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.