Ads of the Month
All of the ads illustrated below require interpretation, as does any embedded content with these ads. The ads are not equivalent to classified ads; they provide little information and meaning has to be provided by the viewer.
As such, you may disagree with my interpretations and conclusions. That is to be expected, especially when the imagery is rather ambiguous and not readily susceptible to presentation on a computer screen. However, what you should consider in addition to any interpretation you may put on the ads is how such ads influence viewers. Clearly these ads are not providing information about the products they advertise and the content of the ad is therefore expected to do more than simply provide viewers with reminders of the products concerned. So what function does these embellishments serve? One can only presume they are intended to enhance sales.
The only people who can provide evidence whether or not embedded and other forms of manipulative advertising are effective in influencing viewers are those who produced the ads; experimental evidence from psychologists such as the author can only tell whether or not such ads are capable of influence; they can never tell whether they have increased/decreased sales.
I decided to give pride of place this month to the type of ad that does its best to ruin the festive season for many individuals prone to consume too much alcohol or consume alcohol for the wrong reasons. It is an ad for Drambuie.
The elements of interest are primarily 'contained' within the glass but those viewers with a roving imagination will not doubt be able to perceive 'images' within the ice cubes. What will be perceived, however, is the product of the perceptual system as it attempts to make sense of the ambiguous nature of the 'figures' in the glass. There are various animalistic 'faces', an undoubted phallic shape, a Lowry type figure to the left about to have his eye poked out, and others. All in all, a nice festive treat for the festive drinker.
Drambuie in this ad is intended to be drunk with ice but it isn't the drink that needs to be put on ice. Such ads need to be iced - permanently. They are intended to encourage drinking as a means of coping with emotional turmoil and anxiety - or worse still, to engender such emotions in some viewers in the hope that they will 'turn to drink' to alleviate their anxiety.
For other ads in the same vein seek those for Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. And don't forget the classic Gilbey's Gin ad first reported by Wilson Key.
Not for the first time, nor for the last, Marlboro entered the ad of the month stakes. See Oct 2000, Jan 2000 and May 1999 for other examples. This, in fact, is an 'old' ad. It has been issued at least twice in recent years. This would seem to indicate that it has been an effective advocate for Marlboro - and an indicator of effective embedded imagery in advertising. For more details about this jaded jackrabbit and his embedded message see the Second Time Around page. Unlike the stereotypical rabbit who has no trouble mating and reproducing, this one has to advertise for sex. The letters SX are visible on his chest on the extract below [as always view an original copy of the printed ad for the clearest view].
It's not a particularly pleasant ad, but what is not consciously perceived is considerably more unpleasant that what can be perceived.
Ignore the snouts of the crocs in the foreground and focus on the background. Superficially, the trees are seemingly sillouetted against a brightly lit sky, possibly a fire or the setting sun. However if you look more carefully at this aspect of the ad you will note that the scene is in fact composed of a set of indistinct 'faces'. The rollover highlights a couple of the larger 'faces', with only one side of the 'face' on the right showing reasonably clearly.
The caption would seem to refer to the crocs (either to be seen by tourists, or to devour tourists - who knows what lurks in the imagination of those who construct ads designed to trigger anxiety in smokers). But the caption really refers to the unearthly figures in the background. They are there to trigger anxiety in some smokers and to remind them of their welcome into the next life once they shuffle off their mortal coil - with the help of Marlboro, of course. The inspiration for such an ad possibly originated with the viewing of artistic works containing embedded faces.
For more commentary on Marlboro ads, follow your snout.
'It's all a man could want', so one of Gillette's captions goes. One would be inclined to consider such a caption was referring to a close shave. But, of course, it is nothing of the sort. It is really a double entendre and, read in conjunction with the present ad for Arctic Ice, the meaning could be much more basic.
However, the Arctic Ice ad doesn't need any carryover of meaning from other Gillette ads. It has its own means of presenting a seductive message. If you have not already noticed, this ad has a number of embedded components.
First, note that there is a caption drawing attention to what could be explored. But the embedded element related to this caption is unlikely to be noted consciously. Nevertheless, Gillette apparently believe, with some justification, that their product can be an aid to the fulfilment of a natural desire. The ad thus provides a vertical representation of what is normally a horizontal desire - and I am not referring to the upright aerosol can. More will be said about this embedded element later but click on the ad image for a larger version if you wish to find it on your own.
To complement this key image, and try to ensure that it is Arctic Ice, rather than any other brand, that is used to help achieve the implied goal, attention is drawn to the brand name by two 'faces'. These can be found on either side of the brand name, Arctic Ice, as it appears on the aerosol can.
A third salient, secondary image is alongside and partly penetrating the circular shape on the left of the can.
One can immediately leap to the conclusion that this is intended to be perceived as a phallic object fulfilling its natural function and penetrating the area to be explored. And one would probably be correct in such an assumption.
However, the producers of this ad did not simply wish to leave this conclusion solely to the imagination of the viewer. They wished to enhance the likelihood that the phallic shape would be either consciously attended to or simply unconsciously 'recognised' in terms of its meaning. They added some 'lettering' to the head of the phallic shape to try and ensure that it was perceived as a sexual implement.
The lettering has not reproduced particularly clearly in the image shown alongside. However the rollover gives an indication of where some relatively clear examples can be found. Persusal of an original copy of the ad will substantiate the claim that the letters (partially over-lapping) are SE and X, only one of which appears in the word Gillette or Arctic Ice.
One final word on the topic of shaving and sex, since Gillette failed to provide such a reminder. To avoid the dangers associated with nicks, ensure you practice safe sex.
If the subject of this section was placed on a separate page the one and only headline would obviously have to be 'It's the real thing.' But it isn't, so we will have to settle for reporting the semi-subliminal oddities that make recent examples of Coca-Cola packaging something to remember. The first can be found on 500 and 2ltr bottles of Coca-Cola.
Superficially the labels appear pretty innocuous. However, look at the 'spray' emerging from the bottle but don't get carried away. It is not a phallic shape, though it might be intended to be perceived as sexy if one reads quite a lot into the fact that it is bursting to get out of the bottle.
The odd thing about the label is that it appears to contain a very thirsty, Gremlin like, face as becomes clear when one turns the label on its side; the ear, eye and a blob for a nose are relatively clear but the image becomes a bit 'messy' when one tries to determine where the mouth is, unless one perceives one aspect of the image as a forked tongue (does that say something about Coke advertising - the senior management are more clearly concerned about the legality of using 'subliminal' advertising rather than its unacceptability to the general public).
If one were to consider this label on its own it could simply be an aberation or the idiosyncratic work of the team who produced the label. However, despite one classic blooper when the recipe for Coke was changed some years ago, the advertising, promotion and marketing of Coca-Cola is generally deemed to be very carefully managed. This attention to detail would seem to indicate that the 'face' was intentional (and presumably continues to be effective in encouraging the drinking of Coke in many countries around the world).
It is not the only Coke label that the author has come across recently that has what seems to contain suggestive or secondary elements embedded in them. Some in fact can be construed as attempts to associate sex with Coke. And Pepsi don't seem to be taking the competition too lightly. They also have joined in the 'subliminal' soft drinks war, though the Pepsi preference seems to draw largely upon using 'faces' to attract attention.
Raindrops keep falling on the model's dress as raindrops are wont to do. What is rather unusual in the ad for Nivea Sun Moisturising Self Tan Spray is the fact that the drops of rain seem predestined to fall into patterns forming the shapes of the letters S and X.
Maybe it is my imagination but there is also the semblance of lettering embedded in the dark patch to the left of ad, level with the model's upper arm. You might share the same thoughts if you have access to an original copy of the ad. When you look at the extract, below right, illustrating the portion of the dress just above the knee, you might also wonder if there is intended to be some association formed between the 'lettering' and the fact that the model is 'hitching up' the hem of her dress and the somewhat phallic shape of the Spray dispensor.
All of this could, of course, be coincidence, just as the colour of grass tends to be green when there is adequate rainfall. The rollover figure on the right gives an indication of where to look for the 'letters'. As the note on the rollover reminds you, it is rare that embedded letters are clearly printed in ads. It is normally the case that variations in colouring (in this case, apparent water drops on the dress fabric) permit such an interpretation. Such interpretation may occur without conscious awareness but there is little doubt that many individuals will be able to perceive them when attention is focussed on that area of the ad. This focussing of attention is, of course, rather different from the normal 'holistic' process involved in viewing ads. Casual attention to such an image would lead to a straightforward interpretation of the scene as simply being that of a young woman wearing a dress with spots of rain on it - but, of course, it is not just that. It is a sexually laden scene involving a young woman with spots of rain on her dress.
The context in which such an ad is viewed is clearly important in determing the reaction that will be obtained. Overlearning and lack of attention lead to simplistic conclusions, even when one reflects consciously on the imagery within an ad. However, the visual system and emotional responses do not wait for thoughts about images. Images and their component parts can produce reactions within the brain well before thoughts enter consciousness. Embedded images could, in fact, produce emotional responses that would bias judgements in favour of this product if the viewers were positively disposed towards sexually oriented messages (is there anyone out there who isn't?).
The young female audience of the She magazine this ad was presented in would most likely have such a predisposition. Such a predisposition would be encouraged by the first caption on the magazine cover: immediately after the title logo was the caption '21 SEX MYTHS: Improve your love life overnight'. Within a context set by such headlines how may other trains of thought are likely to be running through the viewers head when they come across such ads? This is not brainwashing of the Korean War variety; it is much more subtle. But how effective such ads are is a question that has never been adequately answered. Academics do not have appropriate answers yet there must be answers within the commercial domain if those who produce such ads evaluate their work. Will the public ever know how much (or how little) embedded imagery ads to the effectiveness (or otherwise) of ads?
The creative team who produced this ad for Pirelli tyres - the image was drawn from a TV commercial - intended viewers to focus on the caption 'Power is nothing without control'. However, the control the series of ads often refer to, or expect the viewer to respond to, is not simply control of a motor vehicle making using of Pirelli tyres. The creative team who produced this ad and the others in the same series drew upon knowledge of psychological processes including visual perception, developmental psychology and bodily functions in order to try and make this ad as effective as possible. It is, in fact much more meaningful than first impressions would indicate. It is an ad 'for the boys' in the tyre shop as well as any other susceptible viewer.
To fully appreciate this analysis you will need to review and interpret a number of the ads on the Pirelli page. With regard to the ad presented here, one need simply note that the rock column supporting the tyre is shaped in the traditional phallic shape (longer than it is wide) and it also has a remarkable resemblance to a bottle top, including cap. Both features would be likely to appeal to male viewers of this ad. One could even reasonably suggest there are the rudiments of facial features: a mouth, mop-top hairdo, a hint of a nose and two eyes. If you cannot readily perceive this 'face' use the rollover to get a roughly sketched indication of where the key features can be located.
The meanings associated with the symbolic shapes are probably not all that is intended to be conveyed by this ad. Given that the previous Pirelli ads in the series all emphasized sex (and usually also control or dominance of another person) this ad can also be expected to offer some message that is more specifically related to this overall theme.
The cracks in the rock face, for example, can be perceived as complementary to the previous sexual allusions. They can often be 'read' as the key letters in the word sex ie SX. To perceive them clearly you will have to view an original advert but some indications can be noted in the ad on the right. Swirling S shapes, for example, in combination with the X's are not all that common on natural rock formations. These are most salient in the light coloured bluff to the left of the rock column. It does not require too much thought to appreciate that the letters S and X, and less obviously also the letter E, are superimposed on each other to give the impression of natural fissures in the rock.
The other Pirelli ads, despite advertising tyres, generally did not contain illustrations of the product. In the present ad we simply have a tyre atop the rock. To share the meanings conveyed by previous ads the tyre would also have to symbolize something emotive and sexual. The notion of an orifice comes readily to mind when viewing the tyre and the tyre is, of course, in close conjunction with the 'phallic' shaped rock. One may also let one's imagination take flight and conceive that the tyre as 'naked'. A tyre, after all, can control nothing in its virgin state and would have to be wrapped around a car wheel before it was truly functional. Here the only object that the tyre could go around would be the phallic, 'bottle top', rock.
Literary sources have documented some unusual behaviours associated with the ritual and aggressive uses of bottles. Consideration of these I will leave to the imagination of the reader. One should note, however, that such connotations would fit in with the notions of dominance and fear evident in other other Pirelli ads: these often depicted scenes indicative of 'toying with' or chasing fearful females'.
It is relatively unusual to find embedded material on packaging. When I first noted some examples I could probably count the number of on my fingers (maybe I might need a couple of spare hands but that's all). And most of such packaging relates to soap powders. In recent years these seem to have become more common (but note I have no intention of carrying out a systematic survey - my time is too valuable).
Any reader who has read my views on mass produced keg beers (see the Boddington, Budweiser and MillerTime pages) will realize that I have no interest in over-hyped, over gassed, over chilled, over-the-hill beer. I therefore only occasionally lay my hands on bottles and cans when I examine them on social occasions. The last that I can recollect was for Hooch alcopop.
The Bud Ice label has been commented on in some detail on the Bud page so before you flip over to the Bud page see if you can identify the embedded elements in the illustration above. Two of them are quite clear.
If you feel that you have been influenced by secondary imagery in packaging at any time I would recommend that you drown your sorrows with a fine pint of real ale or a glass of wine. Put Bud Ice where it belongs - in the waste bin.
Did I hear some twenty/thirty somethings say 'Whaaaaasuup?'
Five go mad in Newquay states the caption. This on the one hand seems rather curious as there are only four people in the scene. The car, of course, could make five. The vehicle is also a 5 door vehicle. But, on the principle that one should never take an ad at face value it seems reasonable to ask is there an image of a fifth person in the scene. Indeed there is. There might even be a sixth and a seventh.
Look at the cloud to the left above the vehicle (see the actual size image on the right). The portion on the left seems to contain a remarkable number of features indicative of a human face looking towards the skinny dipping revellers. The figure is rather reminiscent of some stock photographs of John F. Kennedy, though these tend to show his left profile rather than the right. The smaller cloud seems to have some facial features also but these are rather fuzzy in comparison. The seventh figure can be found in what would most naturally be taken to be the reflection of the high flying male in the bonnet of the vehicle. Look closer at this and it seems almost like a witch on a broomstick or a cartoon figure with a prominent nose and another prominent member.
For another odd element of a car ad in the magazines this month have a look at the headlights in the ad for the Ford Fiesta where there are only two major elements: a Ford Fiesta Zetec and the caption Sinew Stiffening Stuff. You should be able to discern a 'sinew stiffening' male wearing 'shades' in the left headlight. One might also note that in another ad for the Ford Ka, the headlights appear to contain the letters ES (left) and X (right). Is that a coincidence?
Ad number 1
Despite the script overlying the image of the woman in the bath this is not an ad for poetry lovers and lovers of bath time revels. But as you will note, Jif (now rebranded as Cif) is not an ordinary bathroom cleaner.
The script on this ad runs as follows: "I dip my feet. I curl my toes. I touch the softest of water. And then I feel the little bits of grime digging into my bum."
It would simply seem to be an ad drawing the attention of the viewer to the fact that Jif is creamy and unlike powder based cleaners that leave a residue in the bath. However, Jif is a little bit out of the ordinary.
The central line of the script stated "And then I feel". This is strategically placed somewhat above the genital area that is discretely covered by some soap suds. But look a little closer at these suds. Surely, there is something out of the ordinary going on here. The suds do not seem to be in perspective. In fact it is easy to perceive that they form the outline of a person (head, shoulder and left arm, facing to the left) with a flat top hairdo. If so, then the discrete area of suds covering the woman's genital area is in precisely the area where the representation of this male figure has his hand. The word feel is thus associated with two different sets of meanings. At the point of presentation it is visually associated with self stimulation. By the time one reads through the text any perceived meaning associated with the embedded figure is deflected by the script drawing attention to feeling grime in the bath.
Neat one that. But I won't be buying any more Jif (Cif) whilst such manipulative ads are deemed an acceptable means of marketing this product.
Ad number 2
If you have just arrived at this site and this is one of the first ads your have looked at, take note that this is not a good starting point. Unlike other ads on this page it is not a clear example of embedded artwork and therefore is open to misinterpretation. Have a look at the Marlboro or Lynx ads (below) and a few others before returning to view this one. But, if you are already attuned to the notion that the range of manipulative ads runs from the relatively obvious, once they are pointed out, to the borderline perceptible, then continue on your way. You should have no difficulty appreciating the argument.
This pair of glasses containing ice cubes appears in the bottom right hand corner of the Canadian Mist ad illustrated on the right. It can be considered one of the curiosities that often surface when glasses containing ice cubes are considered in isolation.
The ad cannot be considered a definitive example of embedded artwork as the imagery that is identified may simply be indicative of the author's imagination rather than the identification of elements intended to convey an unconscious message to viewers.
Unlike the ads presented later on this page this ad contains elements that can only be interpreted in the light of experience with other similar ads. It therefore can be considered as an example of a technique that has been in use for many years as the ads on the Ads from the Archives page and the title of Jack Haberstroh's book (Ice Cube Sex) indicate. The artwork is rather fine and does not reproduce well on the computer screen so, as is often the case, I suggest you try and find an original copy of the ad.
The ad seems to be directed towards a particular group of Americans as the 'figure' in the right hand glass (and the upper portion of the 'face' that appears in the left hand glass) seem to be those of men in uniform. To the author they appear to be either unkempt Union soldiers from the American Civil War or else uniformed railway staff. The author prefers the Civil War interpretation as the figure on the right seem to have a pack on his back. Alternatively this aspect of the image could be a large shock of hair. As both figures are facing towards the right - away from any other aspect of the ad - the figures must have meaning in themselves. They are not 'directing' the viewers attention to any other aspect of the ad.
To make these figures somewhat clearer to the uninitiated viewer I have removed all the background elements in the illustration on the left and placed a red dot in front of each nose. Note that the face on the left appears to be sozzled and the figure on the right can be perceived to be holding 'his personal tackle'. This is likely to be one of the two crucial emotive features in the ad - the other being the doleful expression of the face on the left. Whether one interprets the action of the figure on the right as attending to the call of nature or as an indication that Canadian Mist drinkers are socially isolated and have nothing better to do than play with themselves I shall leave to the viewers imagination. Bear in mind that the ad did appear in Playboy.
Ads for male antiperspirants are often sexy and this ad, despite initial appearances, is no exception. It simply depicts an Angel carrying a young woman and the Lynx logo. Or does it?
This Lynx Phoenix ad has had considerable exposure, appearing on billboards as well as in magazines. How many viewers consciously noticed that the Angel has a devil of an erection.
In the close up below - reproduced the actual size as it appears in magazine ads - is the torso of the Angel. Instead of presenting a natural body or a body dressed in appropriate body hugging costume, the Lynx artists have emphasized certain features intended to be consciously perceived as light reflecting off the Angel's body/costume. But viewers should note that the reflections do not follow the natural body line that would be depicted if this were a photograph.
Running from the top of his right leg to the upper chest the 'reflected light' turns in towards the centre of the chest. In reality this line would curve outwards as the torso widened. Had the artist wished to produce a figure with natural muscular development he could have done no better than use someone such as the model who appeared in an ad for Galaxy Ripple. Note the differences in 'musculature' - even pulling in the stomach muscles would not produce the 'phallic shape' found in the Lynx Phoenix ad.
When presented in magazines as a two page ad the second page as shown on the left continues to convey the sexual message suggested by the secondary element created within the main image. Note that the can of Lynx Phoenix has been placed in such a way that it can be interpreted as having 'penetrated' the box that the reader is encouraged to open to get a whiff of the product; and, of course, a lifetime of exposure so sexualised messages is likely to convey such a meaning even though viewers are unlikely to consciously appreciate such a message.
This ad does not simply rely upon sensory elements and imagery related to male fantasies for its impact. Curious readers with a linguistic turn of mind will also be able to extract additional 'messages' by considering the connotations that relate to other elements of this ad e.g. note the bushy 'spurs' on the girls boots.
Here we have a 7x4 inch representation of an impressive panoramic ad: the original spanned three magazine pages. The reduction in size, needless to say, considerably reduces its emotional impact. However, like many Marlboro ads - perhaps all within the past few decades - one should not simply accept it at face value.
It may appear to be presenting a straightforward seasonal message with additional connotations related to the environment, caring for animals, etc. These can be responded to by smokers and non-smokers alike. But, at the heart of the ad is a much less acceptable message dedicated to Marlboro cigarette smokers, other smokers and potential smokers.
This secondary message is conveyed by the structuring of one of the key focal elements in the ad - the cowboy - and supplemented by secondary imagery related to the theme of death and anxiety. It is not a direct message but it is clearly manipulative in intent.
Many Marlboro ads emphasize the genital area using sunlight, moonlight, highlights, directional cues, etc. as in the ad on the right. The highlighting of the saddle pommel gives a pretty good impression of an individual with an erection.
The seasonal ad differs from the norm because it obscures rather than emphasizes the genital area as the cowboy passes behind a tree. The rebuttal to such a claim regarding genital emphasis is obvious; those who produced the ad would simply claim that when one rides through a cluster of trees one inevitably rides in front of some and behind others. However, where Philip Morris and their ad agencies are concerned such rebuttals should be taken with a 'pinch of salt'. Read on for the reason why.
This ad, like many other Marlboro ads, is not conveying a simple message. Look at the tree in front of the horse and rider. Level with the horse's ears you will find the repellent figure illustrated in the insert on the right - and if you can adjust your perceptions to perceive the eye as the round, flattened, nose of a larger image, you will find a second, equally demonic face in the extract including the cowboy. This has a large flat forehead, typical of Herman from the Munsters or Frankenstein. Both these 'faces' are focussing on the cowboy - and his navel - and I doubt if anyone would fancy either of these gnawing at their navel or any other aspect of their anatomy? Just to help ensure that your attention is directed towards these embedded images there is another less disturbing 'face' looking towards them on the tree in front of the cowboy.
One should note that, in some respects, the covert message being conveyed by this ad is similar to those offered much more overtly by health educationalists, namely that smoking is a serious health hazard and impairs sexual prowess. Here, however, because of the context this message is presented within, the heavy marketing and promotional activities associated with cigarette brands and the ongoing thematic element in Marlboro ads, the message is not an inducement to give up smoking. The primary message likely to be extracted by susceptible smokers and potential smokers from cigarette ads containing such embedded cues encourages smoking; the embedded elements are intended to trigger fear and/or anxiety.
If they succeed in triggering latent anxiety in smokers - either about smoking in general, castration, impotence, death or any other of the possible illnesses associated with cigarette smoking; all connotations capable of arising after perceiving the embedded face(s) even though such thoughts may not reach consciousness - then it is likely that anxiety will be temporarily assuaged by another cigarette. Neat, huh! Get your customers to worry about the ill health effects of their habit and some of them will use that habit to assuage their anxiety.
Secondary images in ads advertsing cigarettes thus provide the ultimate Catch 22 circle. Anxiety about smoking and its possible outcomes - serious illness and a considerably shortened life span - triggers more smoking behaviour.
It is generally acknowledged that the vast majority of smokers wish to break their addiction but find it difficult; failure produces guilt and anxiety. Guilt and anxiety are relieved by more smoking as distressing feelings are easily assuaged by the physiological and psychological effects of nicotine. So much for claims that smoking is simply a matter of choice.
Manipulative cigarette advertising of the type illustrated above, of which Philip Morris/Altria and their advertising agencies are masters, provides cues on the borderline of perceptual ability that help trigger and maintain behaviour associated with smoking. Hopefully, conscious appreciation of such a cycle and the way in which it is cynically manipulated by certain aspects of cigarette advertising may help some smokers break their dependency.
Smokers should note that tobacco companies regularly trumpet the virtues of freedom of choice among adult smokers. At the same time they cynically do their best to deny and subvert freedom of choice by consistently incorporating in their ads secondary imagery that will never be consciously noticed - except, possibly, by a few individuals outside the advertising profession with an interest in 'subliminal' advertising.
Tobacco companies also proclaim that their advertising is directed towards adults and is intended to maintain market shares. Given that they have to continually recruit new smokers to replace those who die prematurely one wonders what effect such ads may have upon teenagers suffering from youthful identity crises, a need to prove themselves and a growing awareness of their mortality. See Kid's Stuff for more UK ads on this subject.
What is of interest in this ad is the light coloured area where the beer is pouring into the glass. This is illustrated actual size in the cut-out on the right.
If you look carefully and focus on the area on the right I am sure you will see the visage of a male figure looking towards the left. If you cannot perceive this, look at the modified figure presented two paragraphs below where it has been enhanced by setting the face against a dark background.
Note that such figures are ambiguous and are rarely complete. This 'head' is no exception. This element of the ads requires interpretation and interpretation of ambiguous cues relies on knowledge that images are not seen but are 'constructed' by combining information from the visual input with pre-existing knowledge. But, having been primed by the suggestion that there is a 'face' in the beer, you may now perceive this face.
Your recognition requires the application of your knowledge of facial features to the ambiguous and incomplete image. If you had previously 'recognized' the head in the beer being poured then it seems as though you might have concluded that Samuel Adams clearly pours the best head in the business. Additionally, if you are appreciative of or use colloquial language, then the meaning of 'giving head' is also likely to be 'triggered' and help form interesting mental associations between Samuel Adams beer and sexual activity.
No advert selected this month. Why? I guess I was otherwise involved this month. If you have any back issues of magazines and find an ad of interest drop me a line.
When I first met an ad featuring this young woman she was dressed in red. The ad itself was on one of the elongated posters displayed above the heads of passengers on the London Underground. It captured my attention because she was positioned to the left of the ad and looking in an appealing way at what appeared to be empty space on her left (the poster was much wider than the ad illustrated here). The 'empty' space was not empty but I doubt if anyone who saw the ad noticed this. For the conclusion to the story about the Lady in red you will have to wait as, although I am sure it appeared in print, I have never found a copy. In the meantime here is an analysis of the same young model: the Lady in Black.
It is generally acknowledged, rather facetiously, that anything longer than it is wide can be considered a phallic symbol. As such, much undeserved meaning is often attributed to such shapes in adverts. In this Persil ad, however, there is a pretty good depiction of a true phallic shape.
This judgement is arrived at not because the shape is clearly phallic nor penis like - for a much more true to life representation see the Lynx Phoenix ad above - but because there is supplementary evidence to indicate that the pink area of skin showing between the model's trousers and sweater is intended to be perceived by viewers in a sexual manner.
The wording of the ad, ' This is why Persil colour care doesn't contain bleach' has both an overt and a covert meaning. The overt meaning is, naturally, related to washing coloured clothes. The covert meaning is related to sex. Why? Well consider the following.
Note in the full size extract on the right the positioning of the model's right hand. It is formed into roughly the same shape as her left hand. The left hand has, of course, a corner of the sweater to hold. The right hand has nothing to hold and the model would thus seem to have quite clearly been told to hold her hand in that position rather than a more natural one. In conjunction with the phallic shaped area of flesh it can be conjectured that the model has been instructed to pose with her hand in the position it would be in if it were holding an object like a penis or indicating an orifice into which the phallic shape could be inserted. And detached from the rest of the ad it is pretty obvious that the area of flesh that is on view provides a pretty positive indicator of such activity; it is highly improbable that the model was photographed with her sweater inadvertently showing part of her midriff.
Some decades ago washing was often washed by hand. If this is now the modern advertising equivalent of a 'hand job' should we ask the makers of Persil to come clean as to their advertising tactics?
Fly with Rothmans and you could be flying high, or so this ad would seem to indicate. Closer scrutiny reveals that the 'reflection' underneath the wide bodied jet is that of Wales, the south of England, France, Spain and Italy. However, geographers might note that a large 'chunk' has been 'torn out' of Wales. When compared with an actual outline of the southern UK the area underneath the Rothman logo can easily be perceived as a face.
Note also that there is an object being drawn into the mouth of the Welsh 'face'. It could be a cigarette or cigarette smoke but, given the tendency for many cigarette ads to have sexual connotations, it could also be construed as some other oral activity. What would be triggered in mind of a viewer would depend upon their predisposition, previous experiences and the context in which they viewed the ad.
Some additional commentary on this and other flying/airport related ads can be found on the page devoted to the Gatwick Trilogy.
This ad could almost be dubbed 'The one that got away'. It was withdrawn from circulation after a number of individuals complained that it was promoting speeding. This indeed is the case, as do other Peugeot ads and many other car ads despite a voluntary agreement by the automotive industry not to emphasise activities that put people at undue risk. However, it is unlikely that the speeding issue was the only factor influencing those individuals who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority. There are two secondary images of note within this ad that, if capable of influencing potential Peugeot 206 owners, may also have influenced those individuals who raised complaints.
It is not only speeding this ad emphasizes, it emphasizes aggressive speeding. And the ad also provides an intimation of mortality/termination: Death Wish 1999, if you wish.
Speeding, of course, not only challenges the system and those police officers who enforce legislation, it challenges the notion of mortality. If one survives the risks associated with speeding it proves to the driver that they are, to some extent at least, in their own mind possibly immortal and immune to the misfortunes that beset other lesser drivers.
Look at the right hand side of the ad first of all. Midway up the page there is what may seem to be a white patch on the roadway. But note that it can easily be perceived as that of a face with horns. The face is reminiscent of a cow or a bull with horns and bears a degree of similarity, due to its colouring, to a skull rather than a live animal but it could easily be interpreted by some individuals as devilish. Whether that means devil may care, devil take the hindmost or simply the road to hell will depend upon the predisposition's of the viewer. Whatever, this aspect of the ad is not simply a chance variation in the road surface as perusal of other Peugeot ads around the period this was on display will clearly indicate.
The second feature - or rather set of features - is/are embedded in the waves created by the car that has dashed through the scene.
Look at the image alongside (actual size) and it should not be too difficult to discern at least one aggressive face (there are more than one). The most prominent and aggressive 'face' is presented in profile, facing to the left. It is centred roughly three and a half centimetres in from the left margin and about the same distance up from the bottom. With sufficient 'imagination' one can perceive a considerable number of other 'faces' of varying shapes and sizes, at least one of which is large than the one identified and overlaps it.
Note that use of the term imagination does not mean that the faces/bull/devil figures are simply figments of the viewer's imagination, the type of mental image that might be constructed by the viewer if one closed one's eyes to conjure up an image. The 'faces' are incomplete and ambiguous. For them to be perceived requires the interpretation of the ambiguous stimuli as would be the case with a visual illusion. Viewers 'contribute' their knowledge of aggressive facial features in 'completing' and recognizing these faces. The more salient such knowledge or behaviour is to the individual the greater the likelihood they will 'recognize' or respond emotionally to these aspects of the ad.
Imagination is needed to perceive such ambiguous figures consciously. But there is no doubt in the authors mind that the' waves' were artistically constructed so that that they would contain features typical of facial structures; in this case 'faces' portraying aggression.
This ad was carefully constructed in an attempt to get around restrictions on using speed as a selling point for cars. The fact that the ad was withdrawn would seem to indicate the success of the ASA's guidelines. However withdrawal was probably irrelevant; by the time the ASA considered the complaints the ads had been widely placed in magazines, etc. That aspect of the marketing campaign had probably run its course by the time the ad was withdrawn. Moreover, the ASA's 'sanction' has not prevented Peugeot from producing another ad with exactly the same type of speed/challenge components and there may have been others in the pipeline. This second ad appears on the French Connection page. It appears to be more innocuous but the message is primarily the same as in the ad discussed above.
I wonder how this second ad will fare should any member of the public raise a complaint.
This is one of a series of ads for Nescafe. Each is somewhat suggestive - but not about drinking coffee.
This ad encourages the viewer to ENJOY BEFORE DRINKING. The obvious question is, enjoy what?
Perhaps the sensuous S shaped curl in the centre of the ad is intended to be perceived as a pointer towards the genital area?
Look at another in the same series and you will get the message. This set of Nescafe ads is not simply about drinking coffee but they could not state that in plain English, it would be unacceptable; the message has to be oblique and any allusion supplemented by ambiguous and suggestive imagery.
The first in a series of ads devoted to Impulse Ico was originally issued around May 1999 (see above) and seems to acknowledge the development of sexuality in young readers (under the influence of Impulse Ico, no doubt). Read the commentary under May this year before reading the paragraph below. Then see the correspondence re this ad on the ASA page.
The original ads conveyed a number of messages regarding perceived cleanliness and sexuality. This pair of ads goes one stage further. It no longer purports to 'protect' young women from anxiety - it offers them a burgeoning sexuality under the protection of Impulse Ico.
Note the basic phallic shape in the centre of the second page of the ad. The shape is obviously open to interpretation and views may differ on this matter but anyone aware of the extremely strong emphasis on sexual issues in advertising - regardless of how relevant it is to a specific product - will be aware of such a concept. Additionally, the ad gives viewers a nudge in the direction of a sexual interpretation of the ad by incorporating a whole series of shapes that can be construed as the letters of the word sex (see the image on the right).
One should also note that the female in the 'protective ice block' is beginning to develop sexually. Symbolically she is 'breaking free'. Unlike in the first of the ads, she has also been presented on this occasion with breast nipples and pubic hair.
Typical of a number of ads depicting a Marlboro cowboy this ad sports an embedded figure. Usually the figures emphasize the theme of sex (heterosexual and/or homosexual) or the theme of death. Both themes have strong historical links with cigarette smoking and any cues embedded in the ads are presumably calculated to trigger thoughts/emotions/moods associated with the relevant themes. In this ad look for a sexually indeterminate figure, an androgynous 'Gingerbread Man/Woman'. Clue: He/she is about knee high.
The sex of the figure is somewhat indeterminate and there are at least two ways of perceiving it. As with many figure-ground illusions which of the two possible figures is perceived depends upon the point of the image on which attention is focused. If attention is focused on the erect penis then one will perceive a Gingerbread Man. If attention is focused on the (low slung) breast like shapes then the penis will be overlooked and the figure will be perceived as a woman. This is an unusual figure in this respect but taking into account the nature of previous Marlboro ads it would seem as if this figure is intended to trigger thoughts of either masturbation and/or sexuality. However, note that if one focuses on certain aspects of the head one might perceive a dog (sitting up, facing the viewer). However, this latter perception is likely to be quickly dispelled if one also notices that the shape of the 'forelegs' is inappropriate, unless someone has broken the dog's legs.
When this ad was first noted it appeared in Shine, at the time a new monthly magazine, and other magazines for young women. It is the first page of a two page ad. Both pages of the ad were odd numbered pages, with one page following another (not opposite as in a two page spread).
Despite the fact that the setting is an icy wasteland the imagery seems rather warm and comforting. Note, however, that the young woman in the ad is not simply naked, she is asexual. She is not wearing any clothing and seemingly is simply covered in some fabric with a silvery sheen. Despite her nakedness and her breasts, there are no nipples nor any indication of hair in her genital region. This would seem to indicate she is not to be perceived as a sexually awakened individual; she is still young and innocent. However, there are other aspects of the advert that are clearly sexual in nature. See for example the next image, a blow-up of the top left hand corner of the ad.
Without any doubt this is a representation of an erect penis and testicles. Embedded at the base of the penis one can also perceive a 'face', looking towards the young woman. There is also an indication of another 'face' to the right of the first 'face'. This second 'face' has an X shaped cross superimposed upon it, the horizontal band of the X running across the bridge of its nose.
To the left of these faces are a couple of swirls indicative of the letter s (put together the S's and the X on the phallic shape and you are, of course, pretty close to the word sex). What one is to make of this combination of figures and shapes does, however, depend upon other elements of the advert. The second figure below is from the top right hand corner of the advert. It illustrates two 'bodies', one in front of the other; the first figure seems to possess a rather childlike face and may even be suckling on the object underneath the head.
To make sense of this ad one has to take the perspective of a young woman viewing the ad. She is apparently attracting the attention of the aroused (male) figure (or figures)) on the top left of the ad. One outcome of a sexual liaison could be the production of a child/children, as depicted in the top right of the ad. It is also possible to perceive the two figures in the top right as a couple, one lying behind the other. In this case the imagery can be interpreted as depicting unwanted sexual attention.
Now, how is this young woman to deal with these problems of sexual attraction/sexual liaisons? Easy - she can just use Impulse Ico. Impulse Ico might simply seem to be just another deodorant but in fact it is also staking a claim to solve unwanted sexual attention and perhaps even indicates its use can arrest sexual development. To determine whether this assumption is correct, look at the next page of the ad.
On the second page the young woman is triumphantly raising her arms. Clearly this indicates she has no fear of BO; Impulse Ico is taking care of that. However, note the positioning of her upper arms and hands. Her right hand (top left of ad) is covering up the voyeuristic and rampant male evident on the first page and her left hand (at the other side of the ad) is covering up the couple/child.
Ico, clearly has power that other deodorants do not possess: users of Impulse Ico will not only be able to effect a change in the impression its users make upon those within sensory distance, they will fend off dangers of undesired advances and unwanted pregnancy. Its miracle stuff. It's in a can and all yours for just a few pounds.
This ad is unusual in that it is a two page ad with a number of secondary images embedded within the primary image. Each of the two pages can and does function as separate ads; each offers a complete 'storyline'. Rather unusually, key attributes of the ad are in the top left hand corner, as published in Shine. This corner is normally the last part of the page a viewer is likely to see. Given that the pages are odd numbered pages these elements are tucked into the binding and even more difficult to view except in single page versions of the ad (the second page only, appearing as either odd or even numbered pages). When an even page is used, the face and part of the erection obscured by the model's hand would therefore appear first.
It would seem that the single page ad would possess meaning only for those who had already noted the figures from previous viewing of the first page of the original ad. However, note also that the 'lettering' is still apparent on both sides of the hand 'obscuring' the phallic/penis shape. The 'letters' can thus still be interpreted in a number of ways in conjunction with the imagery. The message associated with SX, a hand and an erect penis is assuredly a muted version of the clear sexual message present in the double page ad. In this instance the sex is still 'safe' as the the strongest connotations are likely to be with masturbation and foreplay, not intercourse nor its possible outcomes.
For many years it has been contended that distilling companies had a preference for incorporating secondary imagery into the artwork that liberally adorns their ads. So far no whistleblower has come forward to confirm this type of activity but plenty of individual examples abound. Here is one for Jack Daniel's Whisky.
If you approached the company PR manager you will undoubtedly be contended that no such monkey business occurs in the advertising of Jack Daniel's Whisky. But, if that is the case then what you will perceive in the ad on the right and the actual size extract on the left is merely an illustration of the effectiveness of the imagination in extracting meaning from innocuous visual stimuli. Whatever!
I am sure that if you use your imagination responsibly you will have little difficulty in identify two 'faces' glaring at each other in the glass.
If these cartoon type images were intentional then they surely give the lie to the statement at the bottom of many recent spirits ads. Analysis of a number of other Jack Daniel's ads lead the author to conclude that the embedded figures were intentional rather than accidental and I am sure you will find other 'figures' in the other extract in the illustration below right.
Note that the ad contains a request by your friends at Jack Daniel's to drink responsibly. Unfortunately it is not made clear what you should be responsible for nor indicate what might be a responsible amount of liquor consumption.
On the basis of the embedded imagery in ads such as this it seems it is OK to trigger anxiety, encourage cat fights and arguments - and, perhaps, any other form of abusive behaviour - just so long as that increases alcohol consumption. Profits, so it would seem, come before real social concern.
The overt message is straightforward: consuming Delight helps one lose weight. Covertly, the ad carries sexual connotations: pulling out ones trousers in such a manner clearly would uncover secret delights. If considered in isolation, applying the latter interpretation to this ad might not seem appropriate but for further insights into the slippery meanings associated with margarine ads see the Delight and Flora pages.
Those viewers with a fertile imagination might have noted that this ad appeared in February. Santa obviously 'came' a little late on this occasion.
What's in a name? With a name like Pure 6 one is certain to raise a few laughs but will marketing a product under a brand name like this help ensure that it survives. I doubt it. Surely you can do better than this, chaps. However, lets forget about the marketing strategy and a brand name that reeks of student rag week gags and consider the content of the ad.
Pure 6 is pure. We can tell that from the almost holy halo-like glow around the lighthouse. However, it is the rather unholy elements in the sea underneath that really ought to attract the attention of potential drinkers. Lying in wait for anyone who drinks too much of this stuff is the stormy deep. At least one unfortunate individual who has had a few drinks too many in his attempt to drown his sorrows shows his face in the stormy waters. He simply drowned his sorrows?
Find a copy of the original ad and look for the spot illustrated in the blow-up shown below to see what I mean. You will find a less than positive message for drinkers.
Pure 6 might seem superficially bright and sexy but the goal of those who produced this ad is somewhat darker; despite the lighthouse, the overall image is rather dark and depressing. Such imagery is good for promoting drinking to drinkers who are already 'in stormy seas', 'out of their depth' and intent on 'drowning their sorrows' and 'slow motion suicide'.
Ad Number 1
The caption on the ad stated 'Make light work of condensation and dampness'. Given the addition of the two inserts, neither of which are necessary to make a point about condensation and dampness, one has to query the message or messages that the ad was intended to conveyed.
Superficial analysis indicates that the ad shows a happy couple and the woman appears to be extremely house proud and efficient. But, upon reflection, it seems clear that the insert is not simply intended to support such notions nor to foster pleasant associations in the mind of the reader.
The dampness referred to in the main caption is apparently insufficient to motivate readers to purchase Ebac dehumidifiers. Whoever produced the ad seemed to think that worries about perspiration under the armpit and Bodily Odours might do the trick. The aim of this aspect of the ad was seemingly to associate Ebac dehumidifiers with the general desire not to offend others with BO (one of the most successful, mind destroying, concepts ever devised by advertisers).
To complement this message the second small insert indicates that 'if owners of Ebac dehumidifiers get rid of these smells they can expect to 'follow through' and indulge in more intimate activities. The secondary aim was thus seemingly to associate Ebac dehumidifiers with intimacy and sex.
One can conclude that if all works out then Ebac dehumidifiers really give you your moneys worth.
This ad was cut out from a newspaper (unlike most of those on this web site). Glossy magazine versions of this ad might reveal additional interesting aspects. Even if they don't then there are clearly additional elements of the ad worthy of analysis. For example, those related to social status, gender, the use of language and body posture. Viewers are invited to consider other aspects of this ad worthy of criticism and commentary before they move on to view the next ad.
Ad Number 2
Whilst the name of the brand is MAIDWELL, the packaging contradicts this message. First, take the name to mean 'The Maid is Well' (as in Robin Hood announcing that Maid Marion is well). You might then note that the package incorporates an image of the upper torso of a rather elderly Maid who is unwell (see the enlargement underneath).
You can find the Maid in question just underneath the WELL of MAIDWELL. Her colouring is rather cold, grey and unnatural and she is depicted lying on her back, perhaps as if lying on a slab. It would seem she is not merely unwell, she has seemingly departed this world for the next.
If one is to make anything of the 'Try Me Free, Try Me First' captions, then they would seem to be invitations to necrophilia. Or else an invitation to the old and infirm to try this product before they 'pass over'.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, the product did not initially survive on my local supermarket shelf for very long and was discounted. However, it has risen 'from the grave' and seems to have established itself despite the unsavoury undertones of the caption/image. Note that the first ad for this product actually included the tag line that forms the caption heading on the left, namely 'A cheese to die for'. This was given a humorous twist with the incorporation of a couple of 'Tom and Jerry' type characters.
It seems unlikely that a death/illness theme would work wonders for a brand of cheese. There thus seem to be two possible conclusions one can draw. Either the brand is targeted towards the elderly and infirm, or lazy and potentially aggressive parents. Or perhaps whoever produced this series of ads saw the potential for incorporating a dual message into the ad and managed to 'pull the wool' over the eyes of the client company.
This would seem to be an ad in which Yves Saint Laurent is simply blowing his own (jazz) trumpet. But what you will find at the centre of this ad is a different kind of horn.
Do you think this aspect of the ad was constructed to give the ad an additional bit of oomph? An extra bit of horn? Was it a joke? Or simply a coincidence of alignment? You can decide.
Here is one of many Palmolive ads that have something a little bit curious about them. At first glance this ad is mrely an image of an attractive young woman lathering her leg. But, hey, hold on there! Isn't her arm rather muscular and hairy? It is more like the arm of a man - and it is.
This therefore isn't just an ad about Palmolive and its uses. Nor is it an ad conveying information about a particular lifestyle that viewers might like to emulate. What we have is an ad with multiple messages.
These messages are about the about the product, about who can be in the shower with you, who finds the 'gentle touch of Palmolive' irresistible - and perhaps why. To have a full understanding of such ads one needs not only to take into account the incongruous elements in the ad but also consider the look on the model's face and reflect on the emotions that lie behind that expression. As the first part of the caption says, Who can resist? Perhaps you should.
Ads such as this are attempts at manipulation. They go well beyond any reasonable attempt to associate aspects of lifestyle such as luxury or sensuality with a product.
Associations between a product and lifestyles can be discerned without too much difficulty by most viewers if they pay attention to an ad. However, lifestyle and other elements in ads such as this one rarely, if ever, are consciously appreciated by those it is designed to influence. The incongruous elements are not simply attention catching devices such as is common on ads for FCUK, Diesel, Benneton and other products. If ads such as this Palmolive ad are to have any commercial benefit (other than in terms of internal company politics) over and above what a straightforward illustration of someone in a shower would produce they must influence consumers at a preconscious rather than conscious level - and consumers have no defence against such influences.
This type of preconsious influence is something that most psychologists say is not possible. However, experimental data is limited and sales data from the marketing of products such as Palmolive may indicate otherwise. Recent research (circa 2007) now begins to demonstrate that subliminal material does impact on the brain. It therefore seems likely that embedded imagery that is not consciously appreciated also registers.
Even if the degree of influence of such ads is extremely weak and reliant upon repetition for impact, most consumers, if they were aware of the existence of such manipulative ads, would find it unacceptable that the advertising profession were exposing them to such attempts at manipulation.
It is probably also worth noting that as this type of 'message' is primarily visual such ads can be used on a global basis; they do not need to be modified for different cultures and languages.
For more soap suds ads see Squeaky Clean. There you will find Surf, Bold and Fairy ads and packaging.
How basic can one get. The most basic - and, in some respects, the most unsophisticated, cigarette ads are those for Basic and Newport. Each relies upon fairly basic phallic symbolism or simplistic associations to keep their customer base happy.
If one considers the meaning of the word beyond the brand name it is notable there are a number of different meanings. These, of course, are capitalized upon both in the brand name and by the connotations and allusions triggered by Basic advertising.
Try playing about with the colloquial meaning of the following three words and you will get the idea pretty quickly: equipment, tackle, tool and, of course, screw. Basic cigarette advertising often alludes to basic human procreational (and recreational) activity - using very basic equipment. The ads don't say so but the visuals give the game away pretty quickly.
In this instance, ignore the fact that one could interpret the obligatory protrusion of the cigarettes from the pack as phallic symbols. This type of pack layout is so standard it probably has little impact on viewers. Instead note that in the top left hand corner of the ad is a candle, adding a little balance to the ad. Note the candle flame.
If one can perceive the two dots above the flame as a pair of close set eyes it is not too difficult to perceive the central area as a cartoonist's representation of a person with long flowing hair. The white area is the face, the yellow area underneath the upper portion of the body. But, if this is intended to be a representation of a body, is the figure male or female? and what is depicted in the lower part of the figure?
How basic can one get?
If you are in doubt about the use of phallic shapes and simple allusions view a number of Basic ads at the same time, rather than on the odd occasion when you open a magazine you have already read and are desperate for something - anything - to look at and start reading all the ad captions.
Here we once again have naother relatively innocuous ad that is seemingly reliant on what the viewer will 'read into' it for its meaning. It carries the phrase 'Since that picnic in the meadows, strawberries will always taste of mischief.' However, whatever mischief has been got up to in the meadow has been observed by a voyeur.
Embedded faces are one means of getting viewers to pay a slightly greater degree of attention than might otherwise be the case. Look in the rather fuzzy, out of focus imagery in the upper right hand corner of an original copy of the ad and you will perceive a 'face' looking towards the left of the screen. An illustration of this 'face', almost the natural size, appears in the right hand margin. As will be noted, especially on the computer screen, it is a rather ambiguous figure, whose outline is incomplete. Nevertheless it is possible to 'identify' this as a'face' if one notes the two eyes and the nose that stand out from a darker background. The figure has a rather prominent nose and the left hand side of the face is much more obvious than the right, the mouth is a dark streak.
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Last Revised: 6th July, 2007