"The Hidden Face Behind Advertising"


By Chris McLean

Is it only me, or have others become aware of new techniques being employed in advertising? Advertising in essence isn't wrong - it's a way in which we are informed of new products. But, and this is a big but, more and more advertising is infiltrating our everyday lives, we cannot open our eyes in the morning without some form of advertising staring back at us.

By definition, advertising is: (The Maquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary) "advertise -v t 3. to offer (an article) for sale or (a vacancy) to applicants, etc., by placing an advertisement in a newspaper, magazine, etc. " (This being the most relevant definition, p.13, if you are wanting to check the other definitions) Another definition, given by The Educational Resources Informational Center (ERIC), in an article titled 'Educating The Consumer About Advertising' (author Stephen S. Gottlieb) is: "Advertising can be defined as communication which promotes the purchase of products and services, and advertisements are pervasive in the American culture." No longer do these definitions of passive advertising hold true. Increasingly, if we apathetically allow the advertisements to wash over our TV dulled minds, we are not given a choice if we want to buy or not, and at some point the ad we just watched will force us to buy the product it promotes. That is, if we are not conscious of the intricate workings behind the glossy fantasy worlds they portray. That is the point of this article, to open the eyes of a few more people, and to make these people aware of the new techniques being employed.

"If this text makes only one person think, then it has served it's purpose."
- Zarkon, The Zarkon Principal


Once, a long time ago, it was possible to draw a line between advertising and entertainment. Not anymore. In the apparent evolved entertainment society of today, the advertising is the entertainment.

Product Placement, or Advertising Through Association With An Icon
Next time you are watching that favourite TV show, wide eyed, open mouthed and in an induced state of stupor, drag your eyes off of the action, and focus on the foreground, and on the backgrounds. Notice the way that certain products are placed? The way the piece of walking talking silicon picks up that can of soft drink, selectively holding the label to the camera. In the peripheral of the main focus of movies is also another great place to see the wonders of product placement in action. This form of advertising is a passive one, but it does have its very own insidious quality. The way that product placement works, is by taking the advertising out of its own domain, and placing it in situations where it is seen to be a part of everyday life. A character on the television casually walks to the fridge, while reciting lines, casually saying "Do you want a drink?" to another character. Whilst grabbing the article from the fridge, the character makes sure the product's label is visible. The viewer doesn't see this to be advertising, but just something that is done.

The companies take the advertising out of a noticeably familiar advertising situation, where the consumer knows that the company is pushing their product, and creatively place it into the script, where it seems to become just part of every day life. Couple this with the association of a prominent famous figure actually liking the product (they probably don't though, and remember, the people on the TV aren't really real), and we have a potent purchase stimulus... "Well if Kramer likes it, then damn it, it must have something going for it. I'll just try it once to see what it's like". The advertising has worked its wicked way, a sale has been made that was directly influenced by the advertising. The other form of product placement is the way in which company logos weasel their way into the backdrops of shots on the TV and in movies. It seems to the impressionable mind of the viewer that it is only a part of the backdrop, hell, it happens so much, we can be excused for not noticing it.

It isn't just the one instance of the logo appearing that works, it is the repetition of the same logo over and over causing it to lodge in our minds and induce sales. The products that stand out and say "BUY ME", are ones that carry a logo that has been repeated to us time and time before. This sort of advertising just doesn't randomly occur. Big corporate dollars are spent to ensure that certain products appear in specific places and scenes in movies and on TV. Who is writing the scripts - the writers or the money?

The New Soap-Opera Ads

I'm sure that we have all seen these new breed of ads which have started to insult our intelligence. It is an obvious form of product and service advertising. However, turning an ad into a soap opera turns the attention away from the advertising platform and to the actual soap opera element of the campaign, making the advertising more appealing to the consumer. While the actual product push is still recognisably there, the person watching the ad doesn't shut it out as much because there is something new to keep the interest up, while the product push still works its way into the head of the watcher. Even though these ads are annoying to the point of frustration, they still work, because the old adage 'bad publicity is the same as good publicity' is very true. I have heard people saying, "have you seen that new [insert company here] ad, isn't it bad/stupid/annoying?" These people don't like the ad, but it has worked inversely because it's still producing interest about the company and the products advertised.

The One Hour Advertising Phenomena

Who's idea was it to create TV shows about advertising? The worlds greatest commercials blah...blah...blah. You sit there for an hour watching ads, then in between this barrage, we get more ads. This is what we class as entertainment? Again, lots of money is spent to get these shows to put up certain ads - is it just coincidence that a certain soft drink always gets a starring role?


One of the most subversive and ingenious techniques is making the consumer pay for a company's advertising by creating a whole designer market for company logos. Please understand this is a totally manufactured market. Let's look at the logic and agenda behind it: A big company makes it desirable/fashionable to wear its clothing. This clothing is a generic garment, be it a t-shirt, shoes, socks, whatever, with the actual logo as the buying point. For some reason, the product's apparent quality and value for money is tangential to the product's logo and how much money it costs. When someone buys one of these products and wears it, they become a walking, talking corporate billboard, the irony being that the person actually paid for it.

Manufacturing the Market

The above is probably an unnecessary explanation, but where the engine of this consumer bandwagon lies is in the superfluously extravagant and over-financed advertising campaigns. Instead of searching for a market, these companies just create their own. Let us take as a valid example the manufactured corporate-rock bands.

The basis for this example is the way that these bands have been used by their record companies to manufacture a whole generation of children into a profit machine. The bands themselves are unquestionably popular with certain sections of the population. This is the angle being worked, targeting segments of society by over publicising such bands in the appropriate formats, i.e. teenie-bopper magazines, mainstream saturday morning music shows, etc. The publicity and hype not only is directed towards record sales for the bands, but more importantly, it must be noted the way band members always wear different t-shirts of other bands. Generally, you don't see them wearing anything else apart from cut-off knee length army pants, or some other knee length pants, the ever present flannelette shirt, and a t-shirt advertising another band. All these band shirts are, coincidentally(?), bands that are marketed by the same company. Isn't that just cosy? What do we see coming out of this? Hundreds of people walking about in, wait for it, a flannelette shirt, knee-length pants and a band t-shirt. Admittedly this clothing style has been around far longer than the bands, but, why all of a sudden do we have an influx of young fans dressing exactly the same? All of them like little clones of the band members? What the companies get out of this should be obvious. Each sale of a t-shirt basically ensures a CD sale of the band the shirt is advertising, due to the walking-corporate-billboard-and-I-paid-for-it effect. Add to this a tangent of something spoken about before, Association With An Icon. By making the bands wear t-shirts advertising other bands (you thought they chose to do it?), an association is made by fans somewhere along the line of "cool, they wear that bands' t-shirt, they must like them, I might just buy that CD sometime." Again, sales are boosted by this line of thought. This is not the only way that wearing advertising is made fashionable. Whole new markets and areas within existing markets are manufactured. A few of these are:


After reading that subtitle, what images sprung into your mind? Hidden messages in 'rock' music telling the kiddies to go out and burn grandma? Or maybe an ominous droning voice in piped music repeating 'buy...buy...buy'? The latter is true. Audio cassettes and CDs are now for sale, and being used, in supermarkets and other stores. These pump out your garden variety elevator music, *but, they have subliminal messages. They are marketed as subliminal tapes and bought as such, and you, dear consumers, are none the wiser. Below are two (rather lengthy) quotes from an article titled "The Battle For Your Mind", by a professional American hypnotist, Dick Sutphen. He reinforces his knowledge by saying: " ...In talking about this subject, I am talking about my own business. I know it, and I know how effective it can be."

"...The oldest audio subliminal technique uses a voice that follows the volume of the music. So, subliminals are impossible to detect without a parametric equalizer. But this technique is patented and, when I wanted to develop my own line of subliminal audio cassettes, negotiations with the patent holder proved to be unsatisfactory. My attorney obtained copies of the patents which I gave to some talented Hollywood sound engineers, asking them to create a new technique. They found a way to psycho-acoustically modify and synthesize the suggestions so that they are projected in the same chord and frequency as the music, thus giving them the effect of being part of the music. But we found that, in using this technique, there is no way to reduce various frequencies to detect the subliminals. In other words, although the suggestions are being heard by the subconscious mind, they cannot be monitored with even the most sophisticated equipment.

"If we were able to come up with this technique as easily as we did, I can only imagine how sophisticated the technology has become, with unlimited U.S. Government and [corporate] advertising funding. And I shudder to think about the propaganda and commercial manipulation that we are exposed to on a daily basis. There is simply no way to know what is behind the music you hear. It may even be possible to hide a second voice behind the voice to which you are listening.

"The series, by Wilson Bryan Key, Ph.D., on subliminals in advertising and political campaigns, well documents the misuse in many areas, especially printed advertising in newspapers, magazines and posters.

"The big question about subliminals is: Do they work? And I guarantee you that they do - not only from the response of those who have used my tapes, but from the results of such programs as the subliminals behind the music in department stores. Supposedly, the only message is instructions to not steal. One East Coast department store chain reported a 37 percent reduction in thefts in the first nine months of testing....

"The more we find out about how human beings work through today's highly advanced technological research, the more we learn to control human beings. And what probably scares me the most is that the medium for takeover is already in place! That television set in your living room and bedroom is doing a lot more than just entertaining you! "Before I continue, let me point out something else about an altered state of consciousness. When you go into an altered state, you transfer into right brain, which results in the internal release of the body's own opiates: enkephalins and beta-endorphines, chemically almost identical to opium. In other words, it feels good - and you want to come back for more.

"Recent tests by researcher Herbert Krugman showed that, while viewers were watching television, right-brain activity outnumbered left-brain activity by a ratio of two to one. Put more simply, the viewers were in an altered state... in trance more often than not. They were getting their beta-endorphine 'fix.'

"To measure attention spans, psychophysiologist Thomas Mulholland of the Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, attached young viewers to an EEG [electroencephalograph] machine that was wired to shut the TV set off whenever the children's brains produced a majority of alpha brain waves. Although the children were told to concentrate, only a few could keep the set on for more than thirty seconds!

"Most viewers are already hypnotized! To deepen the trance is easy. One simple way is to place a blank, black frame every 32 frames in the film that is being projected. This creates a 45-beat-per-minute pulsation, perceived only by the subconscious mind - the ideal pace at which to generate deep hypnosis.

"The commercials or suggestions presented following this alpha-inducing broadcast are much more likely to be accepted by the viewer. The high percentage of the viewing audience that has somnambulistic-depth [sleep walking] ability could very well accept the suggestions as commands - as long as those commands did not ask the viewer to do something contrary to his morals, religion, or self-preservation.

"The medium for takeover is here! By the age of 16, children have spent ten thousand to fifteen thousand hours watching television! That is more time than they spend in school! In the average home, the television set is on for six hours and 44 minutes per day - an increase of nine minutes from last year, and three times the average rate of increase during the 1970s.

"It obviously isn't getting better. We are rapidly moving into an alpha-level world - very possibly, the Orwellian world of '1984': placid, glassy-eyed, and responding obediently to instructions..."

Subliminal Advertising Has Now Reached A More Blatant Level

Advertising seems to be manifesting from just informing, to blatantly instructing consumers to buy. Walk down any aisle at the supermarket, have a look at the shelves and the little advertising blurbs you see splattered around, 'Buy our Product', 'Buy our product and this will happen to you...', and many, many more. Many people are not even consciously aware they are being 'instructed' to buy certain products. You will find this blatant form of subliminal - quite easily in fact - the more you look around when you are out and about in happy-go-lucky-consumer land.

The Competition Advertising Campaign

Another little trick used by companies is the competition campaign. This advertising ploy is fairly well embedded into our consumer psyche. It is where a company takes all attention away from the product, and places it instead in what the consumer could possibly win by purchasing the product repeatedly. How can you class this as subliminal? Well, subliminal, by definition is (again, The Maquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary, p. 951) "SUBLIMINAL, being or operating below the threshold of consciousness or perception; subconscious." Being completely conscious and aware of their actions, people make the decision to purchase, but out of the different choices that could be made, in most cases, the product of choice is the one which carries a competition stimulus. Therefore, the advertising is subliminal because it prompted the consumer to purchase the product over the possibly of gaining material wealth. The subconscious clicks into play: The prize seems to be something the consumer needs, and the sale is made on this point, not actually the real need to have the product that is purchased. The choice from the many products displayed is made on the manufactured subconscious desire to gain material wealth.

The Insertion Of Slogans Into Our Every Day Speech

At an alarming rate, we are being conditioned to repeat advertising slogans as part of our everyday speech. Aldous Huxley used the term 'sleep-teaching' or 'hypnopaedia', in his book Brave New World, where people are 'morally' conditioned to do and say things in response to every day situations by having constructed phrases repeated to them while they are asleep as children. In today's society, this is happening to children and adults alike, and we don't have to be asleep for it to work. Companies carefully construct slogans that they drum into us. To prevent falling prey to what we are trying to illuminate, none of these slogans will be reiterated here. Have a listen around you at the amount of times that certain slogans are repeated. In the mediums of television and radio, these slogans also carry a simple tune created to be memorable, and the slogan is rhythmically repeated or sung with this tune. In one of the quotes used earlier from Dick Sutphen, he was talking about one form of subliminal that makes the speech follow the pattern of the music. Isn't this exactly what some of these slogans and jingles do? This is how subliminal advertising has reached a more blatant level. The messages no longer need to be hidden from us, because they achieve the same goals when they are staring us in the face. People all around us repeat these embedded slogans and catch phrases as every day speech, parroting them as they would any old cliched saying or anecdote. Walking talking advertising machines is what most of us are becoming, and we are oblivious to it. Some of us even think it humorous, laughing at the way some companies advertise their products, and making jokes out of catch phrases. These are people who just can't see the manipulation for the advertising, and if they can, they are apathetic and ignorant toward the control.


For all the good intentions of multinationals when they run charity campaigns - affiliating themselves with a 'worthy' cause - if there wasn't something in it for them, do you think they would bother? What most people don't realise is that the money they give to charities is a token gesture to make them seem like the good guys, while their coffers grow larger as they play on the good nature of consumers.

How often has a product decision been made on the fact that you may be doing something worthwhile in giving money to a company that states '5 cents out of every purchase will go towards [insert charity organization here]", or something along those lines? For all the 'seemingly' good intentions of the company, they are only in it for the money they get out of it, the reputation it builds for the company, and the future sales generated because of this assumed reputation. These companies care about money and money only, and will employ any tactic to get more of it.

Below is a hypothetical situation. However much it may seem to sound like a real life situation, it is meant to be that way. A hypothetical situation in consumer land...

Public interest has been generated by the mainstream media about the plight of a race of people who have been grossly mistreated by their government, in a part of the world which nearly no one has heard of until now. Everyone is walking through the pastel coloured streets of consumer land talking about how terrible it is, saying nasty things about the government, and so on. They have a feeling of helplessness about the whole situation, because watching the TV and shopping, which is what all good consumers do, isn't going to do anything to help these people. So they don't try, they just continue to say how bad it is to their friends as they hand their credit card over the counter to the person at the checkout. A global spanning multinational hamburger chain, pricks it's ears up. It jumps on the band wagon, starting a large advertising campaign. The multinational, under this premise, is saying that over a two day period, 5 cents out of every burger sold will go toward helping these people. Ok, now that the situation has been set, let's have a look at the figures. For simplicity, let us assume that the average burger price is $1.50, and on average it costs this company 30 cents for the actual 'food' part of the burger (this is not an over exaggeration), and that 40 cents of the price goes toward other costs like wages, electricity, etc. So all up we have a $1.50 burger, costing the company 70 cents, and making a clear profit of 60 cents. Over a normal two day period, this company sells 1000 burgers, generating a normal profit of $600. Over the two day period when the campaign is on, they sell 1700 burgers, making an increase of 700 burger sales that can be directly linked to their 'good will' campaign. Now 5 cents out of each of these sales goes towards helping the mistreated, far-away, race of people. Out of $1020 clear profit for the two days, only $85 is donated, and making the net profit $935. The company itself has gained a $335 increase because of this campaign, and the poor people, who everyone is feeling so sorry for, only get $85, which would only pay a small part of the costs to get food to them, if there was enough money to actually buy food for them in the first place. The multinational has successfully exploited these distant people to gain big profits, and the people who inhabit not-a-care-in-the-world consumer land are completely oblivious to the fact that the only people they helped are the owners of the multinational hamburger chain. And they don't care, because they've had their hit of 'helping their fellow people' - after that, nothing else matters.


This is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg of the various subversive ways in which advertising is being inflicted upon us. Whilst writing this, I have been continually asking myself for justification on why I find these methods insidious, annoying, intrusive and wrong. I am sure some of you may be flaunting with the same questions. Firstly, choice is slowly being replaced by direct orders to buy. Secondly, manipulative commercials, seemingly harmless to the casual observer. When you begin to ignore the rose coloured tint and peer into the inner workings of these commercials, the realm that lies carefully hidden behind the facade of consumerism comes to the surface. These observations above lead to other observations, hopefully allowing you to wade through the crap, so that you can make informed purchases, not manufactured ones. While the rest of the population gets swept along with the blind current that is today's consumer based society, where the mighty dollar is all that is needed to fulfill your life, where the mighty dollar is a better substitute for reality than reality itself, because the mighty dollar can make you forget what is really happening, and create a fantasy world for you to inhabit.

Finally we come to the chain of ownership. Next time you are at the supermarket, have a look at the fine print on the back of the product you are about to purchase. You may find something like "[blah...blah] is a division of [blah...blah]". Now toddle around until you find a product which is openly produced by the larger company, look at the back again, and you may just find that this company is owned by another larger one again. For about five minutes of work, you can easily see where your money is going to go, not just to the company you are purchasing the product from, but to the larger company that owns this one, and so on up the chain of ownership. Make sure you are aware what these companies are doing to the planet and its inhabitants. By giving your money to these companies, you are in fact supporting their activities. If you don't want your money to go to these companies, it doesn't have to. There are bound to be many products of equal value and quality that by purchasing you won't be supporting undesirable multinationals. What are these actions? Below are just a few...

This is only a vague outline of the many companies involved in heinous crimes that are being perpetuated inadvertently by continued consumer support. It is only when you start to become aware of what you are supporting that we can begin to slow the snowballing control that these corporations have upon us. At a complete loss for words.