As one of the few men able to successfully fake a sexual orgasm, I have no problem with improvisation, fabrication, or outright deceit. Outright lying doesn’t really bother me. In truth, isn’t the Art of Deception a big part of life? Indeed, isn’t being lied to our face the very foundation of our political system?
And in the world of commerce, don’t most advertisements—particularly TV commercials—exaggerate, overstate and misrepresent the virtues of their products? That’s why the time-honored dictum of “Buyer beware!” resonates with us. Not everything we hear in an advertisement is going to be true. In fact, most of it is going to be intentionally misleading.
But I draw the line at subliminal advertising. Why? Because subliminal advertising, by definition, is insidious and sneaky. It’s one thing for, say, a wrinkle-removing cream to boldly claim to remove facial wrinkles (when it actually can’t and won’t), but it’s a whole other deal for that wrinkle commercial to sneak in an image for a mere one-hundredth of a second that is intended to implant in our brain a negative response to a competitor. An image designed to have us scorn a competing wrinkle cream.
What if a Pepsi commercial were to flash, for one-hundredth of a second, an image of a horribly disfigured person drinking a can of Coke? An image so grotesque that our brains register a profoundly negative reaction to Coke. Mind you, that image isn’t on the screen long enough to be noticed by the conscious mind, but it’s there long enough to be noticed by the unconscious mind, hence the term “subliminal.”
If Pepsi had flashed that image enough times during the Super Bowl, they might have gotten away with some impressive results. With a reported 114 million people having watched the game, if even one-percent of the audience were to “get” the message they transmitted, it could mean that more than a million people stopped drinking Coca-Cola and switched over to Pepsi.
The reason I mention this is because I think I may have been exposed to one of those subliminal ads. Prior to the Super Bowl, one of my favorite snack foods was pork rinds. Prior to the Super Bowl I positively loved pork rinds. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of them. But after watching the game, I found myself nauseated at the very thought of them.
Clearly, something happened to me during those three and a half hours. Pork rinds not only no longer appealed to me, they lost their meaning. They made no sense to me. Is it possible that a competing snack food manufacturer had run some ads during that game, ones intended to subliminally turn me against pork rinds? I’ll have to do some research.
David Macaray, a playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org