Subliminal Messages in Politics

The other day, my Communication Theory Professor made a presentation about subliminal messages in communication.  Above, you will find a 30 second television advertisement from George W. Bush’s presidential campaign.  Many people argue that his communication team used subliminal messages to subtly attack his opponent, Al Gore.  The ad blames the Clinton/Gore administration for the high cost of elderly prescription drugs.

If you look closely, the word “RATS” is flashed for a split second, before the complete word “bureaucrats” appears.  The word “RATS” is seen alongside images of Vice President Al Gore.  Many people believe that this controversial ad was intentional and meant to be processed by the American people at an unconscious or subliminal level.

According to a BBC New Article, President Bush denied the ad’s subliminal message…

“This kind of practice is not acceptable,” declared Bush. “Conspiracy theories abound in American politics, but I don’t think we need to be subliminal about prescription drugs.”

After my Professor presented this video, he asked if anyone noticed the word “RATS” flash across the screen.  About half the class picked up on the message the first time.  My Professor then replayed the ad, and the class was generally, in shock.  In my opinion, subliminal messages is meant to evoke fear — a popular propaganda technique used throughout history.  In my last post, I analyzed the “Is This Tomorrow?” political pamphlet, which depicted the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” through images of flames and fearful Americans fighting for their lives. This idea can make the American public uneasy.  Many individuals are likely to take action, as a result.

In 1974, the FCC said that subliminal advertising was not in the public’s best interest.  Although there is no definitive understanding on how the brain processes subliminal messages, I still find this ad a bit disturbing.  The brain’s “unconscious state” is an extremely difficult concept to grasp.  Many researchers including Bill Cook of the Advertising Research Foundation say that subliminal advertising is part of the popular science agenda like “astrology and alien abduction.” Although it has not been proven whether subliminal messages affect the way we think, advertisers may insist on using this technique.

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5 responses to “Subliminal Messages in Politics

  1. Great post! I was definitely shocked in class when Wu played this add. I don’t know how President Bush can deny this when it so obviously says RATS. A bigger man would have said, yep, we used it. And it worked, didn’t it?

    • Thanks so much, Jenna! I totally know what you mean. I think it was bad PR, in my opinion. Political communication is complicated enough, and I don’t think using subliminal messages was the right move.

  2. I like this post about subliminal messages, not only because these were also discussed in my blog titled, “Reading Out-of-context Messages,” under the category, “My Ideas,” in my blogspot, “Of Life and The Living,” but these made me think over again when I am communicating with others who are fond of conveying messages subliminally or indirectly, shall we say. Is it OK if I will repost this on my blogspot? The URL of my personal blogspot is http://www.oflifeandtheliving.wordpress.com.

  3. Fantastic items from you, man. I’ve bear in mind your stuff prior to and you’re simply extremely magnificent. I really like what you have received right here, certainly like what you are saying and the best way by which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you continue to care for to stay it sensible. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a wonderful site.

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