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Propaganda in the Classroom
Sex and Death Among the Ice Cubes

Ad Analysis
Tickle deodorant

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.

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


  1. At whom is it targeted?


  1. Is it commercial or non-commercial?


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

This deodorant will give you a pleasant tickle.

  1. Are there other propagandistic messages in this item?


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


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

S/he wants women to buy this deodorant.

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


  1. Describe how you think the manipulation works?

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."

  1. Do you believe this item was successful propaganda?

Probably not.

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

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