Subconscious Influence in Super Bowl Commercials 2015

It’s the Olympics of Advertising.  Each year, the top ad firms go all-in to make the best commercial for Super Bowl.  At $4.5 million per 30 second spot, it must be in its finest shape, a lean and rugged beast of persuasion that makes you buy that product.

Each year, I like to write up an analysis of the games these commercials play.  By being more aware of their methods, we are more in control ourselves.  We are more able to spot what in us has been influenced and decide if we want to keep that or not.  I’ll give an example.  Last year’s Super Bowl’s Axe commercial featured their new “Peace” scent to promote an image of mature love.  it’s a heady floral scent that I had found somewhat unpleasant.  I’d never wear it.  However, about a week or so after watching their video of powerful images and symbolism about 20x, I found myself paying for it at the store.  I had even sprayed the thing and thought it smelled rather nice.  To be clear, their advertisement warped my perception and changed the scent.  Let’s call that a hallucination.  The spell has since been broken and I can smell it as I first did; the influence of the commercial had faded.

Commercials influence us in unexpected ways.  They are subtle and often undetectable to the person being influenced – it just feels ‘right’ to buy it.  Knowing the game and spotting their influence can help put us put ourselves more in control and let us know ourselves better.

Dove: “Real Strength”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoqWo3SJ73c

I remember the prior age of advertising when it was common for a company to repeat it’s tagline or phone number ad nauseum as we, involuntarily, succumbed to it boring into our brain. Dove knows this drill and has broken out the power tools to brand themselves on our brain.

If Dove didn’t have to move a mountain, they might have used more subtle sophistication. For about 60 years we have been repeatedly imprinted upon that Dove is a lady’s brand. In 2004, they started doing some deep brand imprinting with their “Campaign for Real Beauty” where they use “real women” and empowering messages that go right to the heart of women’s issues of self-condidence and worth. The ad campaign was quite powerful. But now they hope to market men’s product. Mountains will have to be moved.

And here’s the rub. If Dove does a wonderful job at making it’s soap more manly, the women’s sales will faulter. The company’s success is based on women’s sales, so they can’t have that. Instead, Dove will have to change the meaning of manliness. This is the mountain.

Men are tough physically and emotionally. Only the weak show too much emotion or pamper themselves. Some believe a majority of the homophobia issue has arisen out of fear of loosing one’s manliness. A look at the insults will show most are directed at the insulted being in a subordinate sexual position, being subjugated by another man, in the insulter’s mind. Being subjugated such, he is less of a “man.” A look at hardened soldiers and criminals will produce images of men, rarely women. Wherever one comes down on the issue personally, we can safely say that “manliness” prevents many guys from ever trying many things.

Men won’t buy women’s soap, even if it says “Men” on it. That’s why Dove has brought out the sledge hammer to hit a single concept into our head about 40 times in 45 seconds. Watch the commercial again. You’ll not see them rebrand their soap; you’ll see them rebrand being manly. To do this, they’ll need something deep, emotionally powerful, and widely experienced by men: the affection of fatherhood.

Dove will emphasize the parts of manhood that overlap with men’s notion of women, caring. In the commercial, this is shown as parenting, and often of physical affection. During the 24 visual instances of parenting, we are repeatedly hit with 15 “Dad!”s Dove has had to pack that ground so densely because caring as part of a public identity is generally an uncertain and unstable path for men to tread.

Dove also moves in on men from the opposite front. Dove tells us, “Care makes a man stronger.” It will make us more manly even as we move into ‘womanly’ emotions.

Once we’re loosened up and those emotional neural pathways lit up, Dove moves in to do branding work. While we’re still humming with the warm and fuzzies, Dove displays an image with several men’s products (below). The timing is just right to have maximum effectt, and I want to talk about the spacing of the products too. It uses an advanced principle. In short, they trick the eye into being strongly drawn the white flare behind the products. Once the eye rests there, the logos are well-placed to have our recently aroused impulses of affection and protection coupled with them. (Think Pavlov and his bell).

It is little known that one doesn’t need to look directly at the logos for this to be super-effective. Our unconscious constantly reads, decodes, and understands things in our peripherals. If something is important, it let’s our conscious know – that’s usually when/why we shift gaze over to it. Those Dove logos are fully understood and those emotions will in some degree return when we see those logos again. The more times we see the commercial and the stronger we feel, the stronger the association becomes. Here, the association is multiplied by having three instances to the logo right on the edge of the peripherals. The arrangement in the image is gorgeous.

The final thing Dove does to rewrite our image of manhood is their final text only screen (below). “Men +Care.” When we read this we invoke not just an understanding of men, but also some feelings about it. Small things like this actually have much bigger effects than we realize. Many will actual shift their posture and physiology if you ask them to speak that word aloud. Dove is after our physiology so that they can link to selling soap. So we have some physiological response to the loaded word “Man” which begins to get linked to “+Care.” Just like before, manliness is blending with womanliness. The addition sign turns out to be pretty important because the statement “Men Care” is more highly to rejected by the people Dove is targeting. “Men Care” is a factual statement we can reject. “Men +Care” is merely basic maths and is difficult to keep out.

Some other psychological effects were achieved with the movement in the letters and the blinking/appearing of text on the screen. It is unwieldly to discuss them here, so we’ll leave that for another time.

I will comment on recent developments in the soap industry as I see it, which is partly guesswork. Axe led soap sells to male youth or at least they owned the heart of that demographic via bikini-clad sexually ferocious girls who would tackle teenage boys to the ground the moment they sprayed on Axe. Axe sat as king here until Old Spice made a bold move of rebranding. Old Spice has long been known as your dad or grandpa’s deodorant. Without new growth, the brand could only dwindle as their customers passed away in their age. Old Spice had to take a drastic measure of tackling Axe . . . much unlike a bikini-clad babe and more like an intense and sweaty football player. With a single commercial (“I’m on a horse”), they crushed through Axe’s defensive line and were well-supported by many new fans. It is on this field of disarray that Dove enters, carefully and tactfully.

On this field, Axe’s promise of sexual potency has been wavering. It has been roughly pushed aside by Old Spice’s spokesman who exudes sexual potency. He’s “the man your man can smell like,” and he’s “on a horse.” However, Old Spice hasn’t promised sexual potency, but rather virility itself. Axe has responded to this loss in market share by revamping their image into mature love (See 2014 Super Bowl commercial). I think this also has something to do with their core loyal customers growing out of their teenage years and into full families with wives and kids. Axe has to push images that fit their new mature identity or lose them. This maturing is a fertile field for Dove to step onto with their “Men+Care” campaign. It is the flower that grew out of the battlefield of teenage hygiene.

In summary, this commercial is masterfully done. The incredible number of repeats was a bit brutish in my opinion, but I do understand they need to do so much work on our associations of manhood in a short amount of time. It is brilliant they found a way to do this that doesn’t affect their primary market relating to women while also increasing maturity and compassion in the world.

Budweiser: “Lost Puppy”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAsjRRMMg_Q

Budweiser’s 2014 puppy spot was among the highest level of art. Masterfully done, people referenced it throughout the year. It made powerful connections and imprints in our brains. This is called “branding.” Because last year’s ad did so much lasting work on us, this year’s ad merely has to reference it to bring it back. For a discussion on 2014′s ad subliminal mechanisms and tricks, please read my Super Bowl advert article written at that time.

This year, the thrust of the theme, metaphors, and message is much the same as last year’s. Like Pavlov’s dogs, reinforcing the association goes far. Budweiser wants us to see their logo, think, “That rings a bell,” and then salivate for their tasty brew. In fact, Budweiser purposefully reactivates your memory (and feelings and associations) of last years spot. Beyond opening with the Budweiser horse and then immediately showing the puppy, they actually show an iconic frame from last year’s commercial. Take a closer look at the lost puppy poster.

I will briefly explain more those associations and some of the work Budweiser did on us in this year’s spot. As I previously have gone into great detail explaining why and how, I’ll leave the discussion here on this more surface level.

Budweiser sells “Connection.” It uses connection in different ways to associate their label with those feelings. This is often done through metaphor, like in this commercial. Sometimes it is quite outright, like the “Wuzzzup!” adverts or many of the Bud Light spots.

Metaphor is often more powerful than showing something outright. For example, the Clivesdales are metaphors. They are supposed to represent Budweiser itself. If you pay close attention, you may notice that the colour of the horses are like the colour of the beer, the foam of the beer resembles the white trimmings on the horses, and the horses are almost always surrounded by a colour of red quite similar to Budweiser’s logo. Without saying it directly, without knowing it directly, those horses have become Budweiser. Which is great because now they have wonderful tool for stories. Notice how it is the Clivesdales rescuing the puppy and bringing it back home. Budweiser looks out for you like that, they want us to believe. Also, the horses are strong and powerful creatures. It’s not like they couldn’t find a goat with similar brown and white markings. Also, the horses in their pivotal moments are in a team. They are experiencing friendship and connection, which is Budweiser’s metaphor. All these small things mean something to our unconscious. In Budweiser’s ads, every element is accounted for directed for maximum effect. This is their stories get referenced year round.

It is widely believed that every story has a loose basic structure called The Hero’s Journey. Throughout time and across culture, this story structure appears repeatedly. We end to feel unsatisfied with stories that don’t have this structure. Here’s how Budweiser used it to further work its way into our hearts.

(1) Ordinary World: it is important for the hero to start in his ordinary world. Here, the puppy is hanging out in the barn in a bed of hay. (2) Call to Adventure and Refusal: the hero is drug out of his ordinary world and must begin his journey. Here, the puppy becomes trapped in the trailer which is then taken out on the road. (3) Meeting the Mentor: the Clivesdale is the puppy’s mentor or boon. This element was actually placed in this story between 1 & 2, and that works just fine. This is what we mean when we say it is a loose structure. (4) Crossing the Threshold: there needs to be a point where the hero decides to be fully committed to the journey. Here, the puppy decides to escape when the trailer accidentally opens and it becomes lost in the world.

(5) Tests: the hero must overcome small tests. Here, the puppy sits out the rain in a box and overcomes plowed furrows with some difficulty. The symbolism there is strong but not obvious. It would more obvious if the puppy had to conquer a mountain. (6) Ordeal: this is the big trial. The hero often prevails in the trial with the help from the mentor or boon he received. A hungry wolf appears and may eat the puppy. The Clivesdales hear the puppy yelp, break out of the barn and come to its aid. The wolf runs off in fear of the Clivesdale’s strength. (7) The Return with Magical Elixer: the hero returns home to the ordinary world and shares the benefits of his journey. This may be treasure, a talisman, or even knowledge. Here, the Clivesdale’s bring the puppy home much to his owner’s joy. The elixer in a Budweiser commercials is going to be friendship or connection.

Turbo Tax: “The Boston Tea Party”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XTwbgmWRrA

This is a fun commercial that takes a dangerous gamble.

National narrative is close and dear to our hearts. It is the story we collectively tell ourselves about ourselves or others. As such, it is ripe with emotion. Turbo Tax chose to get at one of the deepest narratives of American identity, the Boston Tea Party. It goes straight to the heart of who we are as Americans. Ron Paul utilized it’s strength to break records for fundraising in a single day. It spoke loudly to modern Tea Party Republicans whose clamouring rose to national prominence as the narrative resonated easily in their people even when their arguments were poorly articulated. Turbo Tax gambled against potential backlash by rewriting our narrative.

In this commercial, the ship is being ransacked by Americans (don’t worry, it’s for liberty and justice, as I’m sure you’re well aware). The British have absconded on a small boat and call to the Americans. They attempt to negotiate a truce. In response to “No taxation without representation!” They respond, “…What if it were free to file your taxes?” A deal is struck and they become friends. The commercial then jumps to battles which are stopped mid-fray to friendly banter and back-slapping. George Washington stops and reverses course midway across the Delaware.

Displaying this version was a gamble. When stories are formed, even historical ones, the ideological aspects take precedent over the factual. When facts don’t fit the ideology, that story may not be retold, the facts may be abstracted to a degree where they become true, or facts may be made up to fit. This is how myths are created. Remember the false story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree? How about his wooden teeth? Or throwing the silver dollar across the Potomac? All false, all myth. Ideology can stand the test of time when facts don’t.

For Turbo Tax to rewrite such important ideology of who Americans are and how we got here, to rewrite such an important blueprint on foreign diplomacy as the Boston Tea Party, can go really rather wrong if they misstep. I think they took some rather bold strides, but with art stable enough to pull off a decent commercial. They could have taken the concept, conformed to national narrative, and made a more influential commercial.

Turbo Tax should have stumbled based on their revision. Free filing of taxes doesn’t resolve the whole “no taxation without representation” issue. We don’t feel satisfied upon hearing it. That’s the ice on the ground Turbo Tax may not have seen. However, a clever element kept them steady. In order to keep the narrative, and our hearts, stable, we need to see the British get trounced. We need to see America in a place a strength over them. Turbo Tax delivers.

Turbo Tax cuts to different scenes of the Americans and Red Coats making friends, but with Americans firmly in control. First, the British on the boats are sissified. The advert makes them effeminate in speech and movement. They are also at American mercy. Following the negotiation is a scene of a wounded-paralyzed Red Coat sitting against a barrel. He is befriended by an American who adjusts his collar and then brusquely pats him on the head as he walks away, upsetting the Red Coat’s wig. In another scene, a lady of the Revolution agrees to stop fighting with a Red Coat. That’s when the frame expands and we see that she has already ran him through with the knife on her musket. The Red Coat falls down dead. In this way, the ideology of the story stays much the same, even though the facts have changed. We, the audience, are for the most part ok with this.

Building a more ideologically persuasive commercial, Turbo Tax might have shot a spot where they rush the Red Coats and the boat when forced to pay taxes and pay to file taxes. The collateral damage of the tea on the boat makes all the more sense if the director intrinsically ties arrogant elitist sipping of tea to the offensive tax man on the dock.

In the end, this was a fun commercial. It didn’t do much in terms of branding or compelling us to buy its product. It did play with a powerful narrative in a way that made it interesting.

Nationwide – “Make Safe Happen”/“Dead Kid”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKUy-tfrIHY

The most talked about commercial of the Super Bowl in social media. However, of the 230,000 mentions during the game, only 12% were positive. About 66% were negative. (Amobee, a digital marketing firm). Despite what many would describe as a backlash, this commercial may fill Nationwide’s pockets with many millions. Their game isn’t obvious, so I’ll describe it briefly below. Then we’ll discuss why their commercial wasn’t a success in the standard sense, and couldn’t be. It seems they made an attempt there anyways.

Some make make money by selling. Others increase profits by saving. Nationwide must have realized that they were hemorrhaging literally billions of dollars every year to preventable accidents. In 2013, Nationwide paid out $13.8 billion, resulting in a net operating income of $1.3 billion. If just some people are slightly more careful, Nationwide can save hundreds of millions. If people were only slightly more careful for just a short time, Nationwide will likely save dozens of millions.

How can we get people to be slightly more careful? Scare ‘em! Danger is everywhere in your home! Your kid will die! This explains the rather brutish nature of the commercial on a national day of revelry and parties. I would like to note that this is a horrible focus for an ad campaign, but it does work as a one-off. It is really quite clever and will save them more money than selling insurance over one commercial ever could, many times over.

Aside from that non-obvious game, the rest of their game was quite poor. They could have done some good branding, metaphor, or association work so that we might reach out to them later. Their commercial will not be driving people to their offices to speak with an agent. It didn’t instill the proper feelings in us, though it seems they tried to.

After Nationwide succeeded so well in creating a negative charge in us (e.g., alarming us so badly), they immediately try to tell us that they can help keep our kids safe. “Together, we can make safe happen” is announced as a mom protectively carries her daughter in her arms. The thing is that we still feel too awful. Nationwide hasn’t brought us down at all. We can’t get to where they want to take us, though in a normal situation we may feel quite comforted by the mother-daughter image.

We stay upset for more reasons. Nationwide hasn’t offered any solution to the problem they present to us. “Your kid will drown in the bathtub.” “The tv will fall and crush everything below.” How can Nationwide help here? How can Nationwide “make safe happen?” They can’t. They don’t even suggest how we might do it ourselves, like fastening the tv to the wall. As a result we continue to feel awful even as they tell us they can help make it safe. Of course, you may guess that if they did lessen that negative charge for us, we would be less likely to be more cautious and thereby ruin the primary money-making element in the commercial.

This was a brilliant commercial by Nationwide in that it might save the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Nationwide’s attempt to link itself to safety and protecting our children fell rather flat. I would guess only a rare person made that connection (the guy who woke up after most the commercial was through).

GoDaddy vs Budwesier

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAsjRRMMg_Q

GoDaddy has learned a hard lesson in messing with a brand backed by powerful metaphors and subliminals. Budweiser isn’t just the “King of Beers.” It’s the the King of Subliminals too. GoDaddy made a royal mistake, and it had to yank its commercial before it even aired on tv. I will also discuss how GoDaddy was able to mirror Budweiser’s then-unaired commercial so perfectly.

Budweiser has spent several fortunes creating associations in us at the deepest levels. When competitors try to use those associations to sell their own product, it backfires and it tends to sell the original imprinter’s instead. GoDaddy’s situation is more dire. They trample and befoul Budweiser’s images and subliminals causing a strong anti-body reactions in us against GoDaddy.

Two metaphors are primarily used by Budweiser. They use the Clivesdale to represent Budweiser itself. Once that association was made, we then subconsciously understand the horse’s actions to be Budweiser’s. If the horse busts into an office and whisks cubicle slaves away on its back, we understand that Budweiser can offer relief to those folks. If someone hurts the horse, we understand that they are trying to hurt Budweiser. The other metaphor they use is that of Connection. It shows up in many forms. In the 2013 Super Bowl, it was the man’s affection and connection with his horse that represented his love for Budweiser. Last year, the puppy had the connection with the horse (and the puppy became associated with Budweiser).

GoDaddy goes out of its way to invoke a Budweiser ad, and all the powerful associations inherently in it. One of the first frames is a “Budweiser red” coloured truck with the right kind of puppy sitting in it. The associations are activated in us within the first few frames. They invoke the right music, during a Hero’s Journey, and the puppy eventually returns home to the red barn.

But then GoDaddy creates anti-body reactions in us. GoDaddy has a woman reminiscent of Cruela DeVille, snatch up the puppy and we learn the barn is actually a puppy mill. She ships off the puppy to some anonymous internet buyer as the puppy whimpers and the van door slams like the door of a prison cell. First, we are upset that happens to any puppy, and this puppy has special import so we are even more upset. Cruela (GoDaddy) has hurt the wrong puppy.

GoDaddy’s tactics through the years has been to shock us often sexually, and by doing so get attention. They seem to have the philosophy, “Bad news isn’t bad news; no news is bad news.” This has worked well for them. However, they never messed with someone else’s well-developed subliminals before, and they did so now in a negative way.

Breaking the Hero’s Journey was another big mistake. In short, virtually all successful stories throughout time and cultures follow a simple formula. You can read more about this in my article focusing on Budweiser. Here, GoDaddy follows the pattern right up until the moment when the puppy returns home. At this point, the hero/puppy is supposed to share whatever he learned or earned in his journey. Instead, he is ripped away from his home by Cruela. It breaks the Hero’s Journey and that sits uneasy with us. Another Super Bowl ad broke the Hero’s Journey this year: Nationwide’s “Dead Kid” commercial. It is not coincidence that there was a backlash against both of these.

GoDaddy was able to copy Budweiser’s ad so perfectly without looking because it understands the steps of the Hero’s Journey and know Budweiser has been using it. Anyone can do it. If we were to make an ad based on the Hero’s Journey and Budweiser’s last year’s ad we might have the following plans:

People talked about the puppy all year., so we have to use that. We know we need something to separate the puppy from the horse beyond their control, let’s have the puppy get lost. If he gets lost on the road, it’s nobody’s fault and it makes for an excellent journey. Now that the puppy is lost, we need small trials for him to overcome. Let’s give him a barrier of about his height because that’s pretty symbolic. Oh, and rain is an obvious choice, but we can’t have the puppy soaked, so we’ll put him in a dilapidated box. Finally, the puppy has to return home, which is the red barn. Looking at the images below, that is exactly what we saw.

In summary, let GoDaddy’s mistake be a lesson to us all. When one invokes something, it brings with it a host emotions and associations. When those associations have been masterfully crafted through the years with millions and millions of dollars, be very carefully indeed.

KIA – Pierce Brosnan’s “Getaway”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJ-mwaDODt8

Some ads are almost very good. However, an element misplaced can bring down the house of cards. This is the agency, David and Goliath, that brought us the magically brilliant KIA “Matrix” commercial last year. I had high expectations yet ended up confused.

Their over-arching theme is good. The specific instances of the theme can be good. However, the agency’s failure tumbles out of misunderstanding how audiences relates to a protagonist. To understand the theme, we first need to know KIA’s audience. It’s seems quite niche. KIA is aiming at those who want to get away. This audience has too much stress in their life and enjoys retreats, like, say, to a secluded cabin getaway on a snowy mountain. So the theme used to attract them is something like “KIA transforms or takes you away from those stresses.”

The symbols used to repeatedly play out that theme are nice. We see a missile launcher turn into a moose, and a sniper turn into an owl, benign woodland friends. There are subtle audio tricks helping the listener make the thematic connection. The advert plays anxiety-producing action movie music. However, at most moments of transformation, the music goes silent and we hear something soothing, like the breathing of a moose, the deceleration of a car, or the peaceful silence of a secluded cabin.

Yet the ad just doesn’t work. The protagonist prevents the symbols from properly attaching to the theme. We have the habit of “wearing” the experience of the protagonist. His struggles become our struggles; his losses are our losses, and we can feel them too. Here, Pierce Brosnan is the protagonist, and we are with him in his struggle up the metaphorical mountain. At each moment when the symbol transforms from action-adventure to mild manners, Brosnan is confused, perplexed, and ill-at-ease. This action adventure star’s world has just been turned inside out, and he shows it. We feel it to some degree right along with him. This is where the ad falls apart.

For the ad to be effective, we need to feel peace when the images transform from violent danger to friendly woodland creatures. This is the crux of the commercial. It is a metaphor for the stress in our lives and how KIA can change that. However, we don’t feel peace. We feel what Brosnan is feeling which is anything but peace. We are already well in Brosnan’s experience: we’ve been trained from watching him in movies and from being immersed in his stress in this commercial. So, when he gets confused and uncomfortable at all this tranquility, at the very metaphor this commercial rests upon, we do too. We never enjoy the peace KIA intends us to. Instead, sudden peace means confusion, dis-ease, unpleasant feelings.

They deeply misplayed their protagonist in other ways still. They subtly make Brosnan undesirable so we feel aversive to him. In every office shot of Brosnan, of which there are 10, he is framed in darkness with busy business people doing busy movements behind him. It feels even more cramped and cluttered because we see them through the office’s glass door and window which is like a foot or two behind Brosnan. It’s not a good feeling. Compare this to the executive talking to him. In 7 of his 8 shots, he is framed against the open sky, and low-rolling hills, and a sun that is nearing to set. It is the shot of tranquility, the theme. Futhermore, the exec’s suit is subtly the mountain, his peach shirt the muted approaching sunset, and his tie the sky (later also tied to the lady awaiting romance at the cabin). Also notice how in most shots of the exec, the image either becomes brighter or the sun grows more pronounced.

This seems to be confused thinking. Are they trying to make us disfavor Brosnan, the protagonist? If so, at the summit of the mountain when Brosnan finally “gets it” we don’t care as much as we could; we don’t “get it” as much as we could. KIA seems to give the executive most of the subliminal benefits of brightness and tranquility, but we are trained to be suspicious of executives on tv and the exec is a side character whose experience we never enter, though he does narrate Brosnan’s imagination, which turns out to be uncomfortable and confusing. Honestly, I don’t think the agency considered it beyond the level of “Brosnan means stress, so give him negative subliminals” and “The executive leads us to tranquility, so give him good ones.” However, wearing Brosnan’s experience, we are repeatedly led to confusion and discomfort. Brosnan scowls in reaction to some transformations. Therefore, we don’t like the executive as much as the agency wants us to. We don’t care as much as we could for either character. The agency falls flat here.

In summary, the ad breaks down based on confusion of how protagonists influence the audience. When the protagonist has strong repeated feelings that cut against the very theme and metaphors this commercial rest upon, there is going to be trouble. When the protagonist is given powerful but subtle marks that create discomfort in us, we are less there with him, and he loses the power of his purpose. Together these lead to a confused conflict in the audience. It’s like there are two kids in the pool making waves with their boogie boards, and the audience is being tossed about in the turbulence. It’s choppy and no well-formed wave will ever reach the edge.

This year, David missed Goliath and fell himself with his own stone.

In Summary

Super Bowl Ads tend to show deep thinking about influence. In a mere matter of moments, they need to imprint on us so deeply and effectively that the brand can at least recover the $4-8 million they spent on the commercial. This is not done through rational discourse of the pros and cons of their product. Rather, deep imprinting and association persuade and sway us such that some brands (Buddweiser) neither talk about nor even show their product in some ads. These are the new subliminals affecting us daily. What soap are you using? What car are you driving? What did you drink? There is a reason it “felt right” looking at the product, and a reason your system was so flooded by this association that no “wait a minute” feelings could rise to stop you from choosing it and handing over your cash.  We are affected by these subliminals at our deepest levels.

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Subconscious Influence In Super Bowl Commercials 2014

Intro

For $4 million dollars, one can buy half a minute of air time during the Super Bowl. With that kind of money being tossed around, you can bet top dollar was spent on the hottest talent in the advertising industry, those most able to influence you to buy a product.

The skills of advertisers today are sublte, sophisticated, and well beyond the public’s awareness of how they are being influenced. When you are standing in a grocery store, why do you gravitate towards one specific brand on a wall of similar products? You may be surprised to find out that while sometimes our decision may rest on a rational list of pros and cons, it can also be a feeling we get that leads our heart and our hand to pick up a certain product. It just feels right or better to do so. The reason usually leads back to advertising.

Hearts move most easily with stories. You may notice that commercials use a story-driven model to sell their stuff. Compare that with an ad where they merely display their product on a white background while an off-screen voice lists the benefits of using it. Even if the benefits are amazing, the commercial isn’t compelling. There’s something unsatisfactory about it. Stories satisfy.

Stories gain their power to sell when they are appropriately linked to the product. This is best done by metaphor and imagery. In the Super Bowl, there were some commercials where they had an engaging story, yet failed to properly tie their product to it. You may remember the chaos of the Dober-huahua commercial, but do you remember the product that was supposed to sell? A bright red Audi, which was tagged onto the end of the ad like an afterthought. The run-amuck Chihuahuas with CGI Doberman heads had nothing to do with the car, neither in metaphor nor imagery. It was ineffective, a failure. Other ads were successful and sophisticated. 

Part 1 – Hyundai

Link to Hyundai Ad

Hyundai made a strong showing with their auto-emergency breaking commercial. The commercial takes you through the young life a boy from toddler to teenager. In the very short span of 15 seconds, Hyundai shows us 6 scenes where Dad saves us from imminent harm. Note my language in the previous sentence. It isn’t someone’s dad, even though that is who is shown. It is “Dad” and he is saving “us” from harm. This is part of the art of a good commercial. Let me explain a bit more.

Hyundai first creates an archetypal dad, one that heroically saves the day from our follies. He’s a dad who is watchful and protective, a dad who keeps us safe from the harm we inevitably are about to step into. To a young one, such a dad may feel like Superman, and Hyundai has added in elements of that hero to help us get the correct perspective. In one scene, Dad rushes in from off-screen to grab his kid just before his speeding bike hits a parked car. In another scene, the unaware kid is about to be kicked in the face by an overweight kid on a swing. Dad saves him at the last moment lifting him up up and away, safely in his protective arms.  They also give Dad a human touch of clumsiness and distress to make him more relatable. He collides with a flaming bbq. He gets hit with a pinata bat. All this time, Hyundai is playing a sweet song in the background with lyrics like “You can count on me,” “I can count on you,” and “I’ll be there.”

Hyundai then ties this archetypal dad to themselves. In the final scene, the teenager is learning how to drive with Dad in the passenger seat, again watching protectively. The teenager, being distracted by a pretty girl, almost crashes but is saved by Auto-Emergency Breaking. This is where Hyundai’s magic happens. They ask, “Remember when only Dad could save the day?” Now, not only has Hyundai inserted themselves into Dad’s role, but they have also saved Dad as well. They are protecting the person who’s been protecting you all your life. If there is anyone you can trust to keep you safe, it must certainly be Hyundai.

Part 2 – Budweiser

Link to Budweiser Ad

Ever notice Budweiser doesn’t actually show their product in their commercials? How does one sell a thing without even talking about it? Budweiser has learned something very important about human psychology. Feelings are more moving than rational lists, and we are moved most easily by stories. Budweiser has chosen, perhaps, the strongest of human feelings, that of connection.

Savvy as they are, Budweiser has designed their Super Bowl commercial such that each moment shows connection or makes you feel it somehow. One may count 15 instances in the 60 second airing. The short story of the commercial has an escaped puppy quickly become friends with a horse he found in a barn.  They are forcibly separated and then reunited. Many of Budweiser’s recent commercials have this same theme of reconnection after separation. For example, this year’s second big Super Bowl commercial involved a soldier, separated by war returning home to his loved ones and a surprise parade thrown in his honor. Also, in the 2013 Super Bowl advert, Budweiser has a young Clydesdale separated from his caretaker, only to be reunited with him later at a parade. That kind of story can be very moving. Perhaps your mind has already wandered to a time when you were separated from those you hold dear . . . and how good did it feel to reconnect with them after that absence?

Having a moving story isn’t enough. A successful advertiser needs to tie the story to its product. How did Budweiser do it successfully without ever showing its product? Remember how Audi and their Dober-Huahua commercial failed miserably even with showing it’s product for a sustained 12 seconds? The answer deals with association and metaphor.

Budweiser has spent a lot of money training us to associate certain things with them. In the soldier’s parade commercial, no one had a clue as to what the ad was about until a certain moment. All that we needed to be shown was a horse’s leg in the parade. For many people, it clicked immediately whose commercial was playing. The Clydesdale have become Budweiser. We no longer need to see the product if we see the horse.

The association is strategic both in imagery and metaphor. First, in association, the horses themselves already somewhat resemble a pitcher of Bud. They both share that warm brown color in their body, and the horses have white trimmings like the foamy head of good beer. Red is also an important color. The horses are often pulling a red wagon or are shown with a subtle red harness. This relates us to the red of the Budweiser beer can. Second, in metaphor, the horses are often shown as a team of 4. This is a metaphor of connection, and as we look at that team, we might feel some degree of what it is like to be so close and in concert with them, to be part of that team.

Now that we understand how the Clydesdale became Budweiser, we can appreciate the deeper levels of influence in the commercials. This happens in metaphor. The puppy finds a Clydesdale and immediately has a connection with it. The horse is certainly our Bud, so that puts us, the viewer, as the puppy. The puppy is then torn away from our horse friend, and we actually feel some pangs there. The commercial focuses on the sad puppy eyes, and we aren’t made of stone. The puppy attempts to be with his friend and is thwarted 3 times in rapid succession. Note that this is a quick repetition technique similar to Hyundai’s commercial where they showed 6 instances of Super Dad saving the day in 15 seconds. It is really being hammered in via metaphor that we are being kept away from our beloved beer.

Puppy and friend are finally reunited. It is no accident that it is Budweiser’s iconic team of four Clydesdale bring the puppy back as it was being whisked away in a car. In metaphor, we now have Budweiser as savior/hero reconnecting us with our dear friend, who also just happens to be Budweiser.

It should be becoming clear how many levels down these adverts can work in our minds. This author has a distaste for beer and most alcohol. However, after repeatedly watching the advert many times over in preparation for this article, I can’t deny there is now something like an affection for the beer. It is a curious thing.

Part 3 – KIA

The next three commercials we will discuss are particularly interesting because they attempt to rebrand their product. Clearly, heavy lifting is required to create new associations and feelings in you within the short ad space of one minute or less.

Link to KIA ad

Our current associations with KIA are not flattering. Let’s be honest. It is an economy car that is bought by below average income-earners. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It is just their niche which they have happily been filling, until now.

I can just imagine the daunted look of KIA’s advertising agency when they were told they have to sell a luxury car. We automatically distrust the association like we would distrust Penzoil-branded taco meat. “KIA” and “luxury” don’t properly belong in the same sentence or anywhere else in the real world. Therein lies KIA’s clever trick. We just might possibly accept it if we are placed in a world where logic is suspended, where everything you know is turned on its head, a world where you can’t trust what your lying eyes are telling you. Such a world is that crafted in the Matrix.

The strategy is to invoke the world of the Matrix and then submerge us in it. If KIA reveals that the luxury car is theirs too soon, we will reject it. They need to put us deep into the Matrix first. As a hypnotist whose job is to lead clients into further levels of trance, I found KIA’s approach interesting.

We first need to enter the Matrix from our regular world. Dropping us into it immediately would be too abrupt for the new association to set in. Morpheus reprises his famous blue pill/red pill scene in the commercial with red and blue keys. “It is the world of luxury that has been pulled over your eyes,” he cautions a couple. They opt for the red key, and as soon as we see them get in the luxury car, we are in the world of the Matrix. This is reinforced when the driver says in disbelief, “This is unreal” while Matrixy reality-warping noises play subtly in the background.

As the viewer, we are only shallowly in the Matrix. The people in the car are fully in it already. To get us viewers into the deep end of the pool where our toes can’t touch ground anymore, KIA uses techniques similar to a hypnotic induction that leads to trance. They have Morpheus begin to tool with your senses: sight, touch, and sound. By leading people on a journey through their senses, they are much more likely to accept suggestions given to them.

“This is what luxury looks like,” Morpheus informs us as he gestures inside the car. There is a bit of magic in the camera shot here. The windshield through which the shot is taken has city lights strolling across it. Aesthetically, it is nice, but it partially obscures the passengers and it draws attention away from the dialogue. Surely, this apparent flub wasn’t accidental in this $8 million commercial. KIA is using a technique news networks have discovered in recent years. Perhaps you may have noticed that they bob or sail the camera around in a certain way or that they render a digital American flag waving just so in the background. When they do this, you may have noticed how difficult it is to look away. It is engrossing, nay, entrancing. Once in trance, suggestions tend to stick better.

“This is what luxury feels like” Morhpeus tells us in the slightly longer version of the commerical not aired during the Super Bowl.* (At about $66,000 a second, KIA needed to shave a few precious moments from the film. I’m including discussion of the unaired parts because they relate to KIA’s deepening technique). Morpheus slowly strokes the seat in a way where we can really be there with him, feeling the fine contours and texture of the seat along with him.

“This is what luxury sounds like,” Morpheus leads us. He then begins to sing opera. Morpheus has now hit upon all the senses a hypnotist would in an induction that leads to trance. While he continues to sing, we are taken even deeper into the world of the Matrix. As they pass a shop window, we see two”agents” inside activate and become concerned about the luxury car. In the extended commercial, we are taken even further. A young woman in a red dress is shown sitting at a diner, invoking a scene from the movie remembered well by young boys. As she brings her spoon up to her mouth, it begins to melt and bend. Notice how the Matrix references come much harder and quicker after they finished the sense induction. It is at this point, during Morpheus’ operatic crescendo, that cars start lifting off the street to float in the air while streetlights explode like sparklers on the 4th of July. We now have fully arrived in the Matrix

Full arrival in this magical world means that we, the viewer, can be shown things we shouldn’t believe, and we will accept the association. It should be no surprise then that finally we see the KIA logo displayed prominently. We are finally told that KIA does in fact have a luxury car.

Part 4 – Axe

Link to Axel Ad

Link to Axe Extended Ad

Axe has completely flipped its branding around.  Since 2003, this deodorant has promoted itself as a way to attract women.  Their commercials show this in the extreme with bikini-clad cuties crazed by the spray from a typical teenage boy.   Often, he becomes the main dish of their feeding frenzy as several tackle him to the ground.  For over a decade, Axe has rubbed this into us as its single driving association.

How surprising to find Axe at the Super Bowl promoting the exact opposite of that feral irrational lusty attraction.  In its stead, Axe shows us a mature love demonstrating both strength and vulnerability in the men who cherish the one woman they want to attract as opposed to making several women aggressive mindless beasts in heat.

Part of the reason for this shift may have to do with the fact that their young demographic has finally grown up.  Most of their original customer base likely has a wife and kids at this point.  If they want a life-long loyal customer, they can’t be selling teenage fantasies forever.  It’s time to grow up. Another motivator may come from their new competition with Old Spice.  Old Spice rebranded in recent years with its well-known, “Look at me.  I’m on a horse” commercial.  Previously popular only with grandpop and aging parents, Old Spice made a move for the youth.  In doing so, they cut into Axe’s territory.  To recoup its loss in revenue, Axe has to chop into new demographics, which is where this Super Bowl commercial appears aimed.

Axe begins anew with 4 vignettes.  As in the other commercials, quick repetition is the game here.  You might predict each vignette will repeat the same theme, mature love.

The ad shows 4 men of immense power and therefore men with excess virility.  Remember that Axe is extending to new demographics, and it wishes to do this without abandoning the old.  Therefore, Axe may do well to touch upon prowess, while not “selling” it as it has done in the past.  In the current commercial, power is displayed by military might wielded by average men.  We see a tank moving through a war-torn city.  We see a military dictator and his orderly hordes of soldiers filling an arena with the strictest of discipline. We are shown military copters transporting GIs.  Also, a politician opens a briefcase of mass destruction containing a detonator or missile command device of some sort.

This is where Axe takes a wildly new swing.  Axe shows women, strong women, standing up against the might of men.  While crowds flee the tank in the city, a lone woman approaches it with fear yet determination in her eye.  It may very well just roll over her.  While villagers flee the landing of the military copters, a lone woman walks towards them, confronting a dismounting soldier who is now pointing his gun at her, ready to shoot.

Then the most amazing thing happened in the history of the Axe universe, these women, both brave and fragile, beautiful in their vulnerability, disarmed the men.  These women take away the men’s might, and not by force but by their mere presence.  It is the affection men feel for their love that they willingly, happily, abandon their machines of power.  Such might, such tools of domination, are inappropriate in the gentle caress of love.  Axe demonstrates this by showing a soldier pop out of the protective armament of his tank.  His lover calls out his name in delight and rushes to the top of the tank where he snuggles on her shoulder.  We are shown the GI, now out of his copter, dropping his automatic rifle into the mud as his lover embraces and kisses him.  She pushes his war helmet off his head as those things get in the way of the affection they wish to share together.

The other 2 vignettes tell the same story in a slightly different way.  Whereas the first 2 stories show the men physically disarmed in their affection, the next show the men using their physical power for a sweet and soft display to their lovers.  The Asian military dictator, heretofore emotionless, gives a slight nod, commanding his horde of soldiers to each hold up a large colored square.  In total, the squares reveal an “I love you” heart picture depicting the dictator and his lover.  She reaches over to hold his hand, and a sweet smile breaks through his repressed manner in a way that tugs the viewers heart strings.  Finally, the politician pushes the big red button in his brief case.  Fireworks explode harmlessly and beautifully outside the window from which he and his lover are looking.  Subtly, the fireworks shape a heart, then dissipate.  His lover shares a surprised smile with him as he he reaches across the couch to kiss her hand.

Have we not been each of these men?  Who hasn’t traveled long miles to be with their partner like the GI did in his helicopter?  Whose heart hasn’t sat well-protected in walls of reinforced tank steel only to have the hatch pop open once a certain someone gets close enough?  Who hasn’t tried to quiet and repress their emotion yet be unable to stop that love-struck grin from spreading?  It is because we relate so well to these men that we can easily “wear” them for a moment and immerse ourselves in the story.  We can feel the mature love they feel.  That is part of the magic of the commercial, in addition to the quick repetition of the theme.  Because the theme is so powerful and shown so frequently, we begin to create a new association with Axe.  This association happens in our minds and also physically at the neurological level. 

Part 5 – RadioShack

Link to RadioShack commercial

The only thing more surprising than seeing a bunch of aging 80′s stars in a single commercial is finding out that RadioShack still exists. Somehow, that store has scraped along in the shadows. All of our associations with RadioShack revolve around the 80s, which is disasterous for a tech store in the modern era. We think of RadioShack, and we think of old technology. How can we do otherwise? The name of the store itself prompts us back to that time when radios, boomboxes and CB radios were a desired product.

Time is a particularly potent association. This is RadioShack’s misfortune. When something is in the past, it is over, irrelevant, even distant. There is some evidence to show that the neurology which lights up for distance in time is the same that lights up for distant in space and social distance. (The population size in the experiment needs to be larger before one can claim something conclusive). Ever notice how we use “far” and “close” to describe time, space, and social distance? It should not be too odd to realized that, when we dislike someone, they can feel farther away in space; their presence can feel less imminent than a friend who is standing just beyond them. For RadioShack, if we want to pick something up today, we would have to drive all the way to the 80s, which is distant indeed. Any local store carrying the same product in this modern era is much closer.

Time must be rewritten. RadioShack has a heavy task, but they have a good lever in their favor: the unconscious mind is horrible at telling time. When you are sleeping, and your unconscious is free at play, we feel like we wake almost as immediately as we close our eyes. Good times fly by and times of boredom can drag on forever. Our experience of time dilates and constricts regardless of how the clock ticks. RadioShack did well in their commercial by speaking in a way our unconscious understands. They found a way out of the 80s and created new associations relating to modernity.

RadioShack decided that a theme of transformation, perhaps even a type of death and rebirth, was most appropriate to get across their reimage. This is in contrast to the rebranding in the other commercials above who just got on with creating new associations and repeating that link as quickly and powerfully as possible. RadioShack must invoke the old, in order to transform or kill it.

They first invoked the 80s by showing a very 80s version of their store. Fake wood paneling is everwhere. The store is brown and beige, reminiscent of the time when beige was the go to color of electronics like computers and monitors. The signs on the wall proclaim, “Boom Boxes” and “Fax Machines,” and they display some of those ancient and giant beasts. Then, the 80s itself calls and tells the employee that they “want their store back.” This gives a clever effect. When we later see Alf, Hulk Hogan and others plundering the store, we don’t see them merely as the individuals. Instead, we see them as manifestations of the 80s. It is the 80s itself doing this to the store, not any particular icon of that era. That distinction is important for the commercial to work.

The next step is transforming or killing the 80s version of RadioShack. A horde of aged 80s icons burst through the door and ransack the place. Devo is ripping products off the walls. The California Raisins are kicking electronics off the shelf. Even the murderous doll, Chucky, is seen tearing up the carpet by stabbing it repeatedly. Hulk Hogan lifts and carries off a display pillar. Notice that it has subtly switched from items being looted, to the store itself being destroyed in increasingly meaningful ways. While you may not have noticed it, your subconscious likely did. The store is destroyed and we are left with a prolonged image of the dead and gutted store. As they spent $198,000 on airtime for that shot alone, you can bet they really wanted it to sink into your unconscious. The last we see of the 80s is a DeLorean over-filled with loot and peeling rubber as it races out of the area, presumably up to 88 mph. How ingenious of them to remind us of time travel moments before they show us their new store.

Everything is new. RadioShack is rebranded and reborn. The entire store seems to be a thick glossy white like Wall-E’s girlfriend. It has occasional splashes of color artistically placed in the style of modern art. The music has shifted from a classic 80s song to a modern rhythm. Even the employees are transformed, having donned slackerwear double t-shirts as opposed to those uptight red polos. Even the attitude and slogan are changed. RadioShack, well-known for carrying small electronic parts for DIY projects is now pushing DIT or “Do It Together.” It is a new store in every way.

Much like the other Super Bowl commercials, RadioShack has a slightly extended version viewable online. They lay on a few more techniques that speak to our unconscious there. Adding lightness and darkness in images can have strong effects on how we feel about it. Generally speaking, if one imagines something they like (perhaps a favorite celebrity) and then turns up the brightness in that mental picture, the feeling they had will also intensify. RadioShack uses this excellently. The announcer’s voice asks us to “See what’s possible when we do things together.” To accent “together” and intensify the good feelings we get from such of word of connectedness, the employee turns on a lamp with perfect timing. Now the whole image is bright. Most of us will be affected by this subconscious, perhaps subliminal, technique. That shot also doubles as a way to showcase their modernity because the employee turns on the lamp remotely with his cell phone! That tech is so fresh that most of us didn’t even know it was out yet.

RadioShack further shows their separation from the 80s in the extended commercial. Much like in the Budweiser ad where the true message is in the relationship between metaphorical characters, like how the separation of the puppy and the Clivesdale represents our separation from Budweiser itself, RadioShack also has created metaphorical characters and uses them to good effect. They had set up earlier that any 80s character represents the 80s itself. So, when Slimer oozes through the wall in his frantic way, we have the slacker-type employee, representing the modern store, rudely dismiss Slimer. He has a curt little message for our green friend, then turns his back on him. RadioShack uses the light/dark technique again here. The employee turns off the light on Slimer, on the 80s, and he does so with the super-fresh phone-controlled lamp. RadioShack believes itself to be the new kid at the cool table, and like the new kid there, loudly disdains the awkward kids in an attempt to hide where it used to sit. Let’s hope it’s commercial is successful enough for us to think that is natural.

The final screen of the extended ad exerts influence in a novel way not seen in the other commercials. They do so with the words on the screen. In large prominent letters it says “D.I.Y HAS EVOLVED. IT’S TIME FOR D.I.T.” First, you read the word “evolved” and tie it to RadioShack. RadioShack has apparently evolved – did you not just see it’s transformation? The marketers have cleverly created the effect where our eyes get stuck on “evolved.” Notice how the “Y” in D.I.Y is missing its period. Was this a careless typographical gloss? With this commerical’s already demonstrated level of sophistication, just assume everything is intentional. They remembered the final period in D.I.T. afterall. What the marketers wanted is for “evolved” to be set apart in some way so attention is drawn to it, even if that attention is unconscious. If you attend closely, you’ll notice that “evolved” is followed by a large gap. A period and a space. Your mind hits that and lingers in that area momentarily. You’ll just have to trust me, a hypnotist, when I tell you it is long enough to have an effect on your subconscious. It is the only gap like that, which is further ensured by writing in all upper-case letters. Note that second similar gap would appear if they had punctuated “D.I.Y.” correctly or used some lower-case letters. They can’t do that because it would ruin the subconscious effect.

Conclusion

Symbolism and Association rule the arena. Gone are the times when a mere jingle carried the day or a simple logo could entice. Advertisers seek to exert ever more influence over their demographics. To do that, they need to go into the very depths of a person, where desire burns and meaning is forged. They need to speak to the unconscious. And they do. They’ve learned the secret language.

This new language speaks in metaphor, creates association, and does so with strategic repetition. It really hammers it in. We’ve seen commercials here repeat a single metaphor 6 times in 15 seconds. Other commercials above might repeat the metaphor many times over within a minute. All this symbolism affects your mind quite powerfully. All you have to do is watch it. At the physical level, your brain is changing shape and firing differently from having seen it. The more times it is seen, the stronger the connection, and the more dramatic the change.

Being aware of these changes in our brains, our next steps are to determine which of these associations we should keep. Some feel compelled to say that we should blast them all out of our heads. How dare a corporation manipulatively influence us out of our money and rob us of our free will! At the other extreme are the lazy and the laissez faire, who will complacently allow certain commercials to work their magic, altering attitudes and behaviors. The middle ground has an interesting job. They must figure out which influences they should keep, which they should combat, and create a philosophical underpinning for their choices.

Look forward to enjoying this in an upcoming post.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Subconscious Influence in Super Bowl Commercials – Part 7 – Conclusion

Symbolism and Association rule the arena. Gone are the times when a mere jingle carried the day or a simple logo could entice. Advertisers seek to exert ever more influence over their demographics. To do that, they need to go into the very depths of a person, where desire burns and meaning is forged. They need to speak to the unconscious. And they do. They’ve learned the secret language.

This new language speaks in metaphor, creates association, and does so with strategic repettion. It really hammers it in. We’ve seen commercials here repeat a single metaphor 6 times in 15 seconds. Other commercials above might repeat the metaphor many times over within a minute. All this symbolism affects your mind quite powerfully. All you have to do is watch it. At the physical level, your brain is changing shape and firing differently from having seen it. The more times it is seen, the stronger the connection, and the more dramatic the change.

Being aware of these changes in our brains, our next steps are to determine which of these associations we should keep. Some feel compelled to say that we should blast them all out of our heads. How dare a corporation manipulatively influence us out of our money and rob us of our free will! At the other extreme are the lazy and the laissez faire, who will complacently allow certain commercials to work their magic, altering attitudes and behaviors. The middle ground has an interesting job. They must figure out which influences they should keep, which they should combat, and create a philosophical underpinning for their choices.

Look forward to enjoying this in an upcoming post.

Posted in Uncategorized

Subconscious Influence in Super Bowl Ads – Part 6 – RadioShack

Link to RadioShack commercial

The only thing more surprising than seeing a bunch of aging 80′s stars in a single commercial is finding out that RadioShack still exists. Somehow, that store has scraped along in the shadows. All of our associations with RadioShack revolve around the 80s, which is disasterous for a tech store in the modern era. We think of RadioShack, and we think of old technology. How can we do otherwise? The name of the store itself prompts us back to that time when radios, boomboxes and CB radios were a desired product.

Time is a particularly potent association. This is RadioShack’s misfortune. When something is in the past, it is over, irrelevant, even distant. There is some evidence to show that the neurology which lights up for distance in time is the same that lights up for distant in space and social distance. (The population size in the experiment needs to be larger before one can claim something conclusive). Ever notice how we use “far” and “close” to describe time, space, and social distance? It should not be too odd to realized that, when we dislike someone, they can feel farther away in space; their presence can feel less imminent than a friend who is standing just beyond them. For RadioShack, if we want to pick something up today, we would have to drive all the way to the 80s, which is distant indeed. Any local store carrying the same product in this modern era is much closer.

Time must be rewritten. RadioShack has a heavy task, but they have a good lever in their favor: the unconscious mind is horrible at telling time. When you are sleeping, and your unconscious is free at play, we feel like we wake almost as immediately as we close our eyes. Good times fly by and times of boredom can drag on forever. Our experience of time dilates and constricts regardless of how the clock ticks. RadioShack did well in their commercial by speaking in a way our unconscious understands. They found a way out of the 80s and created new associations relating to modernity.

RadioShack decided that a theme of transformation, perhaps even a type of death and rebirth, was most appropriate to get across their reimage. This is in contrast to the rebranding in the other commercials above who just got on with creating new associations and repeating that link as quickly and powerfully as possible. RadioShack must invoke the old, in order to transform or kill it.

They first invoked the 80s by showing a very 80s version of their store. Fake wood paneling is everwhere. The store is brown and beige, reminiscent of the time when beige was the go to color of electronics like computers and monitors. The signs on the wall proclaim, “Boom Boxes” and “Fax Machines,” and they display some of those ancient and giant beasts. Then, the 80s itself calls and tells the employee that they “want their store back.” This gives a clever effect. When we later see Alf, Hulk Hogan and others plundering the store, we don’t see them merely as the individuals. Instead, we see them as manifestations of the 80s. It is the 80s itself doing this to the store, not any particular icon of that era. That distinction is important for the commercial to work.

The next step is transforming or killing the 80s version of RadioShack. A horde of aged 80s icons burst through the door and ransack the place. Devo is ripping products off the walls. The California Raisins are kicking electronics off the shelf. Even the murderous doll, Chucky, is seen tearing up the carpet by stabbing it repeatedly. Hulk Hogan lifts and carries off a display pillar. Notice that it has subtly switched from items being looted, to the store itself being destroyed in increasingly meaningful ways. While you may not have noticed it, your subconscious likely did. The store is destroyed and we are left with a prolonged image of the dead and gutted store. As they spent $198,000 on airtime for that shot alone, you can bet they really wanted it to sink into your unconscious. The last we see of the 80s is a DeLorean over-filled with loot and peeling rubber as it races out of the area, presumably up to 88 mph. How ingenious of them to remind us of time travel moments before they show us their new store.

Everything is new. RadioShack is rebranded and reborn. The entire store seems to be a thick glossy white like Wall-E’s girlfriend. It has occasional splashes of color artistically placed in the style of modern art. The music has shifted from a classic 80s song to a modern rhythm. Even the employees are transformed, having donned slackerwear double t-shirts as opposed to those uptight red polos. Even the attitude and slogan are changed. RadioShack, well-known for carrying small electronic parts for DIY projects is now pushing DIT or “Do It Together.” It is a new store in every way.

Much like the other Super Bowl commercials, RadioShack has a slightly extended version viewable online. They lay on a few more techniques that speak to our unconscious there. Adding lightness and darkness in images can have strong effects on how we feel about it. Generally speaking, if one imagines something they like (perhaps a favorite celebrity) and then turns up the brightness in that mental picture, the feeling they had will also intensify. RadioShack uses this excellently. The announcer’s voice asks us to “See what’s possible when we do things together.” To accent “together” and intensify the good feelings we get from such of word of connectedness, the employee turns on a lamp with perfect timing. Now the whole image is bright. Most of us will be affected by this subconscious, perhaps subliminal, technique. That shot also doubles as a way to showcase their modernity because the employee turns on the lamp remotely with his cell phone! That tech is so fresh that most of us didn’t even know it was out yet.

RadioShack further shows their separation from the 80s in the extended commercial. Much like in the Budweiser ad where the true message is in the relationship between metaphorical characters, like how the separation of the puppy and the Clivesdale represents our separation from Budweiser itself, RadioShack also has created meatphorical characters and uses them to good effect. They had set up earlier that any 80s character represents the 80s itself. So, when Slimer oozes through the wall in his frantic way, we have the slacker-type employee, representing the modern store, rudely dismiss Slimer. He has a curt little message for our green friend, then turns his back on him. RadioShack uses the light/dark technique again here. The employee turns off the light on Slimer, on the 80s, and he does so with the super-fresh phone-controlled lamp. RadioShack believes itself to be the new kid at the cool table, and like the new kid there, loudly disdains the awkward kids in an attempt to hide where it used to sit. Let’s hope it’s commercial is successful enough for us to think that is natural.

The final screen of the extended ad exerts influence in a novel way not seen in the other commercials. They do so with the words on the screen. In large prominent letters it says “D.I.Y HAS EVOLVED. IT’S TIME FOR D.I.T.” First, you read the word “evolved” and tie it to RadioShack. RadioShack has apparently evolved – did you not just see it’s transformation? The marketers have cleverly created the effect where our eyes get stuck on “evolved.” Notice how the “Y” in D.I.Y is missing its period. Was this a careless typographical gloss? With this commerical’s already demonstrated level of sophistication, just assume everything is intentional. They remembered the final period in D.I.T. afterall. What the marketers wanted is for “evolved” to be set apart in some way so attention is drawn to it, even if that attention is unconscious. If you attend closely, you’ll notice that “evolved” is followed by a large gap. A period and a space. Your mind hits that and lingers in that area momentarily. You’ll just have to trust me, a hypnotist, when I tell you it is long enough to have an effect on your subconscious. It is the only gap like that, which is further ensured by writing in all upper-case letters. Note that second similar gap would appear if they had punctuated “D.I.Y.” correctly or used some lower-case letters. They can’t do that because it would ruin the subconscious effect.

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Subconscious Influence in Super Bowl Ads – Part 5 – Axe

Link to Super Bowl Ad

Link to Extended Ad

Axe has completely flipped its branding around.  Since 2003, this deodorant has promoted itself as a way to attract women.  Their commercials show this in the extreme with bikini-clad cuties crazed by the spray from a typical teenage boy.   Often, he becomes the main dish of their feeding frenzy as several tackle him to the ground.  For over a decade, Axe has rubbed this into us as its single driving association.

How surprising to find Axe at the Super Bowl promoting the exact opposite of that feral irrational lusty attraction.  In its stead, Axe shows us a mature love demonstrating both strength and vulnerability in the men who cherish the one woman they want to attract as opposed to making several women aggressive mindless beasts in heat.

Part of the reason for this shift may have to do with the fact that their young demographic has finally grown up.  Most of their original customer base likely has a wife and kids at this point.  If they want a life-long loyal customer, they can’t be selling teenage fantasies forever.  It’s time to grow up. Another motivator may come from their new competition with Old Spice.  Old Spice rebranded in recent years with its well-known, “Look at me.  I’m on a horse” commercial.  Previously popular only with grandpop and aging parents, Old Spice made a move for the youth.  In doing so, they cut into Axe’s territory.  To recoup its loss in revenue, Axe has to chop into new demographics, which is where this Super Bowl commercial appears aimed.

Axe begins anew with 4 vignettes.  As in the other commercials, quick repetition is the game here.  You might predict each vignette will repeat the same theme, mature love.

The ad shows 4 men of immense power and therefore men with excess virility.  Remember that Axe is extending to new demographics, and it wishes to do this without abandoning the old.  Therefore, Axe may do well to touch upon prowess, while not “selling” it as it has done in the past.  In the current commercial, power is displayed by military might wielded by average men.  We see a tank moving through a war-torn city.  We see a military dictator and his orderly hordes of soldiers filling an arena with the strictest of discipline. We are shown military copters transporting GIs.  Also, a politician opens a briefcase of mass destruction containing a detonator or missile command device of some sort.

This is where Axe takes a wildly new swing.  Axe shows women, strong women, standing up against the might of men.  While crowds flee the tank in the city, a lone woman approaches it with fear yet determination in her eye.  It may very well just roll over her.  While villagers flee the landing of the military copters, a lone woman walks towards them, confronting a dismounting soldier who is now pointing his gun at her, ready to shoot.

Then the most amazing thing happened in the history of the Axe universe, these women, both brave and fragile, beautiful in their vulnerability, disarmed the men.  These women take away the men’s might, and not by force but by their mere presence.  It is the affection men feel for their love that they willingly, happily, abandon their machines of power.  Such might, such tools of domination, are inappropriate in the gentle caress of love.  Axe demonstrates this by showing a soldier pop out of the protective armament of his tank.  His lover calls out his name in delight and rushes to the top of the tank where he snuggles on her shoulder.  We are shown the GI, now out of his copter, dropping his automatic rifle into the mud as his lover embraces and kisses him.  She pushes his war helmet off his head as those things get in the way of the affection they wish to share together.

The other 2 vignettes tell the same story in a slightly different way.  Whereas the first 2 stories show the men physically disarmed in their affection, the next show the men using their physical power for a sweet and soft display to their lovers.  The Asian military dictator, heretofore emotionless, gives a slight nod, commanding his horde of soldiers to each hold up a large colored square.  In total, the squares reveal an “I love you” heart picture depicting the dictator and his lover.  She reaches over to hold his hand, and a sweet smile breaks through his repressed manner in a way that tugs the viewers heart strings.  Finally, the politician pushes the big red button in his brief case.  Fireworks explode harmlessly and beautifully outside the window from which he and his lover are looking.  Subtly, the fireworks shape a heart, then dissipate.  His lover shares a surprised smile with him as he he reaches across the couch to kiss her hand.

Have we not been each of these men?  Who hasn’t traveled long miles to be with their partner like the GI did in his helicopter?  Whose heart hasn’t sat well-protected in walls of reinforced tank steel only to have the hatch pop open once a certain someone gets close enough?  Who hasn’t tried to quiet and repress their emotion yet be unable to stop that love-struck grin from spreading?  It is because we relate so well to these men that we can easily “wear” them for a moment and immerse ourselves in the story.  We can feel the mature love they feel.  That is part of the magic of the commercial, in addition to the quick repetition of the theme.  Because the theme is so powerful and shown so frequently, we begin create a new association with Axe.  This association happens in our minds and also physically at the neurological level.

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Subconscious Influence in Super Bowl Ads – Part 4 (KIA)

The next three commercials we will discuss are particularly interesting because they attempt to rebrand their product. Clearly, heavy lifting is required to create new associations and feelings in you within the short ad space of one minute or less.

Link to KIA ad

Our current associations with KIA are not flattering. Let’s be honest. It is an economy car that is bought by below average income-earners. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It is just their niche which they have happily been filling, until now.

I can just imagine the daunted look of KIA’s advertising agency when they were told they have to sell a luxury car. We automatically distrust the association like we would distrust Penzoil-branded taco meat. “KIA” and “luxury” don’t properly belong in the same sentence or anywhere else in the real world. Therein lies KIA’s clever trick. We just might possibly accept it if we are placed in a world where logic is suspended, where everything you know is turned on its head, a world where you can’t trust what your lying eyes are telling you. Such a world is that crafted in the Matrix.

The strategy is to invoke the world of the Matrix and then submerge us in it. If KIA reveals that the luxury car is theirs too soon, we will reject it. They need to put us deep into the Matrix first. As a hypnotist whose job is to lead clients into further levels of trance, I found KIA’s approach interesting.

We first need to enter the Matrix from our regular world. Dropping us into it immediately would be too abrupt for the new association to set in. Morpheus reprises his famous blue pill/red pill scene in the commercial with red and blue keys. “It is the world of luxury that has been pulled over your eyes,” he cautions a couple. They opt for the red key, and as soon as we see them get in the luxury car, we are in the world of the Matrix. This is reinforced when the driver says in disbelief, “This is unreal” while Matrixy reality-warping noises play subtly in the background.

As the viewer, we are only shallowly in the Matrix. The people in the car are fully in it already. To get us viewers into the deep end of the pool where our toes can’t touch ground anymore, KIA uses techniques similar to a hypnotic induction that leads to trance. They have Morpheus begin to tool with your senses: sight, touch, and sound. By leading people on a journey through their senses, they are much more likely to accept suggestions given to them.

“This is what luxury looks like,” Morpheus informs us as he gestures inside the car. There is a bit of magic in the camera shot here. The windshield through which the shot is taken has city lights strolling across it. Aesthetically, it is nice, but it partially obscures the passengers and it draws attention away from the dialogue. Surely, this apparent flub wasn’t accidental in this $8 million commercial. KIA is using a technique news networks have discovered in recent years. Perhaps you may have noticed that they bob or sail the camera around in a certain way or that they render a digital American flag waving just so in the background. When they do this, you may have noticed how difficult it is to look away. It is engrossing, nay, entrancing. Once in trance, suggestions tend to stick better.

“This is what luxury feels like” Morhpeus tells us in the slightly longer version of the commerical not aired during the Super Bowl.* (At about $66,000 a second, KIA needed to shave a few precious moments from the film. I’m including discussion of the unaired parts because they relate to KIA’s deepening technique). Morpheus slowly strokes the seat in a way where we can really be there with him, feeling the fine contours and texture of the seat along with him.

“This is what luxury sounds like,” Morpheus leads us. He then begins to sing opera. Morpheus has now hit upon all the senses a hypnotist would in an induction that leads to trance. While he continues to sing, we are taken even deeper into the world of the Matrix. As they pass a shop window, we see two”agents” inside activate and become concerned about the luxury car. In the extended commercial, we are taken even further. A young woman in a red dress is shown sitting at a diner, invoking a scene from the movie remembered well by young boys. As she brings her spoon up to her mouth, it begins to melt and bend. Notice how the Matrix references come much harder and quicker after they finished the sense induction. It is at this point, during Morpheus’ operatic crescendo, that cars start lifting off the street to float in the air while streetlights explode like sparklers on the 4th of July. We now have fully arrived in the Matrix

Full arrival in this magical world means that we, the viewer, can be shown things we shouldn’t believe, and we will accept the association. It should be no surprise then that finally we see the KIA logo displayed prominently. We are finally told that KIA does in fact have a luxury car.

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Subconscious Influence in Super Bowl Ads – Part 3 (Budweiser)

Link to Budweiser Ad

Ever notice Budweiser doesn’t actually show their product in their commercials? How does one sell a thing without even talking about it? Budweiser has learned something very important about human psychology. Feelings are more moving than rational lists, and we are moved most easily by stories. Budweiser has chosen, perhaps, the strongest of human feelings, that of connection.

Savvy as they are, Budweiser has designed their Super Bowl commercial such that each moment shows connection or makes you feel it somehow. One may count 15 instances in the 60 second airing. The short story of the commercial has an escaped puppy quickly become friends with a horse he found in a barn.  They are forcibly separated and then reunited. Many of Budweiser’s recent commercials have this same theme of reconnection after separation. For example, this year’s second big Super Bowl commercial involved a soldier, separated by war returning home to his loved ones and a surprise parade thrown in his honor. Also, in the 2013 Super Bowl advert, Budweiser has a young Clivesdale separated from his caretaker, only to be reunited with him later at a parade. That kind of story can be very moving. Perhaps your mind has already wandered to a time when you were separated from those you hold dear . . . and how good did it feel to reconnect with them after that absence?

Having a moving story isn’t enough. A successful advertiser needs to tie the story to its product. How did Budweiser do it successfully without ever showing its product? Remember how Audi and their Dober-Huahua commercial failed miserably even with showing it’s product for a sustained 12 seconds? The answer deals with association and metaphor.

Budweiser has spent a lot of money training us to associate certain things with them. In the soldier’s parade commercial, no one had a clue as to what the ad was about until a certain moment. All that we needed to be shown was a horse’s leg in the parade. For many people, it clicked immediately whose commercial was playing. The Clivesdales have become Budweiser. We no longer need to see the product if we see the horse.

The association is strategic both in imagery and metaphor. First, in association, the horses themselves already somewhat resemble a pitcher of Bud. They both share that warm brown color in their body, and the horses have white trimmings like the foamy head of good beer. Red is also an important color. The horses are often pulling a red wagon or are shown with a subtle red harness. This relates us to the red of the Budweiser beer can. Second, in metaphor, the horses are often shown as a team of 4. This is a metaphor of connection, and as we look at that team, we might feel some degree of what it is like to be so close and in concert with them, to be part of that team.

Now that we understand how the Clivesdales became Budweiser, we can appreciate the deeper levels of influence in the commercials. This happens in metaphor. The puppy finds a Clivesdale and immediately has a connection with it. The horse is certainly our Bud, so that puts us, the viewer, as the puppy. The puppy is then torn away from our horse friend, and we actually feel some pangs there. The commercial focuses on the sad puppy eyes, and we aren’t made of stone. The puppy attempts to be with his friend and is thwarted 3 times in rapid succession. Note that this is a quick repetition technique similar to Hyundai’s commercial where they showed 6 instances of Super Dad saving the day in 15 seconds. It is really being hammered in via metaphor that we are being kept away from our beloved beer.

Puppy and friend are finally reunited. It is no accident that it is Budweiser’s iconic team of four Clivesdales bring the puppy back as it was being whisked away in a car. In metaphor, we now have Budweiser as savior/hero reconnecting us with our dear friend, who also just happens to be Budweiser.

It should be becoming clear how many levels down these adverts can work in our minds. This author has a distaste for beer and most alcohol. However, after repeatedly watching the advert many times over in preparation for this article, I can’t deny there is now something like an affection for the beer. It is a curious thing.

[Continued in next post]

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Subconscious Influence in Super Bowl Ads – Part 2 (Hyundai)

Link to Hyundai Ad

Hyundai made a strong showing with their auto-emergency breaking commercial. The commercial takes you through the young life a boy from toddler to teenager. In the very short span of 15 seconds, Hyundai shows us 6 scenes where Dad saves us from imminent harm. Note my language in the previous sentence. It isn’t someone’s dad, even though that is who is shown. It is “Dad” and he is saving “us” from harm. This is part of the art of a good commercial. Let me explain a bit more.

Hyundai first creates an archetypal dad, one that heroically saves the day from our follies. He’s a dad who is watchful and protective, a dad who keeps us safe from the harm we inevitably are about to step into. To a young one, such a dad may feel like Superman, and Hyundai has added in elements of that hero to help us get the correct perspective. In one scene, Dad rushes in from off-screen to grab his kid just before his speeding bike hits a parked car. In another scene, the unaware kid is about to be kicked in the face by an overweight kid on a swing. Dad saves him at the last moment lifting him up up and away, safely in his protective arms.  They also give Dad a human touch of clumsiness and distress to make him more relatable. He collides with a flaming bbq. He gets hit with a pinata bat. All this time, Hyundai is playing a sweet song in the background with lyrics like “You can count on me,” “I can count on you,” and “I’ll be there.”

Hyundai then ties this archetypal dad to themselves. In the final scene, the teenager is learning how to drive with Dad in the passenger seat, again watching protectively. The teenager, being distracted by a pretty girl, almost crashes but is saved by Auto-Emergency Breaking. This is where Hyundai’s magic happens. They ask, “Remember when only Dad could save the day?” Now, not only has Hyundai inserted themselves into Dad’s role, but they have also saved Dad as well. They are protecting the person who’s been protecting you all your life. If there is anyone you can trust to keep you safe, it must certainly be Hyundai.

[Continued in next post]

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Subconscious Influence In Super Bowl Ads – Intro

For $4 million dollars, one can buy half a minute of air time during the Super Bowl. With that kind of money being tossed around, you can bet top dollar was spent on the hottest talent in the advertising industry, those most able to influence you to buy a product.

The skills of advertisers today are sublte, sophisticated, and well beyond the public’s awareness of how they are being influenced. When you are standing in a grocery store, why do you gravitate towards one specific brand on a wall of similar products? You may be surprised to find out that while sometimes our decision may rest on a rational list of pros and cons, it can also be a feeling we get that leads our heart and our hand to pick up a certain product. It just feels right or better to do so. The reason usually leads back to advertising.

Hearts move most easily with stories. You may notice that commercials use a story-driven model to sell their stuff. Compare that with an ad where they merely display their product on a white background while an off-screen voice lists the benefits of using it. Even if the benefits are amazing, the commercial isn’t compelling. There’s something unsatisfactory about it. Stories satisfy.

Stories gain their power to sell when they are appropriately linked to the product. This is best done by metaphor and imagery. In the Super Bowl, there were some commercials where they had an engaging story, yet failed to properly tie their product to it. You may remember the chaos of the Dober-huahua commercial, but do you remember the product that was supposed to sell? A bright red Audi, which was tagged onto the end of the ad like an afterthought. The run-amuck Chihuahuas with CGI Doberman heads had nothing to do with the car, neither in metaphor nor imagery. It was ineffective, a failure. Other ads were successful and sophisticated.

[Continued in next post]

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Where The Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

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