Sublim subliminal

The first time I heard of subliminal images was probably in the 80s after I watched a Columbo episode where some film editor killed a rival by influencing through hidden images in a film. Since then, I have paid a lot of attention to this technique which is, as you would agree, quite puzzling.

Thanks lieutenant!

What is a subliminal image? This is an image you don't consciously perceive but which will be processed by your brain. For instance, the classical cinema camera used to shoot at a speed of 24 image per second. In fact, you don't really need these 24 images to give back the smooth movement of reality: your eyes capture them all and your brain process them all to give you the feeling of a continuity whilst it is in fact the apposition of 24 still images. So now, if you substitute one of the images of this desert scenery by one single image of chilled glass of a fizzy refreshing drink, then expert says that your brain is tempted to unconsciously produce a stimulus of thirst and a predisposition to go for a lemonade... And that is how the bad guy manage to kill his victim in that Columbo episode.

Politics, sex...

Obviously such influential practices are not hard facts. They are hard to prove as they are highly dependant on the context in which they are used. But still, subliminal images have marked the last decades with some major examples. Like porn in children cartoons! You might remember the 35th Disney cartoon "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and its sexy character Jessica Rabbit. Well to increase her appeal, some animators decided to add some subliminal image of Jessica naked in the motion picture. This true legend was then a major factor of sales when the film went out on since-disappeared Laser Discs because it was at that time the only public technology allowing you to truly visualise a film frame by frame.

Another example of subliminal images made a politico-media scandal after 1988 presidential elections in France. Francois Mitterrand was elected for the second time in a row, and some experts identified some puzzling images on the state-owned channel Antenne 2 (now named France 2). The introduction of the news programme was an animated three-dimensional "a2" rotating in the air until the speaker was on screen. A careful look at this 3D animation revealed that there was a face which could well be Mitterrand's was blended in the metallic texture of the figure.
When you know that a) the regulation forbids subliminal images, b) candidates are due to an equal speech time and c) Mitterrand was said to have a harsh hand on media, especially on national TV, you can easily conclude, as many did, that this image was not here by chance. So unfair practice from an influential political leader and president or not, we will never know the truth. On the other hand, during the 2000 American election campaigns, the intentions were clearer. During a TV spot for George W. Bush, the future president was presenting his opponent's programme under his own light. And to increase the negative perception of Al Gore, some subliminal messages were displayed alongside, like this one, briefly but clearly insulting the Democ....rats!
Look me in the eyes.

The influence of these images has not been scientifically proven though. The French ophthalmologic website Ophtasurf reports that:
A Canadian TV network has run an experimentation displaying 300 times a subliminal call-to-action during a popular show. The message was encouraging viewers to "Call now" but no significant upraise in calls was noticed. Psychologist Ahmed Channouf from University of Provence in France explained that too complex messages have no chance to be understood properly by a brain in milliseconds, and would consequently have no impact on behaviours.

Several scientists confirm that there is no possibility that such a brief visual stimulation would influence consumers to buy a product against their will. Eventually it could increase a propensity to act, but not alter the predispositions.

Or couldn't it? Well, this post was prompted by a visual stimulus... I have seen on the Internet an excerpt from E4 programme presented by illusionist Derren Brown. This is obviously not a scientific demonstration, but interesting and puzzling enough, don't you think?
Des publicitaires piégés via Koreus

Funny enough, when I saw this film for the first time, I spotted the harp, and this made me think of Guinness. Isn't that another proof of the influence of symbols? Not sure, but why not have a beer...


  1. Anonymous2:00 am

    Here's an example;take the world famous Virgin logo.If you turn it slighty to the left so that where the underline and tail of the g form an X,you'll also notice the V forms a slightly hidden S and the i,r and part of the g form a broken capital E,spelling the word SEX.
    So you have Sex/Virgin in one word.Very clever Mr.Branson.

  2. Logos are always tricky elements. they are visual signs and convey images, concepts, values... Another interesting example from France: you may be aware that we have a high-speed train, the TGV (for Train Grande Vitesse). If you look at the logo of the tgv (visible here: http://www.tgv.com/)and flip it upside down, you will realise that it represents a snail... In other words, TGV is the opposite of a snail:)))