piece of commercial relievo.
…………….Case 36 Clarins SEX
Like in Case 15 (here), the word sex is embedded as a reflection on the sunglasses. Such reflections are typical background elements to which no attention is paid, even if geometrically speaking they are not in the background at all (since they are even closer to the viewer than the face itself, the glasses protruding from the forehead).
…………….Case 37 Olay SEX
Another case of hairline sex embedding (see Case 33).
…………….Case 38 Michael Kors SEX
Another case of sunglass reflections sex embedding. The difference with Case 35, however, is that the reflections on the latter are saturated: many objects, some sort of posh villa with greenwood trees, can be seen as reflections, among which the word sex has been embedded, whereas in the present case the apparent reflection is only that of a flat surface like the sea or a beach or a sand desert, and the sky. The word sex is embedded on this emptiness. I have outlined two different, partially overlapping embeds (37-3 and 37-4).
…………….Case 39 Etihad SEX
This one is my favorite from the lot and I will take a few minutes to explain why. First of all it uses celebrity endorsement, the woman there being the famous actress Nicole Kidman. Celebrity endorsement is described by D. Lakhani as subliminal advertising (according to Shakeel Ahmad Sofi, 2014, an Indian scholar who has studied the effects of these kinds of ads on a sample population of Kashmiri students), because one is induced to purchase a product upon motivations that have nothing to do with the product’s characteristics. This is stretching the meaning of ‘subliminal’ very much, for, although people like to say they buy products due to the latter’s intrinsic qualities, marketers know consumers should not be taken too seriously in that respect. Marketers also know celebrity endorsement sells well.
For women, the endorsement here triggers identification, I suppose. For men, it triggers plain sexual arousal in an extravagantly gross fashion. Shoes off, on her couch or bed inside the aircraft cabin, wearing a somewhat creased evening dress (it’s really bed time), Nicole Kidman is looking at you in the eyes. Furthermore there is the name Etihad in Arabic, no doubt a ‘marker’; in the same way as Audi’s international slogan Vorsprung durch Technik relies on the psychological ‘marker’ (be the fact true or not) of uncompromisingly reliable German technology (the idea of keeping the German language was the British agency BBH’s by the way: see R. Heath 2012), Arabic calligraphy evokes (be the facts true or not) Gulf oil wells and luxury and harem mysteries, so the male viewer is transported in a fantasy where he is a desert sheikh and the Hollywood star a sex slave from his harem, and the grossness of the sexual overtone (hardly an innuendo) becomes irresistible.
In such a context I was expecting the embeds to be rather shy, for two reasons. First, with due respect to the endorsing celebrity. Second, because the clients (Etihad) being desert sheikhs and outdoor Puritans*, they could miss the humor and jocularity of sex-embedding, as, for instance, capital punishment is still, in a spectacular fashion, in vigor among them (through fire squads, which is not as picturesque, however, as in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where beheading fairs are performed). These two factors would dampen, I conjectured, the artist’s embedding mania.
*(When I use the phrase ‘outdoor Puritans’, I do not mean these people are hypocrites. What occurs behind doors is no great secret among them, I should think. However, many Westerners will call these mores hypocritical, as repressed monogamists and ‘zerogamists’ carpet-bombed with mass media sexual fantasies are expected to do.)
The embeds are shy indeed; they almost seem to apologize for being there. But they are there anyway. One of them lies on a white pillow, as an arabesque of slight shades and folds. Others are on the couch, whose cover’s velvety fabric provides the milieu for the embed culture. I have outlined only a few of these.
Post Scriptum. As I find the same ad in the German magazine Der Spiegel (same month), it’s likely it appears in most journals of significance throughout the world. The price of such a global campaign (including NK’s compensation, and payment for advertising space on dozens of the most expensive media) must be enormous. Needless to say it is paid by the consumer: marketing costs are included in the final price.