The 9 following cases of subliminal advertising are taken from a single issue of the magazine Vanity Fair, dated April 2015. Not that I found only 9 cases in the whole issue, but I had to make a selection because almost all ads show the same technique of embedding the word SEX in the pictures. (“Almost all,” as far as I can see; there may be sex embeds in all advertisements, with some escaping my scrutiny.)
Such advertisements are not only found in magazines and newspapers, but also billboards.
If you would like to see my previous 25 case studies (from papers dated March 2015), click on the Subliminal category from the menu on the right.
And don’t forget: click on the pictures to enlarge them.
……………. Case 24 Ralph Lauren
The April 2015 Vanity Fair “Special Issue” opens on this double-page advertisement. The lady on the photograph is sitting near a mysterious bear-like animal or jumbo-sized teddy bear. The fur of this strange pet is covered with sex embeds, of which I have outlined a couple.
……………. Case 25 Tiffany & Co
What makes this embed inconspicuous at first sight is that one will not pay attention to the natural bone and tendon lines of the body. But here the lines are not natural in the least, they have been painted so as to both look like natural bone and tendon lines and draw the word sex. Furthermore, the S is grey, the E white, the X black, so your inattentive neocortex will not connect them.
……………. Case 26 Burberry
This is another advertisement from one series made for Burberry. The models, Campbell and Dunn, are the same as in Case 17 from the French magazine Elle (see here). Here you have evidence that this advertising campaign has a global reach, since the different photographs from the same campaign can be found in French as well as American magazines (and billboards, as I could ascertain in the streets of Paris this month).
……………. Case 27 Miu Miu
This young lady is sitting on a woodbench degraded by knife cuts. There is a prominent E near her handbag, but it stands alone. However, the word SEX can be found on other parts of the poor bench, not too far.
……………. Case 28 Gucci
The sex embed is on the denim shirt. As far as I can see, there are a couple more Xs around that could provide the third letter. If you observe the cases well, you will find it is not unusual that some parts of the photographs are covered with graffiti, clouds of letters.
……………. Case 29 Patek Philippe
Motherly love and… SEX.
……………. Case 30 Elie Saab
……………. Case 31 Jimmy Choo Blossom
Isn’t it crystal clear?
……………. Case 32 Calvin Klein Euphoria
Authors who have written on subliminal advertising, such as Wilson Bryan Key, pioneer in the field, (Subliminal Seduction, 1973; Media Sexploitation, 1976; The Clam-Plate Orgy, 1980; and The Age of Manipulation, 1989), and August Bullock (The Secret Sales Pitch. An Overview of Subliminal Advertising, 2004), adopted a Freudian viewpoint on the subject, assuming that the analysis made by advertisers themselves were on those kinds of lines. My guess is that this assumption is based on Vance Packard’s exposure of The Hidden Persuaders (1957), in which for the first time the public was made aware of the extent with which so-called motivational research (MR) was used in commercial advertising; Packard seemed to believe MR was based on psychoanalysis. However, reading Ernest Dichter’s (one of the first practitioners of motivational research) best known book The Strategy of Desire (1960) brings no confirmation of the importance of psychoanalysis in the latter’s thought. In that book, Freud and psychoanalysis are mentioned a couple of times, not in a subservient way, and indeed Gestalt psychology is mentioned oftener and seems to have exerted a greater influence.
Among the people presented by Packard, “the most genial and ingratiating of all the major figures operating independent depth-probing firms,” motivational researcher James Vicary, started, the same year as The Hidden Persuaders appeared, a business called Subliminal Projection Corporation, intended to sell subliminal projectors for television and the silver screen. However, public outcry made him cancel his plans. Today, subliminal techniques, in the US, are prohibited on TV — but not on cinema (see Bullock): What makes the difference relevant according to the law? one may ask. As to paper advertising, it goes undisturbed.
There is no need to resort to Freudian unconscious in order to explain subliminal advertising, and the fact that Key and Bullock rely so much on that theorizing is a weakness rather than a strength, since the validity of specific psychoanalitic theses is quite shaky, to say the least (see H.J. Eysenck).
Our brain is made of several parts, corresponding to different stages of our evolution. The most archaic part is what we call the “reptilian brain,” located in the brainstem. Mammals have it in common with reptiles, birds, and fish. The two other parts are the paleocortex or limbic system (emotions) and the neocortex (thinking). It is sometimes talked of an “old brain” (as limbic system including the brainstem a.k.a. reptilian brain) and a “new brain” (neocortex). The reptilian brain is the organ of survival: In remote life conditions, it was continuously scanning the environment in order to detect threats and objects of vital interest. In primates and humans, it is visual. Researches have shown that it visualizes objects even before these enter our consciousness. The principle of subliminal images is that they are visualized by the reptilian brain without entering our consciousness. Advertisers believe this can impact consumer behavior (the “sovereign consumer”), relying on what is known as the Poetzl effect, according to which subconsciously vizualized images are stored in an unconscious memory whence they may influence behaviour.
……………………………… Case 1 Beachcomber (from French weekly Le Point, March 12, 2015)
A happy family is going to the beach. There might perhaps be something striking in the fact that her bath suit is a bit too large for the girl on the right, and one does not see clearly either what the smiling lady is looking at, she seems to be gazing either in the void or just before the man’s pelvis, that is at his erect penis, but these, I would say, are only suggestive, non-subliminal or half-subliminal tricks. There is, however, a subliminal SEX painted on the man’s shirt. (First picture shows the ad, second picture shows the shirt, third picture shows the shirt with the SEX delineated so you can compare with picture 2.) (Click To Enlarge)
…………………………….. Case 2
From Time Magazine, March 30, 2015, on a Briefing page (12), a soda can is shown to illustrate a news on diet sodas. Although it is not brand advertising, it is some all brands-encompassing advertising for soda consumption, and one can find SEXes painted at the bottom of the can. On picture 3, one SEX has been delineated, forming a straight line; an alternative SEX is on picture 4, with same S and E but X taken from above so the three letters form a triangle. Other S, E and X, even bigger than these ones, can be picked up.
……………………………. Case 3
From Time Magazine, March 30, 2015, p.46, the following picture of three actors from a movie presented on p.45. People in the media call it film criticism, some other people call it advertising. Whether subliminal techniques are required for film criticism, I don’t know, but I can see SEXes in the picture, in the background on the left, where some shady area is apparent, inside of which clouds of embedded letters can be perceived. Several overlapping SEXes pop up, of which I have delineated one.
………………………………. Case 4 Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group (from The Economist, March 27, 2015)
It’s only a lady (she might be famous but I don’t know her, sorry) looking at us or someone from inside a car. All is trim and neat in the picture, except for a little chrome bar on the right side below the window, where some small graffiti are visible. When you look closer, you can see three letters, X, S, E, which makes a SEX puzzle (for your reptilian brain to play with).