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Propaganda in the Classroom
Sex and Death Among the Ice Cubes

Ad Analysis
Newport Cigarettes

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 Newport Cigarettes
  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?


  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.

Newport cigarettes supply sexual pleasure and domination.

  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 men to buy Newports.

  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 the presence of the garden hose.  Held by the female model, it gives the impression that she is taking a drink.  However, from the expressions on the faces of both models, it appears that there is something more going on here. 

He is clearly looking at her with a satisfied, appreciative, contented look.  She looks a bit nervous - her squint and open mouth are suspicious.  She could be laughing, but combined with the squint it appears to be more of a nervous one.

From a  cursory glance, one might think that she is drinking from the hose.  Yet her mouth is not the shape of that used by someone when drinking thus.  Imagine yourself when you've done so.  Modeling it now, my mouth is puckered, ready to suck in the water.

So, if she is not drinking from the hose, what is she doing?  To me it appears a symbolic act of fellatio.  In this context (his satisfied, contented expression; and her nervous one), the hose represents his ejaculating penis.  She does not appear to be enjoying herself, while he clearly is.  As the ad copy states, "After all, if smoking isn't a pleasure, why bother?"

And I can attest as a former smoker that not much about smoking was pleasurable.  The only pleasure I got was the relief from the nicotine withdrawal symptoms I felt when I'd gone too long without a cigarette.  The smell, the taste, the cough, the burning feelings in my lungs, etc. were never pleasant.

  1. Do you believe this item was successful propaganda?


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

This was one in a very long-running series of ads.  Some, targeted at women, showed them deriving pleasure from clearly nervous men.  (See my analysis of a different Newport ad.)  Others showed men symbolically torturing nervous-looking women.  Since advertisers don't waste money on ads that do not generate sales, the longevity of this series attests to its effectiveness.

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original web posting: Tuesday, February 26, 2002
last modified: Thursday, December 09, 2004