Advertising is supposed to be impactful and clever without overpowering. David Ogilvy, the modern Father of Advertising, once shared this great quote: “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”
In short, be subtle.
And advertisements have a long history of being subtle. Whether hiding a double-meaning in a logo or working some Photoshop magic, subliminal ads definitely meet the criteria of clever — and the more clever the ad, the better we feel about “getting” it — and the better we feel about the product. Win-win for advertisers!
Here’s our list of 9 ads and logos with subliminal messages you’ve probably missed:
1) Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola Halloween Ad
This is subliminal messaging at it’s core — subtle, but still clever. Pepsi released the image on the left and Coca-Cola responded with the image on the right. Pepsi’s original ad is subliminal in that it makes the viewer think and chuckle a bit: it’s funny to suggest that getting a Coke when you wanted a Pepsi is scary. Coca-Cola’s response is perfect, as well, and becomes a great learning tool: sometimes, the tagline really does make the image.
2) Milwaukee Brewers
The MIlwaukee Brewers logo from 1978 to 1993 is an iconic example of a subliminal logo. Composed of an M and B to make a catcher’s mitt, this logo was designed by University of Wisconsin art education student, Tom Meindel.
3) Pirates of the Caribbean
Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean bridge the gap between family-friendly and adult action movie, and did it well — the franchise has earned over $3.7 billion in box office sales alone. While I can’t say subliminal messaging — and the visual overlap between the skull-and-crossbones and Mickey’s ears — are the reason why, I still love finding this secret.
An oldie, but a goodie, many don’t see the subliminal message in Amazon’s logo — the current logo has been in use since around 2000, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. And why should it? The cute A to Z arrow and grinning face work so well.
5) SFX Magazine
SFX is a sci-fi magazine that began in 1995 — the mag focuses on sci-fi and fantasy news. And some subliminal messaging. Many sites have reported that the SFX logo often appears different when women are on the cover, making the reader view the title as “SEX.” How much does sex sell? SFX has a circulation of about 26,000.
The Tostitos logo is fairly well-known, but you may have missed the subliminal message in it (and in every Tostitos ad that shows the logo). Notice the two friends sharing chips and salsa? I did, too — and I wondered why it took me this long to find them.
7) Spartan Golf Club
While an advertising campaign might last for a quarter, a logo can last for years — which gives a long shelf-life to a well-designed logo. This Spartan Golf Club logo is, in my opinion, one of the best. The design is great and not too subtle.
Another oldie-but-goodie subliminal message can be found in the FedEx logo. Whitespace in the logo clearly shows an arrow — an indication of the company’s speed and ability to get your delivery from Point A to Point B
Subliminal Messages Can Turn a Logo or Advertisement Into Art
Subliminal messages can do a lot of legwork for you well after the campaign is done. Great ads will be shared, and reach a near-viral status, if the message is clever and subtle.
But of course, even the best ad will eventually fall out of style — if you’re looking to make a lasting impression on your prospects and customers (and make the most of your marketing spend) be subtle and clever with all your content.