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.
|_____||written language||_____||spoken language||_____||music||_____||other sound|
|__X__||image (photo, drawing, etc.)||_____||color||_____||other visual||_____||other _________________|
|_____||book||__X__||magazine||_____||newspaper||_____||mail or e-mail||_____||billboard or poster|
|_____||TV||_____||radio||_____||film||_____||CD, audiotape, etc.||_____||other _________________|
Dingo boots will make you virile.
S/he wants men to buy Dingo boots.
In this ad, the subliminal promise comes from the presence of O.J.'s "third leg".
Long before he went on trial for the murder of his former wife, O.J. Simpson was a famous football running back. Thus it would probably not be unusual for him to be used to sell a product on the basis of his powerful legs. However, like most of us, he only has two. Or does he? "Third leg" is one of many euphemisms for penis. And the "third leg" depicted in this ad is large and powerful, attached to a man known for his power and virility. The subliminal message - these boots are for men like O.J. Simpson, powerful and virile. Wear them and that power and virility will transfer to you, including your "third leg". Who might respond to such a message, anyone with doubts about his own virility (especially repressed, subconscious ones).
This was one in a long-running series of ads. Some even featured women with a "third leg". They sold Ms. Dingo. Remember, it was the 1970s - the height of the women's movement in the U.S. Many men (and advertisers were then and are still primarily men) believed that "Women's Libbers" wanted to take over men's roles, even sexually. If that was indeed the premise, I'm guessing the ad didn't sell many boots to women, but it would say a lot about the psychology of those particular ad executives.
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original web posting: Monday, February 25, 2002
last modified: Thursday, December 09, 2004