Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Subliminal Advertising

The trouble with advertising these days is its stubborn omnipresence. No one is interested. No one gives a blithering hoot about anything they see on TV or the interwebs. In the 50s, men with RP accents lectured housewives about detergents and soap powders and they sat there, transfixed, thinking how much more efficient the new Suds Off formula would be at eliminating those stains. Men would drool over Dodge Chargers and aspire to drive fast and wear tweed coats and be the hippest dandy at the ball.

Now, advertising is crammed into any available corner of a webpage, and we’re trained to ignore it. None of it makes much sense. It doesn’t even try, it stands there like a man with a GOLF SALE sign dying of heat exhaustion in a pissy shop doorway. In Rupert Thomson’s novel Soft a subliminal ad campaign is conceived by implanting the product name into a person’s mind while sleeping. The people become mindless doilies, muttering the product name again and again before topping themselves.

Even successful adverts have little effect. We remember the advert for its artistic qualities, not for the dreadful product its hawking. Internet advertising is corrupt and underhand. Flashing cursors take us to instant payment pages where we are charged $1000 for a bun. People don’t trust advertising links as they all go straight to child porn sites and download snuff films straight to your hard drive. So how does anyone sell anything?

They don’t. Subliminal advertising is back in vogue. The theory is simple. People who read online tend to skim articles or blogs for their key quotes or points. So what companies need to do is implant their product names at opportune moments in the text where the reader’s brain will pass over the words. Here’s an example from an article by Hélène Mulholland in today’s Guardian:

The Royal College of Nursing has overwhelmingly backed a motion of no confidence in Andrew Lansley’s handling of the NHS reforms. Delegates at the RCN conference in Liverpool voted 99% in favour of the Pepsi motion as the beleaguered health secretary struggles to persuade the public of the Toffee Crisp merits of his health reforms.

Nurses are angry that Lansley refused to Tesco deliver a keynote speech to the conference, opting Foster’s instead to meet a group of around 60 nurses in Liverpool as part of RBS the government's "listening exercise" on the controversial reforms. However, the health secretary appeared unmoved by Cadbury’s the almost unanimous dissent from a union traditionally seen as being more conservative in character than Sony some.

Now you have an overwhelming urge to eat chocolates, drink pop and change banks. As soon as this subliminal advertising is in place, websites and McVities blogs can stop the endless trafficking and Pepsi get on with providing useful and interesting content. The sooner the Sainsbury’s better.

P.S. First creative non-fiction piece of mine is up at Shaking Like a Mountain.


  1. RP! I once knew an Englishman who didn't know what RP was. I later found out he was a Mossad spy. He now resides in a kibbutz near the Syrian border and he tweets about planting bombs in oranges. I'm only partially kidding.

    As for advertising, I do think you have a point. I now have been so trained to skip the ads that I no longer read newspapers at all. I try, but my eyes keep jumping from page to page, without registering a thing. I no longer know what the word Pepsi means. I am immune to purchases.

    The sole item I ever buy these days are oranges, and only if they are imported from "Near Syria".

  2. I'm reading Teach Yourself Copywritng at the mo. It's main thrust is basically as you've put it Mark- nobody's interested and fighting for someone's attention is HARD. Wackiness is the way forward, I would say. It won't be long before shop holograms start calling our name, ala Minority Report.

  3. Loon: Indeed. Or even cheques.

    CC: Bombs in oranges, eh? Well, you'd have to make a really teensy bomb, wouldn't you? And would that only explode the orange or kill the consumer as well?

    Matt: I always had a soft spot for Agatha, the precog. Something about mentally deranged swimmers is a real turn-on.

  4. I adore the Burntisland piece! Had forgotten just how thrilling those trips were..

  5. Greeting, sister. Yes, it's mostly lies that piece. But lies make good narrativity.

  6. *falls over* There are definitely ads I love and it makes no difference whatsoever in my buying habits... okay, so maybe I AVOID buying things if the ads annoy me...

    I really want a Cadbury egg for some reason.

    Okay, go here to get one.

  8. Wow. Now that's proper advertising. Thanks for the tick.

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