Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why

By Max Sutherland | Go to book overview

3 SUBLIMINAL ADVERTISING: THE BIGGEST MYTH
OF ALL

Advertising is in an odd position. Its extreme protagonists
claim it has extraordinary powers and its severest critics
believe them.
1

Andrew Ehrenberg

There are those who believe that advertising is all powerful and that the mechanism of advertising must be unconscious and subliminal and this is why its effects are not open to introspection. This chapter asserts that subtlety, not subliminality, is what is important and at the same time dispels the subliminal advertising myth. I also examine the reasons why 'embeds' which fan people's fears continue to appear in advertising from time to time.


The never-ending story

In 2007 during an episode of Iron Chef America on the cable Food Network, a single frame of the McDonald's golden arches was discovered, embedded in a part of the program.2 Why was it there? The network later explained, 'It was a technical error on our part and not a subliminal message.'

When The Lion King movie was released Disney found itself under attack from accusers who said the word s-e-x could be discerned in one scene in the dust as the lions were playing. I saw the clip (before it was removed from YouTube) and there is no doubt it was in there.

Some time later in the USA, in print ads for Camel cigarettes the image of a camel was barely discernible, embedded in the patterns of exhaled smoke and in the arrangement of ice water droplets. And in a number of visual ads with no apparent message the Mercedes three-point star appeared embedded in a variety of obscure places (see the example shown below).

-36-

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