Sunday, July 01, 2007


These examples of subliminal advertising are mostly from the 70s. How do you like the word "sex" airbrushed into the ice cubes in the gin glass (above)? Some people say they can see a man standing upright in the gin bottle. The reflections on the table are his legs and the cork is his penis.

More airbrushing (above). Benson & Hedges were accused of deliberately showing their ad characters in hell. That's because smokers were believed to have had an unconscious death wish and maybe yearned to be punished by death for smoking.

An airbrushed penis (above) in the hell girl's back.

The rest of the pictures need no comment. Subliminal sex images and words were believed to add appeal to a picture, even to pictures that weren't trying to sell anything.


cableclair said...

awesome! Especially the last one.

Charles Oines said...

Reminds me of the Wilson Bryan Key books. That guy could find something sexual in a dial tone.

Lester Hunt said...

I've always thought that prevalence of the idea that subliminal advertizing works is the result of Vance Packard believing the hype of the people who write ads ("Give us all your money and we will manipulate the consumer's subconscious mind! We're wizards, I tell you! Wizards!!"). I like the irony of that.

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Anonymous said...

I honestly can't see the airbrushed penis...just looks like a light area...the only vaguely phallic thing is the highlight on her back...but it doesnt really look like a penis.

The others are great!

Anonymous said...

Oh wait...never mind! Weird.

Soos said...

Haha! "Laid by the best" - that ad is ingenious.

Sean Worsham said...

Good stuff, but was this REALLY INTENTIONAL? I can understand using sex to sell something but just to promote it period on money? The world is overpopulated enough as it is and I can't see the government wanting people especially then during the sex-crazed 70's.

Then again it was the sex-crazed 70's and it could be these ads really are working.

Jenny said...

The last one I don't buy at all--as obvious as it is. In the first place don't see ANY "flooring company" with owners with that kind of elaborate plan--to sell flooring, for pete's sake. Uh-huh.
Certaiinly that's a deliberate pornographic image, but given the style of the illustration it's either a ripoff or a direct lift from some Beardsley-like(a victorian illustrator who drew belle epoque sexual images)artist. At best the flooring company did it as a dirty joke, not a subliminal ad. Personally, having lived through those times where this was the Big Thing for two minutes I find it a lot of baloney. Sex in the ice cubes...well, it doesn't work. And the "guy standing in the bottle"? The eye doesn't see "hidden" images like that--or rather, the brain doesn't. There are other visual cues that have been proven to create a response, but those aren't letters. Hell--most people can't do the flippin' Jumble or an anagram decently nowadays--forget subliminally reading a convoluted tracing of S-E-X in ice cubes!
And speaking of hell: this quote?
" Benson & Hedges were accused of deliberately showing their ad characters in hell. That's because smokers were believed to have had an unconscious death wish and maybe yearned to be punished by death for smoking."

Aw, bull! WHO said this? And precisely who does the author say "accused" B&H of this? Please. As I say, I lived in the 1970s, my father was in advertising; I read big ol' copies of Advertising Age and Adweek along with my Ranger Rick on the floor, because they had cool articles(with illos!) about commercials and print ads...there wasn't an issue about anything other than exactly what the cigarette ad shows: a sexualization of smoking. No need for--ugh!--a penis embedded in a woman's back(an image I am sure would have the reverse effect or repulsion on most men).
They sold: sex. glamour, happiness, good times. No one wanted to get ill and subconsciously die. This is why smoking is unpopular now. The wave of well-known figures who died from smoking-related causes was only starting in the 70s, really(the exceptions were never tied to smoking). People really didn't know better. Ads still featured doctors "recommending" "safe" cigs in the 1960s. TV had cig ads till the early 70s!

So who was beating a drum for all this hyper-subliminal stuff? No one ever did--except, maybe, the author, or some egghead at a remote university, working furiously on their dissertation(and hungry for publicity).

This book and its ilk bugs me because there IS so much thinking and plotting that goes into adverts, and that real planning is fascinating--all this subliminal nonsense is a red herring that amounts to nada, though.

And after all that I must add-great post! It's an infuriating stroll down memory lane! :D

Anonymous said...

All I know is this post made me horny.

Jenny said...

Sure, Brian, but studies show that can happen when you hear a car going by or a can opener, too. ; )

Eddie et al, read this article on "subliminal"; much better stated than my comment!

J. J. Hunsecker said...

>>At best the flooring company did it as a dirty joke, not a subliminal ad.<<

I think there's more to it than that. There's something bizarre about that flooring ad. A woman driinking champagne is the last image I'd think of for a flooring company. It seems more like an ad for an escort service, mascarading as a legitimate business.

Anonymous said...

These pics look irrefutable to me, but I read somewhere that subliminal advertising is inneffective. But it does prove that the advertisers THOUGHT it worked.

>TV had cig ads till the early 70s!

That's because the first anti-smoking ads were so effective that the smoking companies agreed to stop advertising on TV and didn't fight congress' smoking commercial ban (when they could hvae easily stopped it). Anti-smokers were only allowed to show one anti-smoking ad for every three smoking ads, so when the cig companies stopped advertising on TV, anti-smoking ads had to be stopped and smoking went up (the only time smoking increased since anti-smoking commercials began, and then it continued dropping off)

It was part of the FCC Fairness Doctrine. All sides of controverisal issues must be allowed to be broadcast.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny, Sean: Thanks for the link! The author doesn't offer much evidence that Key (author of "Subliminal Seduction", the book my post was based on)was wrong but I don't doubt that he was a lot of the time. I could never find Key's "SEX" written in the Ritz cracker holes and I really tried. Even so, I'm glad I read a couple of his books.

Probably most advertisers like your dad didn't believe subliminals worked but some did and the results were hilarious. The Benson & Hedges, ad people certainly believed and so did the Virginia Slims, Salem and gin (I forget the brand) people. I used to have a collection of these ads and they were so blatant and so over-the-top that no one who saw them could doubt the intention. The Benson & Hedges I published was very mild compared to some of them.

Since Vance Packard and Keys wrote big selling books on the subject it's possible that the ad people put these elements in the ads knowing that the public would spot them. Maybe they were just making a game of it. If that's true it didn't matter if subliminals really worked because the joke would still play. But I'm speculating.

What I do know for sure is that punishment, Hell and devils were prominent features in Benson & Hedges magazine ads and Salem used tombstones and death colors in billboards at the time. I'm a witness. I saw them!

Operation GutterBall said...

Fantastic! I'd always heard about skulls in the ice cubes, you should publish a book!

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of the last time I went to the beach.

Anonymous said...

Read it all.

David Nethery said...

Subliminal Advertisment from the 60's

Wow, they really did make subliminal ads . ;-)

Brian said...
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Brian said...
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Jordan said...

Oh my god!

Eddie I can't believe you posted about this. I was obsessed with this sort of thing a few years ago, and looked through magazine after magazine for this stuff.

I found some that I've never seen online. A KOOL brand cigarette ad I found had a man with "S-E-X" tattooed on his arm. And there is NO's there, loud and clear, but just subtle enough to not be noticed.

I also have another KOOL ad where the man's arm and palm is airbrushed to look like a penis and testicles, respectively, (the palm has a really fake split down the middle...)

I also found a creepy Kraft cheese ad that had 3 little boys with plates waiting for cheese from their mom.

This ad disturbed me, because the mom only had 2 of everything. 2 plates, 2 sandwiches, etc. The 3rd young boy is in the foreground and very blurred out, and he is holding the shining white plate over his head.


She has a dead son, who is still waiting for cheese, even in the afterlife. I was bothered for days by this ad.

I can track them down and scan them if you like (though they may be buried in my cluttered room.)


Jordan said...

Oh, sorry to post again -- I also have a KOOL cigarette ad (boy, they sure did that a lot..) that's a woman at a gas station.

There is a man, in BLUE pants, holding a big BLUE pump (like an extension of himself, and it's the EXACT same color as his pants), and the composition shows the pump "going into" 2 car seats in the background, which is shaped like an ass.


Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jordan: YES! Definitely scan them! I'm dying to see them! The examples I put up only scratched the surface. I couldn't find examples of more subtle things like the ghost you mentioned.

C. A. M. Thompson said...

God these ads are ugly! What happened to funny dirty jokes.

Joe Camel I think is the ugliest example, and it's so obvious that it almost seems wrong to count that campaign as subliminal. I think they would have had to have known this subliminal stuff didn't work and just put them in there to get people talking about the ads.

peldma3 said...

laid by the best hahahhaha

peldma3 said...

so uncle eddie what do you think of those milk moustache ads... hahhaa

Jordan said...

I will do my best to find the ads, Eddie. I always wanted to scan them. The ghost boy with the shining halo over his head is kind of brilliant.


Andreas said...

Eddie, you should know by now that people can see what they want to see. You should have seen some of the lurid images, and not so lurid, in wood grain. Wood grain for crying out loud, is God trying to give me a woody? I believe while there is instances of things like this happening on purpose, most of it is coincidence pointed out from the over active minds of those trying to "protect" the people, much like the crackpots that believe you can hear messages praising Satan if you play the record in reverse.

Anonymous said...

Hello Eddie. I'm sorry that this is an anonymous comment, but my name is Borsch.

I think that I will read magazines a lot more often to see if I find anything. These were all hilarious, especially the last one. I SPY should try stuff like this in the future!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Andreas: Wood Grain!? LOL! OK, some of this stuff is silly but I'm convinced some advertizers actually tried it. See if you're still skeptical when Jordan scans his collection!

Borsch: Most of the ads in Subliminal Seduction were done in the 60s and 70s. I don't think anyone does it now.

H4CK3R said...

the last one was great, but i do think it was either a dirty joke or maybe just accidental.

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Mandie said...

Wow! The first image is described in a book I'm reading by Dean Koontz. That's amazing that I found the image exactly as described in the book "Night Chill" which was written in the 70's. The internet is awesome! Good blog, btw.

nancy said...

do all of you really believe subliminal messages exist in advertising?