25 June 2009


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 26 June 2009

Ed McMahon, television personality and U. S. Marine fighter pilot died this week. Farrah Fawcett died yesterday. So did Michael Jackson. North Korea is threatening the world with nukes. Iran is amidst incredible upheaval and violence in protest to corrupt elections--the people are speaking. And the mess in our country continues to grow. Oh well, life goes on. So here goes…

There’s not a straight man—not suffering from “Low T”—alive who didn’t know exactly why South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford (R) went to Argentina. There was only two feasible possibilities—sex and/or lots and lots of money. I told my wife when it was learned the governor, AWOL from his duties for a week, was discovered to have been in Argentina: “He went to see his girlfriend—standby for details.” A couple of hours later he held a bizarre press conference admitting his infidelity. My wife humors me. She thinks I’m psychic and perhaps a genius. Maybe, but a more plausible explanation rests in the sciences—biology, chemistry, and physiology—and the thought process of a normal male.

Last week it was Nevada Senator John Ensign (R) caught up in the shenanigans of an extramarital affair. Misery loves company. And there’s a long list of others who have succumbed to the temptations of the forbidden fruit. And the list will grow. Bet on it.

Sex….......and politics……….and sports……….and business..........and education……….and entertainment..........and religion...

It’s been more than two decades since a handful of popular televangelists—Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Marvin Gorman to name a few—got caught up in scandalous sexual liaisons. Swaggart had a particular affinity for prostitutes. These men of the cloth were preaching to the God-fearing heathen hoards, world-wide, on their television programs and off camera ‘doffing cloth’—and not that of their wives. If old enough to remember those days then you remember Swaggart’s TV acting debut with a tearful, quivering, sobbing admission of his sins and begging his flock for forgiveness. It was pathetic but hugely entertaining. A few years later he was caught again—same ol’ weak-kneed Jimmy. He seemingly suffered from a congenital defect—an imbalance of testosterone and will power.

Amid the height of the public exposure of sexcapades in religion, one of the late night talk show hosts—I can’t remember if it was Carson or Leno—quipped during a monologue something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know about you folks but I’m getting pretty tired of this sex in religion nonsense, let’s get sex back in politics where it belongs.’ Apparently a lot of politicians, present and future, were watching and paying attention—including Sanford and Ensign.

Well, enough about politics and religion. But more about sex—it sells. Consider the following sentence.


Below that sentence, in uppercase but smaller font, insert the following phrase:


Innocent enough—right? Yes, as I have laid the text out but keep reading.

Sex makes the world go ‘round. And in the business world the marketing and advertising of many products—from shaving creams, perfumes, and cars to soft drinks, beer, and airplanes—at times, revolves around sex. It’s all about landing customers and getting their money and brand loyalty. Some ads are blunt. Others are subtle. And still others move into the arena of “subliminal advertising”—a term coined by James Vicary in 1957.

In short, subliminal advertising operates on the premise that it’s possible to reach a potential customer’s subconscious mind through use of a message, symbol, or suggestion embedded in advertising. The theory goes that subtle ‘signals’ (e.g. provocative words, silhouettes) escape conscious detection but may influence attitudes and trigger actions and behaviors (buying) at a later time.

Most people are familiar with the classic example of an ice cold drink and a bucket of popcorn (inserted in the frames of a movie preview) flickering by—“undetectably”—with the intent the images bypass the conscious and register on the subconscious thereby prompting moviegoers to visit the concession stand. Conflicting data challenges the effectiveness of the drink/popcorn example but subliminal advertising must work, to some degree, or else it would be abandoned. It has not been.

To this day, wordplay, phallic symbols, nudity, and sexual antics have a history of being factored into print advertising—the cues are cleverly ‘hidden’ in word placement, the arrangement of figures, ice cubes, condensation, trees, hair, clouds, reflections, shadows, and the like. No need to detail any of the well-known raunchy examples here. Google “subliminal advertising examples” and you can see for yourself.

However, I will point out an example of innocent subliminal advertising I came across recently. In the same magazine, two companies—Rolex and Citizen—ran full-sheet slick, glossy, color ads advertising their wrist watches. In both ads, the watches were set to 10:10. Certainly it was not a coincidence. Why?

Well, it goes back to sending a subliminal message. The hands set at 10:10 give the impression of a happy, uplifting face and the hand placement also serves to frame the logo/brand name on the watch face. With rare exception does a company marketing watches deviate from the current industry standard of 10:10 (as opposed to the old standard of 8:20—a frown or ‘down’ feeling). In fact, some companies go so far as to standardize the placement of the second hand and the date window—count Rolex and Timex among them.

Before moving on, one other element of the wrist watch ads caught my attention. Each had another “10” involved. One was on the bezel ring of a watch (at the 2 o’clock position) and the other the number “10” on the shoulder pad of Eli Manning (that was likewise in the vicinity of 2 o’clock in the ad). 10-10-10…did it have any significance? Surely it does. But the only idea I have come up at this writing is reference to Suzy Welch’s “10-10-10” (10 minutes-10 months-10 years) philosophy of decision-making. But that makes little sense relative to the subject matter of the ads. Unless, you make the connection with time—and that may be a stretch. Certainly the additional “10” in each ad was not accidental or coincidental. Hmmm, something to think about.

A week ago the subject of today’s commentary was not on my mind—at all. But that changed after reading through The Official Souvenir Program of the United States Golf Association’s 2009 National Championship U.S. Open (played last week). One evening after dinner (before the start of the tournament) I was perusing the program and stopped immediately on page 12; an ad for MGM Grand caught my eye—and mind.

The 8 ½ by 11 full-page color add was dark. The ad featured three couples in separate romantic evening settings. The men wore jackets and the women alluring, but not risqué, black dresses. The couples were in close contact. There was the suggestion of a fourth couple—again, the man in a jacket and the woman in a black dress. Mood lighting and alcohol accented each setting. It was an elegant, classy ad.

The ad layout was as follows: A couple was positioned in the top left-hand corner; a couple in the top right-hand corner; a couple in the middle bottom; and, the less obvious couple positioned in the background middle right-hand side.

Now back to the sentence and phrase noted earlier. In the ad, the text was printed across the middle of the page. Something about it caught my eye. It took a few moments of study to figure out why. For illustration purposes and to make the point, the below example separates the lines of text far more than as they appeared in the ad.

-----------------------------------THE ONLY EXPENSE

-------------------------------------SPARED IS YOURS.

--------------------------------------------------------SIGNATURE SUITES LUXURY FOR LESS AT MGMGRAND.COM/LUXURY

Does anything in regard to the position of words and letters (ignore the dashes--necessary for formatting) catch your eye?

It would be surprising if something did. I confess nothing about the message would have caught my eye had the text been dispersed, as above, in the ad. Now what if I move the fragments of the sentence closer together—as they appeared in the ad? By moving the fragments closer there is a ‘forced’ relationship between specific letters that would not otherwise attract attention. To properly set the stage, note that the positioning of the text below is as close to the ad format as this program permits. In the ad, the fragment SPARED IS YOURS. was much closer to the fragment above it. And, the third line phrase was likewise much closer to the fragment above it. Finally, since the page was mostly dark, the text was white with soft, screened down scene bleed on the lower half of the letters to suggest transparency and prevent a harsh white polarizing effect.

Now, keeping in mind there was no more than 1/8 of an inch separating the three lines of text, study the words and letter positions for a moment. Now does anything catch your eye? Do you see it?

--------------------------------------THE ONLY EXPENSE
-----------------------------------------SPARED IS YOURS.
---------------------------------------------------------------SIGNATURE SUITES LUXURY FOR LESS AT MGMGRAND.COM/LUXURY


No? Then see below.

------------------------------------------THE ONLY EXPENSE
---------------------------------------------SPARED IS YOURS.
-------------------------------------------------------------------SIGNATURE SUITES LUXURY FOR LESS AT MGMGRAND.COM/LUXURY

Once you see it, it’s hard to miss. And, what are the odds the creator's choice of words and the manner in which they were positioned were coincidental? That would be difficult to believe. The images and text were cleverly designed to work hand-in-hand, discreetly, to catch attention and send a message. It worked—at least on me. Surely others picked up on the clever ploy. And undoubtedly others still booked rooms at MGM Grand and had no idea why other than they 'connected' with the ad. Oh the power of advertising—subliminally—especially when “sex” is involved.

The bottom line in advertising: There is nothing accidental in an ad. Every element—to the smallest detail—is carefully considered for its value grabbing the attention—consciously or subconsciously—of potential customers. When ‘reading’ ads (whether text is present or not), read as you would anything—from left to right and top down. If at first you do not see anything unusual it is sometimes helpful to invert the ad and ‘read’ left to right and top down. Magnification sometimes helps. Look carefully. Remember, the purpose of the ad is to get your attention—one way or another. Find the attractor(s) that pulls you to the ad.

Not all advertising exploits sex but much of it does. After all, sex (and money)—makes the world go ‘round. No need to ask a business man. Just ask a politician.


Anonymous said...

Sanford et al's problem is the age old delimma many men find themselves in sooner or later ..... at times we tend to start thinking with our little heads more than our big heads. We can't help it - we are hard wired that way!

Ken in Baghdad

Anonymous said...

The real funny part is how many of the overly gleeful media in the room and those with smug expressions back in the studio are truly "clean" enough to cast the first stone...

As far as the ad think back to those 50 style ads that made the rounds about 18 months ago . Now think of your favorite one with the following :
The little head..leading men down the path of pain since the beginning.."Eve, Eve where are you"