"The illusion is still popularly cherished that humans individually -- all on their own -- are in total control of their own thoughts, values, and behaviors. We believe that we think entirely for and by ourselves. This fantasy feeds a self-perception that is currently perilous to human survival and adjustment -- an intellectual Achilles' heel" (Key). Every day we are bombarded by advertisements, logos, and slogans. They tell us what to buy, who should lead us, and anything else that advertisers wish to inform us of. We have become so accustomed to this iconry that we consciously pay it little mind, however, by doing this these ideas and slogans go subconsciously into out mind subliminally. This backed by the news media's careful screening and processing of information before it is presented to the public leads to a society which is told what to eat, drink, buy, wear, and most importantly, what to think. We will look at what advertising is saying, but first we must examine how it's saying it.
In order for any person to perform an action that they would not normally do of their own accord, they must first be convinced that it is what is best, and they must choose to do it themselves rather than be forced or obviously coerced into doing so. Subliminal messaging is what the media uses to put a thought into the mind of the viewer. A subliminal is any message which is conveyed to a person without them realizing it. Certain techniques used for the manipulation of video and multimedia convey more meaning than what is readily seen. There are several standard ways in which a message is subliminally conveyed. These are by no means the only methods by which subliminals are communicated, as advertisers become more creative every day, but is a list of basic subliminal strategies (Key)
- Figure-ground Reversals
- Double Entrende
- Tachistoscopic Displays
- Low-Intensity Light, Low-Volume Sound
- Lighting and Background Sound
Figure-ground reversals involve the two divisions of visual and auditory perceptions which are the figure -- subject and foreground, and ground -- the background supportive to figure and the environment in which figure exists. Areas which are environing to the figure are taken for granted and are quite often ignored. The actions of figure are watched and taken in consciously, while ground is absorbed on a subconscious level. If there is any disturbance in ground then it becomes figure. Some individuals are more perceptive than others and constantly scan both figure and ground for any change in meaning. Artists, recognizing the value of ground often put the meaning of their works in ground. Many of the more striking artistic pieces take advantage of this. Advertisement artists eventually learned that figure could be lowered to platitude, a safe, non-controversial topic. While the ground could contain the really controversial subjects, important information that would be perceived unconsciously.
Figure-ground reversals also applies to sound as well. Orchestrators have been composing symphonies from centuries that are subliminal in effect. This is done through the layering of voices in the choir. The average person, when listening to a musical composition which incorporates multiple voices will only consciously hear one voice, melody or rhythmic harmony. The trained ear of a musician will often hear two voices and special individuals will hear even three. It is only the truly unique that can hear for or more voices. On paper the voices may be read individually as they appear in the score, but human hearing fuses the voices into one unified composition. On an unconscious level the brain seems to perceive each one as its own separate component (Key). This is all the perceptual sensitivity of the listener. The young Mozart had an exceptional talent for this. Upon listening to a polyphonic choral composition sung at the Vatican Sistine Chapel he transcribed the entire composition from memory. This work, a guarded secret of the church, consisted of four choral voices and organ music. Mozart was able to perceive and record it both horizontally and vertically as it would be put to paper.
Embedding is the process by which one image on icon is worked into or around another as to make the image being advertised stand out while the secondary image is ignored and remembered unconsciously. In embedded pictures, nothing is actually hidden. The US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms supposed regulate the ads in this country. In the August 6, 1984 , "New Rules and Regulations" these is given a definition of subliminal embedding, "One prevalent form of subliminal technique was described as the insertion of words or body forms (embeds) by the use of shadows or shading, or the substitution of form and shapes generally associated with the body.... The consumer does not perceive them at a normal level of awareness, and thus is given no choice whether to accept or reject the message, as is the case with normal advertising. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) holds that this type of advertising technique is false and deceptive and prohibited by law." This law applies to alcoholic beverage ads only. The viewing of obscured imagery is restricted only by one's perceptual flexibility. Once this is learned the embeds are readily available to be viewed and analyzed. The only thing that keep anyone from seeing embedded imagery is what viewers hide from themselves. the repression of this awareness seems to compulsive, most likely a defense mechanism used to keep the harsh and often jarring truth from causing over-anxiety.
Double Entrende is a form of subliminal in which the main focus of the ad has a double meaning. The secondary meaning is often something which is taboo in our culture yet is widely known of. Our conscious mind represses the imagery because it is taboo and therefore the image is stored in subconscious memory. A common cartoon preceding many recent movies watched in a theater instructs the audience in proper etiquette in the theater. Grotesque, humorous characters frolic about the screen while one of the creatures with a long nose runs around and directs them all to watching the show and relax. A the very end the long-nosed creature says to the audience, 'well folks, enjoy the show!' and them promptly falls on his back, below the level of the screen bottom. The only thing that can be seen of him is his long nose, which protrudes vertically from the bottom of the screen, clearly appearing to be an erect penis to the careful observer. Clearly this is implicative of the manner in which the advertisers want you to enjoy the show.
Tachistoscopic Displays are where many images are flashed by the subject at high speeds. Most viewers cannot consciously view the imagery before the next one appears and therefore absorb them all into subconscious memory. Tachistocscopes were originally developed to test subliminal images and flashed images at 1/3000 second. The high speed of these flashes keeps them from being edited into video, however slower tachistoscopic images in the range of 1/10 to 1/150 second have been (Key 21). Tachistoscopy is often merged with a production style called quick cuts, more properly known as metacontrast or backward masking. Quick cuts are consciously visible, but are obscured by the emotion or meaning of the next quick cut. Metacontrast can be used to instill all ranges of emotions into the viewer. A quick cut followed by a diversion can put a person into an emotional state with them being aware of it. Metacontrast is used extensively in sitcoms, movies and ads to make the audience feel a certain way about the images being shown. The rock music industry has become elite with this form of metacontrast. This form of subliminal has become quite popular today in many types of advertising. Tachistoscopy seems to be prevalent in area where the ads are targeted at the youths of our country.
Low-intensity light and low-volume sound are quite possibly the most common form of subliminals that exist today. Low-intensity light in is taking an image and overlaying it onto another, main image. This image is not more than one candlepower above the lighting intensity of the main image. The concept was developed by a Coca-Cola executive by hooking up a rheostat to the light on a projector, then the slide was projected over a video and the light was reduced to just below the conscious level (Key). The technique is used commonly in magazine advertisements where the ad had been painted by an artist. Then final painting is then taken and touched up with the subliminal imagery, either with a computer or in the photo lab. The letters S, E, and X seem to be most prevalent in the subliminal industry. The trick to seeing the ultra-faint images in a picture seems to be how relaxed to observer is. The threshold of conscious and unconscious perception elevates in response to tension and anxiety. As it lowers more information becomes perceptible to us. Again, this same technique is used in any sort of video that will be shown to the mass public. Many companies use subliminals in training videos and in video displays that are positioned around their business.
This idea of overlaying a subliminal in a normal image also applies to audio communication. A man named Dr. Hal Becker was the first to patent a audio processors that placed subliminal messages into music sound tracks. Becker's processor also mixed a subliminal message into a video. It is capable of inserting these subliminals into a microwave signal. It inserts the messages at a candlepower slightly above the current picture. With this device Dr. Becker inserted a videotape with subliminals into a transmission coming into his transceiver. He could raise the lighting so that one could see the inserted pictures then lower it to blend in with the standard broadcast. Becker sells his subliminal equipment to various organizations. He has designed anti-theft systems into the audio systems in stores, meant to be mixed with the music the store plays over their speakers. Subliminal programs have also been designed for physicians and hospitals, reducing steamed up patients, fainting from needle insertions and smoking. His programs have also been constructed for weight loss groups. Becker is confident that his method could be used to reduce driving accidents, substance abuse, crimes and better therapy and education. Many people are concerned, though, that this technology would be used improperly (Key).
The final basic type of subliminal is background lighting and sound. There are some that argue that this category is a subset of another group, but the majority of the knowledgeable community on these matters seems to agree that this is indeed a separate group. Film and video used background sound as a method of emotional control. By adding music and rhythmic sounds at the proper locations the observer can be made sad, happy, angry or tense. Lighting can be used in the same manner; the manipulation of shadow lengths for amplification, and uneven background lights to intensify depth illusion. With the use of lighting the fantasy the film or video creates can often be more convincing than reality. Many of the ads that are produced by Soloflex use this form of subliminal. The advertisements use shadows, whether actual or airbrushed, to create phallic symbols on their male models. This type of subliminal will, over time, put the idea that by using Soloflex one can become more masculine and therefore attract a prettier woman.
Although subliminals are quite effective in giving the general public an idea, nothing is as thorough in terms of knowledge control as the screening out of information before it ever gets to a television. Every day the newspapers and broadcast networks make decisions about what goes on the air and what is cut. However, we should no be so quick to believe that these decisions are based upon sensible, unbiased decisions. Consider the coverage of major events like accidents, natural disasters, and mass entertainment. Events such as the Olympics. The Winter Olympics in Calgary was broadcast on ABC, NBC, and CBS. NBC devoted 33 minutes of its nightly newscast to reporting on the Olympics, CBS reported on the games for 17 minutes while ABC scheduled 47 minutes of its news time (Litcher). Is it a coincidence that ABC broadcast the Winter Olympics and took an aggressive stance in promoting and advertising it, increasing sales of the Olympics?
In actuality most everything we view on TV or read in the papers is under the close scrutiny of network sponsors. Nearly 100 percent of broadcast network income is from sponsors. When it comes to newspaper this figure drops to about 75 percent and down to nearly 50 percent funding of magazines. Corporations fund media sources such as these so that their ads will have preference over the ads of other major corporations. more than 60 percent of newspaper space is reserved for ad, as is about 22 percent of TV time (Litcher). We can see sponsor influence anytime there is a brand name or a logo on a product in a game show, sporting event or any other leisure activity. Companies do not have to plaster their logo everywhere in order to exert leverage for the money they pay out to sponsor shows. Before any television show goes to production it has to have the approval of corporate sponsors.
In 1989 a special produced by the National Autobahn society was aired without commercials after all of its sponsors pulled out due to pressure form the logging industry. The special entitled Ancient forests: Rage Over Trees was decided to be too radical by many US logging companies. Also, Domino's Pizza pulled it's funding from Saturday Night Live because they said the showed conveyed 'an anti-Christian message.'
This kind of censorship goes on all of the time. Corporate sponsors figure that they should have a say in what gets said, after all, they are paying for the show out of their pockets. The networks tend to agree with this as well, meeting the wishes of their financially endowed sponsors wherever feasible. Sponsors tend to frown upon any sort of message in a show that would detract from the viewers buying mood. Indeed there are even rough guidelines which big sponsors have shows conform to:
First, make sure that nothing in the script harms the pitch of the advertisement of the sponsor. The last thing that an advertiser wants is to have the content of their show turn the viewer against their product. A writer was forced to remove the line 'she eats too much' from a show sponsored by a breakfast food company. Second, always keep big business in a flattering light. Many large companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Prudential maintain a strict code that they will not underwrite any show which does not portray a positive image of business and finance on the air. Third, target advertising and take care of the upper classes of people above others. It will be these people that will be future sponsors and who will buy the most. The elderly and the low-income are significantly less important to the sponsors in this respect. Lastly, avoid serious topics and try to dilute controversy when it comes up. Companies repeatedly say that lighter and happier topics in shows are better in terms of consumers buying. Any shows which deals with racy subjects rarely make it to the air as is, but instead go through major rewriting.
Kirshner describes the way the media plants ideas in the public's mind as a virus. The media takes bits and pieces of high-charged and controversial video clips to place an emotion in the public's mind. This planted idea spreads, just like a virus, from person to person and eventually infiltrate other areas of the media such as radio stations, talk shows, etc. These media viruses come packaged to us as trojan horses. We receive them on one form, but once they are in they act differently than we originally anticipated. So why do big companies go to all this trouble to carefully construct everything that the general populous sees and hears? Profit is a good answer. The money that a company makes off of commercials and other types of advertising is quite significant. Even this is unsure, for even with such a high profit margin, there is still some question as to the amount of money made.
So what is the result of all this? How much can we say is incontestable? There are many prominent individuals who fully support subliminal theory. Even so, it is not excepted to the majority of the psychology field. Additionally, the concept of a media virus is fairly new. One way or another, big companies will keep on producing, the commercials will continue to be pumped to us and we -- will keep on buying.