Commercial breaks without the breaks

Subliminal advertiing is about to officially hit the Israeli Cable TV airwaves.

nike 88.298 (photo credit: )
nike 88.298
(photo credit: )
Warning! The following program has been granted authority from The Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting to subliminally advertise a specific product or products. Neither the Council nor this station in any way endorses or encourages the purchase of the product or products, and assumes no responsibility for any impact, positive or negative, that this method of advertising may have. Discretion is advised. Enjoy the show. The above warning - or one similar - will soon be appearing at the start and end of specific programs broadcast on Israeli cable television. The Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting has given two cable stations - the Music Channel and the Russian language Israel Plus - authority to embed for the next six months subliminal advertising in three programming categories: entertainment, reality and soap operas. Which means that the slinky little ingenue on a locally made soap might soon be seen pouring her lover a glass of cabernet sauvignon from a bottle on which the Golan Wineries label will be prominently displayed. Or the words "Nike: Go For It" will intermittently flash through the window of a house in which a group of Israelis must spend a week trying not to kill each other. Officially, the council is saying that this tricky and controversial form of product integration has become politically correct due, in part, to the rapidly evolving digital technologies that are lessening reliance on commercial advertising. Subliminal messaging, they add, provides an alternative source of television program financing, assuring the continuation of free broadcasts. And, they conclude, better that this dubious practice be regulated with constraints and red lines than be left free of any controls or limitations. Not that everybody is happy. In response to concerns over this possibly unethical form of advertising, the council has insisted that subliminal messaging not be used in programming targeted for children or in which objectivity is crucial, and believe that safeguards will prevent advertisers from having an undue influence on program content. Nobody on the council or in the broadcast industry denies that subliminal advertising has been in use regularly, if not rampantly, throughout Israeli television. Nor is anyone naive enough to believe that unauthorized use of this methodology will suddenly go away. And considering the fact that subliminal messaging is frowned upon, if not altogether outlawed throughout much of the West, it's fair to conclude that the council's blessing is indicative of either uncommonly forward-thinking vision or that something is dreadfully wrong in its decision-making process. The use of product integration and subliminal advertising in television programming is certainly not unique to Israel, nor is awareness of it something that only recently became noted. On the contrary, the study of creating images and messages aimed at a point just below the threshold of conscious perception has been around almost from the time when Freud offered a couch to his patients. The fact that professionals agree that this form of communication may affect individuals on the subconscious level has been the subject of discussion, debate and argument by legislatures, advertising review boards and broadcast committees throughout the world - apparently with no bottom line. Despite the high-powered microscope that both proponents and opponents of the methodology have for many years been peering through, there has been nothing conclusively determined regarding the effects - one way or the other - of subliminal advertising. The experts, in other words, can do no better than an unqualified "maybe." In wording their regulation, the council does not require that the warning include an explicit identification of the actual product being pushed. This, though, will result in something more than a mere virtual scavenger hunt; it will provide empirical data to determine just how effective - or ineffective - subliminal advertising really is. Marketers, you can be sure, will be very carefully measuring sales and product awareness of those products being subliminally integrated into the select programming, particularly with an audience notified in advance of hidden pitches. They may just wind up learning, for example, that consumers intentionally rebel against those products that are being forced upon them unobtrusively rather than through conventional means. Left unsaid, however, is the admittedly cynical thought that not only consumer goods will be creatively and quietly integrated into the programming during this experimental period. It's not unlikely that along with deodorants, fast food joints and refrigerators, viewers might find themselves being subliminally encouraged to pledge allegiance to one of the three candidates running for prime minister. Elections, after all, employ the same sophisticated techniques used in televised advertising campaigns, and it doesn't take much to have a potential effect on viewers - a strategically placed photograph or an oblique, regularly repeated reference is all that's really needed. One of the leading US advertising experts not long ago chastised our local ad makers rather severely, cruelly shaking his head at the lack of creativity and innovativeness he saw coming from blue-and-white drawing boards. Local advertising was cold and unemotional, he said, and failed to establish a connection between the product and the consumer. Who knows, maybe the council is responding to calls stemming from this criticism. Subliminal advertising, after all, works on a captive audience and does not have to compete with quick jumps to the bathroom or kitchen. No bond between the product and the consumer is required when the program and the product are fully integrated.