I believe that the ad below contains a symbolic subliminal message. Such a message is transmitted via plainly visible objects or images. If they exist, these messages appear framed to appeal to our baser instincts, fears and faculties. Their producers would know from testing and research that the target audience would psychologically repress them; but would hope that at least a certain percentage of viewers will, while consciously ignoring or rationalizing them, subconsciously recognize and respond to them.
The controversy surrounding this type of subliminal stems from a long-running debate over the existence and nature of the subconscious; and from the fact that all things in which humans find symbolic meaning (words, numbers, images, music, etc.) can, and most often do, have multiple meanings. If you doubt that last statement, open any dictionary; you'll see that almost every word listed has multiple meanings. We attach specific meanings from the context in which we find the symbol. When Sigmund Freud famously said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", I think he meant that in some situations people simply smoke cigars; in others they use them as phallic symbols. Likewise, the objects that convey subliminal meaning in this ad will have different meanings in other contexts. You need to ask, does this specific context give it a subliminal meaning?
Review the ad, then think about the answers I've provided to the questions beneath it. If you disagree with my answers, try to determine what you see that I don't; or vice versa.
|__X__||written language||_____||spoken language||_____||music||_____||other sound|
|__X__||image (photo, drawing, etc.)||_____||color||_____||other visual||__X__||other __package shape__|
|_____||book||__X__||magazine||_____||newspaper||_____||mail or e-mail||_____||billboard or poster|
|_____||TV||_____||radio||_____||film||_____||CD, audiotape, etc.||_____||other _________________|
This deodorant will give you a pleasant tickle.
S/he wants women to buy this deodorant.
In this ad, the subliminal promise comes from a combination of the shape of the deodorant container, the ad copy, and the product name.
The container is clearly phallic-shaped. It comes about as close as one could to depicting an erect penis without being anatomically correct. So why might a business put a deodorant into a phallic-shaped container. The answer is in the product name - Tickle. The purchaser can use the container to tickle herself. And just where might a woman want to tickle herself with a phallic-shaped container? Her subconscious knows, and if the ad works, whenever she feels the subconscious need for a dildo she'll rush out to buy Tickle deodorant. As the copy says, "Staying drier is nicer with a little Tickle."
To eliminate any doubt, the ad company that created this ad ran it in a magazine with a postcard insert. Here is a picture of them both. Notice the model's expression, and the way she is holding the container. On the card, the copy is even more explicit, "Make yourself happy with a little Tickle."
I don't believe that this product remains on the market. The failure of a product to sell is usually a sign that the propaganda for it did not work.
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original web posting: Monday, February 25, 2002
last modified: Thursday, December 09, 2004