Tagged: Poetzl effect

Subliminal XII: Transmarginal Advertising

Back to our Subliminal Junk series! (Go to Index for previous issues.)

For an explanation of the title “Transmarginal Advertising,” go to Complements, after Cases 88-95 below.

……………Case 88 Tyrannosaurus Toyota

An advert from the Italian weekly L’Espresso (1st October 2015).

Is it possible to miss the ferocious look of the car, with its headlights designed as brutish eyes and the bumper as the mouth of a furious animal ready to attack? It seems possible, yes, because who would admit, even to themselves, that they buy a car that looks frightful – a car that takes one back to some fantasy prehistoric times when cavemen would be riding dinosaurs to raid on their enemies and exterminate them to the last man?

Here you get an illustration to some scholarly conclusions I find thus expressed: “It is well-known that staring eyes can elicit fear in humans and other nonhuman species (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1989; Aiken 1998) because such patterns are associated with ambushing predators and aggressive conspecifics (Coss 2003). Eyespots are exploited by certain organisms to ward off potential predators and sometimes they are even present in art, architecture, and design (Joye 2007). For example, some car brands seem to tap into these arousing effects by designing vehicles whose headlights are similar to frowning and threatening ‘eyes,’ which can give them a conspicuously aggressive look (Coss 2003; Joye 2007). Recent research by Aggarwal and McGill (2007) indeed confirms that car fronts are perceived as face-like and can express different types of emotions.” (“Evolutionary Store Atmospherics” – Designing with Evolution in Mind, Yannick Joye, Karolien Poels, and Kim Willems, in Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences, G. Saad ed., 2011)

The “seem” in the next to last sentence (“some car brands seem to tap”) is superfluous: They do tap into these effects.

In the last sentence the authors cite some research that tends to show people are conscious of their perception of car fronts as being face-like. No doubt you can, in a psychology lab, draw the attention of people on the fact, but I suggest the perception is not conscious during purchase decision, for a man who would acknowledge he is buying a car because of its threatening and aggressive look would by the same token admit to himself either that he needs to compensate for some deficiencies in his life or that he is a public danger. Besides, if the same man is conscious of the ferocious look of his car, then certainly he can reflect that others will be conscious of it too and that they may make inferences from his choice of such a car to the kind of man he is, namely a man in need of compensation for deficiencies or an outright antisocial person, or both. Therefore, I think the ferocious aspect of the car as pictured in the advert remains largely subliminal. If perceived at conscious level, it will be explained away as unintentional, when it is in reality that sick mind of his that manufacturers and advertisers are tapping.

Case 88

Case 88



……………Case 89 El Corte Inglès SEX

Cases 89 to 92 are taken from the Spanish magazine ¡Hola! (30 September 2015).

El Corte Inglès is a local store chain. I specify it because nothing in the ad would tell you. On this ad you only see a model leaning against the frame of what seems to be a huge mirror. Or maybe it’s just an empty frame, because you see no reflection; instead it’s the same whitish, empty wall inside and outside the frame. And the model is leaning against it. The copy, in Spanish, says “Inspiras otoño,” or “breathe the autumn.” The local store chain advertises its autumn fashion collection.

Yet this is not all. The back of the model’s left hand is in contact with some gilded pattern of the frame. This adornment is an erect penis, of which I have outlined the testes, the shaft and the glans (picture 89-3). What would make you overlook that it is an erect penis is not only the downward direction of the penis but also the somewhat warped proportions of the shaft and glans. No matter how realistic the curvature of the shaft, it tapers at the junction with the glans, which makes the latter look extremely big.

The model is caressing it with the back of her hand. Moreover, the index finger is pointing to the model’s mouth, which may be telling you she is intent on putting the penis in her mouth.

Case 89

Case 89





…………….Case 90 Jo Malone (London) SEX

The copy says that the combination of mimosa and cardamom is “sensual, warm and enveloping.” Fine. Now, strangely, part of the tablecloth is hooked to, I don’t know for sure, either a branch of mimosa or the model’s ankle just behind it (more likely the branch, however). This, in my opinion, is completely crazy. How could the advertisers overlook such a blunder? Couldn’t they just disentangle the tablecloth from the plant or the model’s ankle bracelet before taking the picture? How much were these incompetent fools paid for that shot?

Yet, when you look more carefully at the tablecloth, you see that the fold it is making due to its being entangled with the mimosa looks like an erect penis. It’s not that they needed the hooking to make the fold, because most of the picture seems to have been airbrushed and they could have airbrushed any type of fold they wanted, but they needed a dissonant element to draw your subconscious attention to the subliminal sexual depiction. From the tip of the penis, sperm, drawn as white irregular blots, is spurting (sluggishly). This ejaculation happens on the same spot where the copy’s word “sensual” is written.

Further on the right of the penis, you can see a spectral face on the cloth. The model herself has something eerie about her too. She may be described as been completely thoughtless and emotionless, as if zombified.

Case 90

Case 90





…………….Case 91 Travelkids SEX

Travelkids organizes travels and sojourns “for the family.” Yet, in case you would find it a bit trite, they suggest you may find more excitement than just that. I am not talking about the meeting with Santa Claus, which is the copy line, but of the subliminal embed in the background. A woman is laid with two men. One man is actually lying beneath her; you can see his face, looking at you, between her right thigh and her right breast. The other man’s face is against her face. I have also outlined what seem to be a stretched arm and a hand resting on the woman’s head, hinting at the possible presence of a third man. The man beneath the woman is penetrating her in the anus (picture 91-3). The vaginal slit may be stuffed with a penis too, if you look carefully, but I have not outlined this because I’m not so sure there.

Case 91

Case 91





…………….Case 92 Rabat (Barcelona Madrid Valencia) SEX

The bust shows almost only naked parts, uncovered skin. The pattern of the few centimeters of dress that you can see looks like spermatozoa.

Under her eyes, in the shady area, have been embedded a couple of SEXes which I leave to you to spot.

What I have concentrated on is the subliminal presence, in the background, of a woman wearing only a dark shirt or blouse wide open on her naked breast. The blouse has fallen down her shoulders, slightly, so the shoulders too are largely uncovered. Her left hand is on her vagina. The inclination of the head hints at a moment of abandon. That subliminal woman is masturbating.

Case 92

Case 92




…………….Case 93 Gucci SEX

Cases 93 to 95 are from Cosmopolitan UK Edition, October 2015.

On the left page of this two-page advert for perfume, you can see, beside the name of the brand and the copy (“Underneath it all she wears Gucci Bamboo” – this by itself is eroticism, isn’t it?), a Japanese-like ink print, complete with birds in bamboo trees and grass by a river. The river stream and grass stand for a moist, oozing vaginal slit with pubic hair.

The model on the right page, wearing a risqué evening dress, is looking at you intensely. You too are on the picture, mind you, because albeit you may think the shadow on the wall is hers, whose shadow is it that is on her? There is only one shadow and that’s the shadow of a man with erect penis (outlined on picture 93-2). This is whom the woman is looking at.

Case 93

Case 93



…………….Case 94 Pantene SEX

Are words necessary? I don’t know how to tell you, but there’s not even a façade of propriety in your world. You talk like a person of worth and dignity, and yet that’s the kind of stuff your guests will find in your living room, on the sofa or under the coffee table – depictions of fellatio.

Please take a look at what I wrote on Case 72 (here), where I already discussed the “blow dry” copy. The present advert confirms that I am right. For, yes, it’s a fellatio that you’re seeing just now. And it’s a fellatio that was intended, with that hairdryer and that wide-open mouth. Had it not been intended, there would have been some guy in the staff telling the others: “Shouldn’t we do something to make the picture look less like a fellatio?” And someone would have replied: “Oh yes, it’s true some people will think of a fellatio there! Let’s do something about it.” No, they wanted it that way.

Case 94

Case 94

……………Case 95 Fiat SEX

A female hand is about to apply lipstick to a car rear light. Because, as the copy goes, the rear light is as glossy as lipstick. On the other hand, the stick is about to penetrate the dark space between the red glossy “lining” of the rear light. It’s just another sexual representation.

Why do women put on lipstick in the first place? According to evolutionary psychologists, it’s a way to simulate sexual arousal, since her lips tend to redden and shine when a woman is aroused; such a state of arousal being in its turn sexually arousing for men, lipstick makes women more attractive. It’s like swollen genitals during estrus among certain primate species. Among species with visible estrus, a female can take no rest at these periods because all males want to copulate with her, and even if she’s monopolized by one dominant male he won’t stop copulate with her, in case she would be inseminated by another male despite all his vigilance (and he wants to counter the other male’s semen with his own: this is called sperm competition, see my Science of Sex series).

In echo with Case 88 (Tyrannosaurus Toyota), even though the ad is obviously aimed at women, its copy intends to be alluring to aggressiveness: “The Icon Reloaded. Change the Fiat 500? That’s crazy talk. So we set out to subtly style-up the little beauty. Take a look at the red hot halo-style rear lights with body coloured inserts. Just one of many ferociously fashionable (author’s emphasis) touches that make the new Fiat 500 even glossier. Shine baby, shine.”

Being fashionable is not enough, one has to be “ferociously” fashionable. Many a psychologist (even among evolutionary psychologists) will tell you women are not aggressive… They don’t live in the same world as us, seemingly. Women are aggressive and when they mean business they know how to use men as weapons.

“Icon” can apply both to the car and the customer, that is, the female ad viewer. If the latter needs “reloading,” and that can mean something very organic such as vagina-loading (this is consistent with the whole seduction line of the ad), she’d better reach out for the car.

Case 95

Case 95


Have I the right to make use of all these adverts (95 so far, folks!) without asking permission to no one? I have read several scholarly books dealing (more or less competently) with advertising and they all thank the companies for their kind permission to let them use their material.

On one occasion, when Kentucky Fried Chicken faced a viral campaign on the Web because of a racist ad, first they hinted somewhat ominously at unpermitted use of their advert by the people who launched the campaign. Then they pulled the ad like good boys.

Still, I find it would be strange that the companies that otherwise pay for an advertisement to be made for one of their products and also pay for that advert to appear in various media, object to another medium showing the same material without even asking money for it. To be sure, I take the liberty of making comments on that material, which the other media never do (they take the money and shut up – that’s what they call informing the public). This is why I add here the following excerpt from Eric McLuhan’s introduction to the 2014 edition of Marshall McLuhan’s book Culture Is Our Business (1970):

Many have wondered at the lack of acknowledged permissions for using the ads in both books [The Mechanical Bride and Culture Is Our Business]. The reason is that permissions were unnecessary: the ads were available for free. Editors at Vanguard had found a curious legal fiction. Advertisers were being given huge tax breaks on the grounds that they were engaged in a sort of educational enterprise, “educating the public” about products so that it might better make informed choices. The upshot is that anyone can make use of the (government-supported) ads for free providing they were not being used as ads, but as educational materials, for educative purposes. Needless to say, the agencies were reluctant to let these matters become known to the public.

And, on behalf of advertisers, thank you for the tax breaks.

Whether this legal provision applies to my case or not, I haven’t the slightest clue (under which jurisdiction lies this blog is unknown to me), but I guess that if multinationals want to crush me they have the means. But I, on my side, have nothing to lose. (They perhaps have the means to buy me, as an alternative, who knows?)

I’ve got nothing to lose and besides I’m not alone; there is at least one living dead with me, namely Aldous Huxley, whose book Brave New World Revisited (1958), written about 25 years after Brave New World was published, I urge you to read, especially, regarding the present topic, its chapter IX “Subconscious Persuasion,” which I quote:

Poetzl was one of the portents which, when writing Brave New World, I somehow overlooked. There is no reference in my fable to subliminal projection. It is a mistake of omission which, if I were to rewrite the book today, I should most certainly correct.

Last but not least, a quote from William James on his views about the “transmarginal field of consciousness,” in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902):

Such rapid abolition of ancient impulses and propensities [by religious conversion] reminds us so strongly of what has been observed as the result of hypnotic suggestion that it is difficult not to believe that subliminal influences play the decisive part in these abrupt changes of heart, just as they do in hypnotism. Suggestive therapeutics abound in records of cure, after a few sittings, of inveterate bad habits with which the patient, left to ordinary moral and physical influences, had struggled in vain. Both drunkenness and sexual vice have been cured in this way, action through the subliminal seeming thus in many individuals to have the prerogative of inducing relatively stable change (author’s emphasis). If the grace of God miraculously operates, it probably operates through the subliminal door, then.


Incursions from beyond the transmarginal region have a peculiar power to increase conviction.”

And the money-grubbers would deem it below their dignity to make use of such a powerful tool at their disposal?…

July 2016

Subliminal Advertising VII: Ghosts from Epinal

At my grandparents’ house, hanging on the wall of the lavatory were a couple of Epinal printings, old images that peddlers used to sell as entertainment, as one would have some pleasant time looking for the hidden objects in them. These printings were quite popular, and some really tricky as riddles, even though the caption or legend told viewers in florid style what object to look for. Thus, family members and guests could enjoy at my grandparents’ house the riddles while in the lavatory.

This may account for my not being very much surprised, years later, as I read Wilson B. Key’s books on subliminal advertising, because the techniques he described reminded me that, in former times, artists from the small French town of Epinal, in the province of Lorraine, did just the same.

Only their goals were different. An innocent game then, it is now utilized to penetrate consumers’ psyches in order to manipulate their purchasing behavior.

In the following case studies, 47 to 52, from the April 2015 issue of the magazine Vogue (American edition), besides a few new cases of sex embeds, I presently extend the scope of the ‘Subliminal Advertising’ series by providing examples of hidden objects Epinal-wise (Cases 51 and 52).

Before, as you may have heard or read about Wilson Bryan Key in dismissing and disparaging terms, if you have ever read or heard of him at all, it will be useful to quote some respected scholars who ackowledge his contribution. The following lines are taken from the book Sex in Advertising, 2003, editor by Tom Reichert and Jacqueline Lambiase. W.B. Key authored a chapter in this book, which is certainly one of his last written contributions (he died in 2008). Interestingly, in the section ‘About the Contributors’, the editors have this to say about him: ‘He is currently CEO of Mediaprobe Inc., an international consulting and educational firm, and is writing a new book on media analysis.’ To my knowledge, the book here alluded to has never been published; it would be great if the manuscript, even if unfinished, could some day find its way to a publisher.


This book also includes original work by Wilson Key, one of the most prolific (and widely read) writers on the issue of sexual embeds in advertising and media [and, in fact, the one author who discovered and exposed the practice. FB]. Key’s writings … have sold millions and influenced not only a generation, but sparked considerable controversy as well. (p. x)

Possible proof of his influence is brought forth by several surveys. One, cited in Haberstroh 1994, a book aimed at discrediting Key’s findings, shows that 62 percent of Americans agree with the statement that advertisers utilize subliminal techniques – and the more educated one is, the likelier he is to agree. According to another survey, cited in Acland 2011 (Acland has read Haberstroh and, like Haberstroh, he finds Key’s ideas ‘kooky’), the figure reaches 81 percent, among which 44 percent believe it has some effect on purchasing behavior. All in all, however widespread Key’s influence might have been, academic and other research and writing on the matter remains strikingly shy, if not nonexistent if one look for books that support the idea and carry on with the work on that direction.

Although sex in advertising is a controversial topic in and of itself, nothing in this area raises more debate than the supposed use of sexual embeds. Often referred to as subliminal advertising, sexual embeds are defined as referents or forms of sexual representation designed to be perceived subconsciously. Common types of embeds include: the word sex; objects that are shaped or positioned like genitalia and sexual acts; and small, hidden images of naked people, body parts, and genitalia. Sexual embeds are integrated into images by ad creators and are intended to go undetected by those viewing the ad. … Controversy pertains to the existence and supposed effects of sexual embeds. (p.25)

Have you heard of the controversy? If yes, was it recently? Do you think the issue is being duly debatted in the public sphere? Do you know of public personalities expressing themselves on the issue?

As embeds trigger unconscious recognition, they stimulate sexual arousal and motivation. Ultimately, observers are motivated toward goal-directed behavior (e.g. movement toward the stimulus). When embeds are consciously detected their power diminishes because viewers’s defense mechanisms are stimulated. (p.27)

Many researchers and advertising professionals consider embeds to be a hoax because controlled research has not substantiated their effects, and they doubt that media professionals intentionally use embeds. … At this point, interested readers are encouraged to review work in sexual embed research to reach their own conclusions. (p.27)

May the present series contribute to interested readers’ reaching their conclusions, knowing extra-lab research on sexual embedding in actual media advertisements is scarce.

……………Case 47 Ralph Lauren SEX

The word sex has been embedded on the crocodile skin-looking material of the lady’s sandal. The color patterns of said material are frankly irregular, hinting at real animal skin. The S and E show up as black marks, whereas the X appears in a white rhombus next to E. The rhombus is made of four of the units that seem to constitute the hide’s scaly texture: these four units’ intersection in the white rhombus makes an X. If you’re not satisfied with this X, maybe you will agree, then, that the next white stain on the right, a bigger one, shows an X-like shape.

As I told you this time I would look for more than mere word embeds, I would like to call your attention to the lady’s left hand. The middle and third fingers are touching a button from the trousers or shirt (it’s not very clear), a button that seems to be the only one of its kind in this particular place. When one remembers that the word ‘button’, in English as well as other European languages such as French (bouton), can designate the clitoris, one is led to infer that the image is meant to be subconsciously perceived, and felt, as a scene of masturbation.

Alluring women via female onanism makes perfect sense in a context where, according to the Hite Report on Female Sexuality, 70 percent of women will never experience orgasm if not by means of masturbation. Of course, the relevant question here is not so much whether said report gives an accurate picture of the reality as whether advertisers tend to opine it does.

Case 47

Case 47

47 - 2

47 – 2

47 - 3

47 – 3

…………….Case 48 Estée Lauder SEX

On this one, I have outlined a banal hairline sex embed on the blonde lady’s head. More can be found on both ladies.

This advertisement, however, triggered my interest for another reason. You can’t see the blonde lady’s hand, so you won’t easily admit she’s grasping the brunette’s buttocks. In fact, her hands may lie slightly below the buttocks, but very close to them, just far enough to defuse any eagerness at indignation. The idea remains the same: Between these two women goes some special intimacy that includes erotic body contact. Unless, of course, the brunette is standing between parallel bars or is a legless cripple who has been carried up on an armchair, on which arms the blonde’s hands are resting, but I think we can safely discard such interpretations although we’d rather advertisers didn’t tap our sex drives with so much compulsion.

Case 48

Case 48

48 - 2

48 – 2

48 - 3

48 – 3

…………….Case 49 Gucci SEX

Another sex embed on sandals. The sandals’ reptile skin material, by the way, color and all, is the same as in Case 47 above. It shows that, intriguingly, Gucci (Kering group) and Ralph Lauren have the same sorts of ideas about shoes at the same time.

Case 49

Case 49

49 - 2

49 – 2

49 - 3

49 – 3

…………….Case 50 Burberry SEX

We have already seen in this series two ads from the same Burberry campaign, involving models Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn Star (Cases 17 and 26). However, contrary to both previous ones, on this ad we can see their uncovered legs. What will we see next? This campaign is a million-dollar striptease.

(The advertisers responsible for this campain might expostulate that they have not launched the different ads in such striptease arrangement, but all more or less together. If this is true, it still allows that a consequent number of people will be exposed to the campaign in the same sequence as has been the case for me.)

Case 50

Case 50

50 - 2

50 – 2

50 - 3

50 – 3

…………….Case 51 Calvin Klein SEX

Now we arrive at Epinal, Lorraine. For Calvin Klein Jeans, the pop singer Justin Bieber is exhibiting his abdominal muscles. In the business jargon we call that a beefcake image: an athletic, scantily clad man. He seems to be admiring his abdominals. Is he? Are you? I guess the huge penis embedded on his abdomen will not leave you indifferent either; you might even dream about it afterwards (Poetzl effect), unless, maybe, I show it to you. (The exact same kind of embed is described in Wilson Key’s book The Age of Manipulation.)

Case 51

Case 51

51 - 2

51 – 2

……………..Case 52 Cadillac CHILD PORN

Now we go where Epinal artists of old would never have dreamt of. In that New Epinal, there is no limit to the wildest fantasies.

This is an advertisement for Cadillac, a General Motors marque. It extends on six pages, three times two, of which I bring forth nb 1 & 2 (picture with legend Case 52) and 5 & 6 (picture with legend 52-4). (Pages 3 & 4 are just bla bla that no one reads: it isn’t even technical information, but pseudo-philosophy in aphorisms: “It is not the critic who counts” etc. This sentence, the first one in the bla bla, intended at most to be read cursorily, perceived but not processed, could actually be construed to effect a subliminal injunction to relinquish critical thinking).

The two pictures distinguish themselves from all other ads on this Vogue issue by their realistic depiction of our urban world and life. Instead of garish, gay dresses, people wear dark, dull clothes, their faces are worn and concerned. It should serve as a reminder, by the way: Why do you buy bright dresses when you know you cannot put them on because you would be regarded like an alien from Mars, would make yourself too conspicuous and thus the target of mean comments? Anyway, this is the real word, from which Cadillac owners withdraw.

To make it a bit more nightmarish, the graphic designer has embedded hidden objects in the pictures. Remember one thing: Most people are taking pains to avoid looking at advertisements, so advertisers must find a way to attract people’s attention in spite of their reluctance and avoidance. One way to do it is to wave hello to the reptilian brain (limbic system), that part of the brain that is permanently scanning its environment, having done the same ever since it has been the survival tool of an ancient primate lurking in primeval wilderness in quest for food and fearing deadly attacks. The reptilian brain will perceive the embeds without your knowing it. Once perceived by the limbic system and thus stored inside the implicit memory system, hidden embeds can tell their little stories undisturbed to our drives and motivations. Expectations with respect to ads, as vapid and insignificant material, in a word as noise (which they are), will contribute to prevent perceptions of embeds from accessing consciousness. So you won’t see the ghoulish faces and zoomorphic demons embedded by mercenary artists in the thousands of commercial messages you are exposed to on a daily basis.

On picture 52-3, I have outlined a few SEXes, but also an eerie face staring at you from a waft of fog, and an awe-inspiring cowlike, bosomy goddess blowing smoke from her nostrils. My outlining is not adequately conveying the actual eeriness of the former face and stare, I find, but my drawing skills haven’t been much exercised as of late.

With respect to picture 52-6, I must ask you to be prepared to anything. The sex embed on the greyish air is nothing. On the left-hand side, between the two realistic-looking, middle-class, dark-clad wretches on foot, one sees a pole, maybe a street lamp. It is given a prominent position in the picture. Not only that, it also displays a large number of confused, black and white forms. These are the forms to which I would like to draw your attention, because it is there the graphic designer has embedded a variety of meaningful images.

At the bottom, two faces are smooching, a man on the left, a woman on the right. The woman has long hair. The man is middle-aged at least, given the baldness on the top of his head.

From the bottom go directly to the top. There I have outlined two ghostly faces. The face on the left is a skull. That on its right is some demonlike fiend.

Below these haunting faces, something very nasty is going on. A young girl is forced to perform a fellatio. The physiognomy of the face, as well as its dimension compared to the penis, indicate a child, unmistakably. This is subliminal child pornography!

Should be enough for the present. Some of you will react like: ‘You want to make us see what you yourself are projecting on the picture, but I won’t.’ To those ones I would like to remind Epinal printings: You won’t see the hidden object in the printing unless you look for it. But it is there. Someone has put it there, not my or your imagination. The trick has been known for a long time.

Case 52

Case 52

52 - 2

52 – 2

52 - 3 with Epinal hidden embeddings

52 – 3 with Epinal hidden embeddings

52 - 4

52 – 4

52 - 5

52 – 5

52 - 6 with Epinal hidden embeddings

52 – 6 with Epinal hidden embeddings

May 2015