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Propaganda in the Classroom
Sex and Death Among the Ice Cubes
 

Ad Analysis
Canada Dry Tonic Water

I believe that the ad below contains an embedded subliminal message.  Such a message is transmitted via one or more artistically embedded hidden 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 most of us appear to see what we expect to see, consciously ignoring things planted by an artist in such a way that s/he knows will keep them "hidden in plain sight".  While we may miss such intentional plants, it is also possible to see things that aren't there.  I am afraid that many subliminal hunters fall into that trap.  Human history shows unequivocally that, as a species, we can infuse objects with meaning where clearly there is none.  If you doubt that last sentence, think about the reasons we've named stellar constellations as we have, and the deistic explanation given to astronomical phenomena by earlier civilizations.  Barring a confession by the artist who created the image in the ad below, there is probably no way to know with certainty if it contains a subliminal embed. You need to ask yourself if the image shows evidence of artistic tampering, and, if so, then whether such tampering can be fairly interpreted in the way I have done below.

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.

  1. What item are you analyzing? An ad for Canada Dry Tonic Water
  2. The message you chose to work with is transmitted via (check off all applicable categories)
_____ written language _____ spoken language _____ music _____ other sound
__X__ image (photo, drawing, etc.) _____ color _____ other visual _____ other _________________
  1. The medium used to transmit the message is (check off the type that applies)
_____ book __X__ magazine _____ newspaper _____ mail or e-mail __X__ billboard or poster
_____ TV _____ radio _____ film _____ CD, audiotape, etc. _____ other _________________
  1. Who authored the message?

Unknown

  1. At whom is it targeted?

Alcohol Users

  1. Is it commercial or non-commercial?

Commercial

  1. In one clear, brief sentence, summarize the message with which you've decided to work.

Calm your fears with Canada Dry.

Alternatively, wield power over men with Canada Dry.

  1. Are there other propagandistic messages in this item?

Yes

  1. Is the author attempting to elicit a behavior or a belief?

Behavior

  1. Clearly state the behavior or belief the author wants from the target.

S/he wants you to buy Canada Dry Tonic Water.

  1. Does the message attempt to manipulate with emotion, reason or both?

Emotion

  1. Describe how you think the manipulation works?

Research appears to show that the majority of alcoholic beverages are sold to heavy drinkers, people who could objectively be diagnosed as alcoholic.  In addition to suppressing withdrawal symptoms, alcoholics probably  drink to escape problems and fears in their lives.  While not an alcoholic product itself, the ad copy shows that the subject of this ad is clearly intended for use in alcoholic drinks.

If actually present, the embed in this ad seems to represent the threat (or promise) of castration, the sort of thing that might awaken one from a dream in a panic or a cold sweat.  Seen subconsciously by a person who drinks alcohol to escape fear, it might trigger a desire to drink.  Associated with this product, it might trigger a desire to purchase Canada Dry Tonic Water  when a subconscious fear asserts itself.

On the other hand, the target of this ad might be a woman.  At the time, and maybe still, alcoholics were thought to be primarily male, and were often reported to be quite abusive when drunk - their rage directed at their wives and girlfriends, co-dependents unable or unwilling to leave a bad relationship, or even to consciously acknowledge it for what it was.  It is not hard for me to imagine a psychologist, in the employ of an ad agency, targeting this ad at the subconscious desire of such a woman to strike back.  Buy this product when you feel the desire to castrate him, it could say to her subconscious.

So, where is the embed?  Click here, I've outlined what I see in blue.  Clicking the link will open an enlargement in its own window.  When you've finished looking at or printing it, close the window without exiting your browser program.  If the enlargement fails to open, it is most likely because your browser does not support JavaScript, or that it has been disabled.

What in the world is that doing on the glass?  To the casual observer, it might appear to be condensation; but condensation never appears in just one spot.  No, it has to have been put there intentionally.  Clearly phallic-shaped, its position just above the knife blade cannot be accidental.  It is also seems that the fluid on the table (possibly symbolic urine from a man "scared yellow") originates from its tip.

  1. Do you believe this item was successful propaganda?

Probably.

  1. What evidence supports your answer to the last question?

I haven't seen research to show what effect this campaign had on Canada Dry sales, but, as I know it ran at least twice in TIME several months apart, it must have been successful enough for the company to use it again.


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original web posting: Wednesday, March 13, 2002
last modified: Thursday, December 09, 2004