When last I discussed this in earnest, in a fog of illegal smoke at one of the major outposts of the Woodstock nation, I was being informed that Nabisco was stamping dirty words on Oreos and major distillers were manipulating us by embedding images of human genitalia in ad pictures of ice cubes.
The sinister strategy, as it was explained to me in those heady days of anti-capitalist fervor, was predicated on the unconscious detection of a phallic shape in a highball glass, for example, creating an irrepressible consumer urge to purchase name-brand liquor.
Which, of course, was ludicrous in 1969 and is ludicrous today. If phallus spotting were a genuine consumer stimulus, Chris Whittle could have put vending machines in men's locker rooms instead of TVs in doctors' offices and today his company wouldn't be imploding before his very eyes.
But folklore persists. Some people still believe that filling one of 24 film frames per second with an embedded message enables advertisers or other would-be behavior modifiers to make us subliminally register an idea our conscious minds do not even notice.
Myth has it that moviehouse operators used the technique to increase Coke sales dramatically. What the myth fails to address is why the subconscious mind has such a Svengali hold on my purchasing decisions even though the Coca-Cola Co. spends a billion dollars a year whacking me upside my conscious mind, and I still only drink the stuff when I'm thirsty.
In any event, 25 years after Woodstock, it's nice to see Del Monte Fresh Produce and Harris Drury Cohen, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., introduce a $7 million campaign that has some of the flavor of so-called subliminal advertising, but which ultimately is as liminal as can be.
The key message viewers are expected to divine from two new 30-second spots is as follows:
And sure enough, the commercials aim to imprint that concept in viewers' brains by rapidly flashing the words "Del Monte" and "fresh" on the screen. Over and over, "Del Monte" and "fresh," intercut with magnificent food photography of ripe bananas, grapes, pineapples, green peppers and other fresh Del Monte fruits and vegetables.
Over and over, faster and faster, to some sort of hypnotizing Polynesian percussion.
The psychic pounding is relentless, albeit not in any sinister way, because the words "Del Monte" and "fresh" aren't sneaked in at an impossible-to-register one frame in 24. They flash for nearly a second at a time, in plain view, so that if one's subconscious were busy hating one's mother or gawking at sex organs in a vodka tonic, the message could still insinuate itself in the conscious mind.
Wilson Brian "Subliminal Seduction" Key and Vance "Hidden Persuaders" Packard, eat your hearts out.
To give you an idea of how powerful this kind of suggestion can be, if you had caught me immediately after viewing these spots, and asked me what words came to mind when you mentioned Del Monte, the second word out of my mouth would have been "fresh."
Right after "canned.'