The Blog

by Mike Hayward

We do not do subliminal advertising.

Seriously. We don’t. You can stop looking for hidden messages.

I read an article a few months ago in Time or Newsweek (what’s the difference again?) about an advertising study focused on radio commercials. The study concluded that people respond most positively to the sound of babies cooing and dogs barking and some other painfully obvious thing I can’t recall. Brilliant work, science. The article then implied agencies were using this information to craft radio spots that would SUBLIMINALLY GRAB YOUR BRAIN THROUGH YOUR EARHOLES AND MAKE YOU DO STUFF!

Which agencies? What creative teams? I’ve never heard of any reputable agency or creative trying to incorporate any subliminal messaging into anything. Ever. Here’s an even bigger shocker: the vast majority of ad people never intentionally distort the truth.

I think there’s this misperception about ad agencies that we use smoke and mirrors to trick you into buying things you don’t really want. We lie about our products and what they do. We’re slick politicians, telling people what they want to hear regardless of the truth.

It doesn’t happen here or at any agency I know of. When we get a creative assignment, we sit down and talk about the product or service – good and bad. We look at the audience and then we try to determine the best way to start a conversation with them. That’s it. Really.

A great example is the Old Spice campaign we’ve all seen. Yes, the campaign is epic. But it’s also built on sound strategy and research. Watch the video case study here and you’ll see what I mean:

Of course, we do focus on the positive aspects of our clients’ products and services. But an ad is like a first date. You start with your finest qualities. You do your hair, put on a nice shirt, tell some jokes. You don’t walk up and blurt out, “Hi, I’m Mike. I have a large hairy mole on my shoulder and make gurgling noises in my sleep.” (For the record, neither are true).

And just like any first date that leads to a second, no good relationship with a customer can be built on deception. Or puppies and babies for that matter. Honestly, us advertising people don’t want to trick you, we just want to break the ice, chat a little about our clients. So chances are that subliminal ad you think you saw or heard is only in your head.

One Comment

Mark Inlow

Hi Mike,

So you don’t do subliminal advertising, eh? Then let me ask you a question about the Old Spice commercial which starts out with the guy on the beach in a hula skirt. At the end of the commercial the guy is reclining and dusting an object which just turned brown. If that feminine-looking slit that opens in the “pelvic area” of the brown female fetish object isn’t subliminal advertising, what is it? I’d really like to know – and so would my wife! ;-)

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