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Propaganda in the Classroom
Sex and Death Among the Ice Cubes

Ad Analysis
Puerto Rican Rum

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 Puerto Rican Rum
  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?

Alcohol Users

  1. Is it commercial or non-commercial?


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

Calm your fears with Puerto Rican Rum.

  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 you to buy Puerto Rican Rum.

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


  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.  The embeds in this ad seem to represent frightening animals, the sort 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, they might trigger a desire to drink.  Associated with this product, they might trigger a desire to purchase Puerto Rican Rum when a subconscious fear asserts itself.

So, where are the embeds?  I've described what I see below.  Where an embed is small or hard to discern, I've enlarged the section of the ad where I believe it has been placed, and outlined the embed in blue.  Clicking on a link in the description will open an enlargement in its own window.  When you are finished looking at or printing one of them, close its window without exiting your browser program.  If an enlargement fails to open, it is most likely because your browser does not support JavaScript, or that it has been disabled.

This ad ostensibly shows rum being poured over ice cubes into a glass.  Ice is often opaque, it seldom, if ever, contains large black holes like the cube at the top of the glass.  Examining that cube carefully it is apparent that it is an artistic creation, not a photograph.  It could be seen as an angular monstrous head emerging from the fluid.  In such an interpretation, the black holes facing the viewer would be the left eye and left nostril.  The right eye appears less visibly toward the back of the glass.

Looking at the left eye more closely, I can see what appears to be a simian head of some sort.  Look carefully and you'll see clearly delineated eyes, nose and mouth.

At the bottom of the glass, it appears the artist has placed piranha-like fish swimming.

  1. Do you believe this item was successful propaganda?

I'm not sure.

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

I haven't seen research to show what effect this campaign had on Rum sales.

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original web posting: Friday, March 8, 2002
last modified: Thursday, December 09, 2004