Hello and welcome back to Advertising and Society. Today we begin to explore the issue of whether consumers are being manipulated by advertising. That is manipulated in such a way that they buy things they neither need nor want. Now, this idea really focuses usually at some point in the discussion on the issue of subliminal advertising. That is the notion that things are communicated beneath the level of conscious awareness to consumers. And that this information causes consumers to act in a particular way. Usually this is known as subliminal advertising. Now I'd like to read you a passage from a book by the former President of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, John O'Toole. In his book, called The Trouble with Advertising in the 1990s. He wrote the following. I don't like to destroy cheris, cherished illusions but I'm a state unequivocally that there is no such thing as subliminal advertising. I've never seen an example of it nor have I ever heard of it seriously discussed as a technique by advertising people. Salesmanship is persuasion. Involving rational and emotional tools that must be employed on a conscious level in order to effect a conscious decision in favour one product over its competitive counterparts and in order to have that decision remembered and acted upon at a later time. Furthermore, he writes, it's demeaning to assume that the human mind is so easily controlled that anyone can be made to act against his will or better judgment by preemptory commands he doesn't realize are present. Now that's O'Toole's position, and that's what he wrote, and one of the most important and really one of the only real. Denials by advertising people of the existence of such a technique. However the idea has been around a very long time. To understand it we need to go to back to the year 1957 when it first emerged on the scene, that was the year in which the first subliminal experiment took place. It occurred in a movie theatre in Fort Lee, New Jersey. A suburb of New York City, during the summer when a very popular movie was showing. During this movie, Picnic. In one of the scenes that was at the time a very sexy, voluptuous, enticing kind of situation, some words were superimposed on the screen. And these things disappeared so quickly after they appeared,. That, they theoretically are, at least in the reports of this, caused consumers to actually act on them, and to buy more of what was being promoted. So this is the idea of subliminal advertising. It occurs so quickly you don't perceive it, and you act on it because you've been told to do so. Lets look a little more specifically at what happened in that experiment in 1957. As I said the movie was Picnic. And I'd like to ask you to watch a clip from that movie. The very one in which the embedding occur. Here it is. So just watch for a moment and imagine yourself in a darken movie theatre on a hot summer afternoon. And, you're just watching this particular scene. >> I wish I could do it. [MUSIC] Now following the experiment, the story broke in the press that such a thing had occurred. The New York Times wrote about it. The trade presses, like Advertising Age, wrote about it. And a host of other media outlets also picked up the story and reported this to the American public. The public reaction was of enormous outrage and indignation over the fact that advertisers were manipulating the public in this particular way. Subconsciously outside perception. And causing them to buy things that they had no defenses against. The most complete account of this, story of this experiment of what happened, was published actually a year later, after the experiment in LIFE magazine. LIFE broke the story, again, told the story again, rather. And in doing so they showed this slide, this image of what had been superimposed. It's simply the words hungry and the direction eat popcorn. Now after this experiment was conducted the researchers who did it claim that popcorn sales actually rose and. And that this was an effective technique, one that would really revolutionize advertising. No, just to be clear, subliminal advertising in it's many, many forms refers to marketing communications that occur so rapidly that they are not consciously perceived by the audience. Here's the team that conducted that original experiment. It consisted of only three people who'd founded a small company. The head of the team was James Vickery, whom you can see here on the left, and he and his colleagues had presumably done this experiment, found these results, and they had according to their stories later told,. Hope to do other experiments, gather more evidence and be more certain of their technique. What had happened though, was the story broke in the press. Earlier this one experiment was carried out. The results weren't as complete as they would have hoped and thus, the the public reacted to this far before Vickery was really ready according to his accounts. To tell the public that such a thing existed. Now, this - all this dovetailed interestingly with another thing that happened in the year 1957, and that was the publication of this important book. A popular writer, Vance Packard, wrote a book called The Hidden Persuaders. On the cover he asked a series of questions, why do men think of a mistress when they see a convertible in a show window. Why do some children's shows take sli, swipes at parents? Why do automobiles get longer and longer? And why would, why wouldn't men give up shaving even if they could do so? Why do women in supermarkets find themselves attracted to things that are wrapped in red? Now Vance Packard's book was just the, the, the response that was needed. To this idea that that manipulative techniques like this were used. It provided a great range of evidence of the kinds of motivational and psychological things that advertisers had in fact been doing. Not just this subliminal experiment. But many other things that were occurring. And were common in advertising. The public was incensed. They were outraged. This became a huge, huge issue. So on the one hand, there was experiment in the press, on the other, there was this book that talked about it and brought it to public awareness. This all got so important that the US Congress became involved in it. They held hearings about subliminal advertising and asked whether such a thing should be legislated against. Vance Packard as you see here, the author of the book was called to testify before Congress and here's a picture of him giving his testimony. So these things happened, it was big time stuff. America was up in arms advertisers might have been defensive. They might have responded to this but you know, interestingly what happened was they didn't really say anything. Nothing really important. They basically ignored it. They treat it as a kind of non-issue. they, they, they simply claim such a think didn't exist and they never participated in it. They didn't even know it. What they did do and this might of been a strategic mistake in the long run from the industry. Point of view. They poked fun at it. They made jokes about it. They parodied it. For example, in 1958, this particular commercial for the new Chevrolet that would the 1959 model appeared. In it, it talks about subliminal advertising. It puts an image on the screen and then takes it away quickly. It's of course not subliminal because you can actually see it. But it's a parody. It's a joke about the whole idea. And this is pretty typical of how advertising has responded as an industry to the whole issue ois the public being manipulated in unconscious ways. By advertising. So have a look at the commercial and see what that response was like. [MUSIC] But still you get it subliminally. Put on your snacks. Pull up your chair, and see if you can see what's coming through the air. >> Ladies and gentlemen, the 59 Chevy. [MUSIC] >> See it? >> Isn't it beautiful? Some car huh folks? [MUSIC] See it. [MUSIC] Just go see your Chevrolet dealer right now. >> 59 Chevy is due out Thursday October 16th, but you can get the details and place your order in advance [MUSIC] Now all this might have just simply disappeared after the flurry and. The 1950s about subliminal advertising, the, the denial by advertising that such a thing existed, and a couple of big time jokes about it. Were it not for the fact that in the 1970s, an enterprising college professor by the name of Wilson Bryan Key from the University of Western Ontario, a psychologist by training. Began publishing a series of five books in which he resurrected the idea and compl, and claimed that subliminal advertising was rampant throughout the advertising industry. His first book, that you can see here in the image, is a wonderful advertisement for a book. Look at the title subliminal seduction that might be enough on its own but look at the picture and look at the question asked in red here. Are you being sexually aroused by this picture? If you think about it who wouldn't want to know the answer to that question? Am I? I mean I don't know let me look at it. I mean what's there to arouse me. Well if you open the book and you read further to find out the answer to the question. Whether you're being aroused by it or not. What you find inside are a series of example this being his most poignant one his kind of primo example the one that he uses the paradigm for the whole process, what you see here is what key calls it subliminal embedding. There's simple words, break out the frosty bottle. You see a bottle of Gilbey's Gin, wet, cold. You see a glass of poured drink near it. It's, got ice cubes in it, a, slice of lime, a stirrer. Its got droplets of water on the outside and it's all sparkly and. Sitting on a [INAUDIBLE] of green, it looks kind of inviting for a hot afternoon. Now here's a proposal about what to drink it in, and how to enjoy it. But [INAUDIBLE] said. Hey, hang on a minute, there's more to this. This isn't just an advertisement. There's something else going on here. And here's what he says is going on. I've marked what he says is also there. And it's carefully embedded he says in the ice cubes. Look at them again. And look at them here with my having marked what Key says is there. It's the word sex. S.E.X. carefully embedded in the ice cubes. Go back and look again at the original one and you'll see that it's not quite that obvious. But when key has pointed that out to us. When we've had our attention called to it. Then it's almost like you can't not see it. Some people asked about this is this key merely seeing rabbits in the clouds and words in ice cubes? The way the light hits it might produce these kinds of images. Or is this in fact a conscious effort on the part of advertisers. To manipulate us subliminally. To convey messages to us that entice us and encourage us to be interested in something. And particularly do so by referring to sexuality and our emotional instincts. Things that we don't always have rational control over. Key argues that indeed this is what is happening. Advertising is rampant. It's throughout the whole industry and all over the place. Now, as I said earlier, the advertising industry's response in general to these things has been to deny it. John O'Toole, president of the Four A's. Did write the response that I wrote earlier in which he says, they say it exists but I've never seen an example of it. That's about as much as advertising ever said about the whole process of subliminal advertising. It did happen that the industry sent out a few posters to colleges and universities. And published a single print ad in which they essentially denied the existence of it. Here's the print ad published in black and white and carrying the caption, people have been trying to find breasts in these ice cubes since 1957, but it goes on to say, much like O'Toole did in the passage that we read,. It doesn't exist. That's not what we do in advertising. And, so, the advertising again, industry, again, simply denies the existence of subliminal advertising, but doesn't so in any engaged way. It doesn't enter into a dialogue. It doesn't talk about the techniques that it uses instead and why this is a bad idea. There's essentially been no dialogue of any significance with the public about it. And the idea has continued over time. Key has done a lot or did a lot I should say in his career over about 20 years or so in publishing the series of books that he did on it. Every time the idea would die down a little. He had a new book coming out. And in addition to that, what happened is that people primed to expect this, also would look into ice cubes and look into ads and find examples of sexual imagery or. Words about sex or other kinds of images that they thought were embedded and thus subliminal communications to consumers. Now, Key argued that through all of this, the common thing that they have is that these images bring up kind of primal responses from the audience. Sexual ones, or fear ones. Ones are anger or something like this. Of course, the idea is to arouse an interest with the public and, and to have consumers remember. The things that they've seen in an ad and ultimately to act on. Now the advertising industry continues and even today continues from time to time to make jokes about it. Here in the 1990s you see an example of the famous Absolut series. the, the images is that Absolut published in its ads are quite well known to people who know, about the brand and about its advertising. And this is one in the series of many,many subliminal advertising. A little I'm sorry, Absolut advertising. A little searching on the web and you can see what the whole series is like. Just type in Absolut Vodka advertising and you'll find in a Google search lots and lots of these images of what Absolut did. But this one. Had in it a conscience effort on the part of the people who produced it to embed the words absolute vodka. You can see them lightly here. They're not really subliminal, they're just playing with the idea. And it's another one of the kind of tongue-in-cheek, parody kinds of ideas that absolutely use so brilliantly in its advertising series. Now here's another example, this also from the 1990s. There are a couple of Pepsi cans, not what Pepsi always looks like, but what it looked like that summer. In a special effort to make these cans cool interesting, directed to young people. And what someone found is that when you stack the cans in a particular way. If you look at this you can see the word S-E. X, which has already told us is so important. There it is on these Pepsi cans. Now, I ask you, did Pepsi-Cola really do this? Think about it for a moment. Would a big company like Pepsi, that chose to market to everyone, at home and abroad, would they actually do something like paint the word sex on their cans? It doesn't seem very logical because they also want to sell to very conservative people, to teenagers. And so to do something like this just doesn't seem like very smart marketing. And so the company denied it. They said look we didn't do it. It's an accident. I mean you know, we made these neon light things on the cans to interest the public. And yes if you stack them this way it's possible to say that. This image does maybe appear but this was not what we're trying to do it's it's just not the kind of thing that we do. This is what John O'Toole main, maintained this is what advertising says it does it denies it whenever it does speak about it and certainly companies do when their accused of it. But if we look at through all of this and look at the original experiment and we look at the, the many examples of subliminal advertising that's been suggested to exist since then and all of Key's writing and those of other people, what I think is, perhaps the most important thing that we can, we can say about it all is. Not to debate forever the question of is it possible to do such a thing, it does seem that it is, by the way, and, and that advertisers don't really use it very much, if they do at all. But really to focus on this question. Why does the public want to believe in the idea of subliminal advertising? Well, I think the answer has to be seen as a kind of way of displacing responsibility for some of our behavior. It's a way of saying, I ended up buying things because I was manipulated into doing so. I didn't make rational choices. And it argues that you were attacked. The subliminal idea argues that you were attached essentially. In one of your most vulnerable areas of your life your emotions, your sexuality. And you were enticed into something and caused to act on this the way that was really outside your conscious control. Now, it's a little bit like the kind of thing that happens in ordinary life. That you go to a party and you perhaps become involved with someone. And. Things may become very complicated. And the next morning you may say to yourself, did I really do those things last night? And the answer may well be yes, in fact, you did do them. And so similarly, what this whole idea of subliminal advertising allows us to do, is to say that. Look I bought coat yesterday. It cost me a lot of money. Here it lies on the bed. I paid hundreds of dollars for it. Did I really buy that? Well, the sales slip confirms, confirms that you charged it, that you bought it. There is the coat. And you ask, why did I buy it? What the idea of subliminal advertising does is it allows you to say, well, I wasn't really responsible. I didn't behave in a rational way. And more than that I didn't behave in a rational way because I wasn't allowed to. I was manipulated, I was drawn into it. I was drawn into it through my emotions, through my sexuality. And didn't make a conscious or rational decision. I think this is the essence of the attractiveness of the idea. It's about displacement, it's about explaining our behavior in the marketplace, and it's about a way of trying to help talk to us or give us an understanding. Of why we sometimes behave in the marketplace in ways that don't seem very rational when we think about it. Now I'd like to suggest that you try to follow up on this. Through some of the additional resources that we're providing. I want to mention specifically the chapter in ADText Online. If you go to that, you can read the material that I've talked about today, but also lots of additional material about both the kinds of examples that have been found, the parodies of it. And also the kinds of things that do happen in advertising about trying to control and limit. Situations like this. You'll especially find that in the unit about ethics. But that'll be a topic that we'll talk about in another lecture on ADText. This course is a collaborative venture of Duke University and the Advertising Educational Foundation.