Calvert Ad

O death, where is thy sting? – 1 Corinthians 15:55 (KJV)

The practice of placing hidden (subliminal) imagery in select print advertisements is a technique used by advertisers.  Advertisers know that most people will not spend much time looking at print advertisements.  Therefore, hidden (subliminal) ideas, imagery, and words can be placed in print advertisements without immediate detection.

On average, people look at a print ad for no more than two seconds.  Therefore the advertiser has two seconds in which to convey a message.

With this in mind, look closely at this advertisement and see if you notice anything interesting:

 This is not a photograph of a glass of whiskey, this is a piece of artwork.

According to author Craig Soderholm, "In almost every example of subliminal techniques it is important to notice that while ads use both photographs and artwork, agencies and advertisers will more often spend literally hundreds of times the cost of a photograph to instead use a painted representation.  The reason for this is that the subliminal can be imbedded in the painting in a much more subtle, cost-efficient, and effective presentation than in a photograph.” 1

In this blog entry, four subliminal images will be revealed.  Then, an analysis of the underlying meaning of this advertisement will be presented.

Take a look at this area of the print advertisement.  Do you see the image of a dead wasp?

Here is a comparison of the image of the dead wasp with a darkened image of the dead wasp:

Below is a comparison of the image of the dead wasp with a picture of a wasp:

Notice that the colors black and yellow are prominent in this advertisement, the same colors of a wasp.

There are three subliminal images of birds in this Calvert advertisement.

BIRD #1:

Above the image of the dead wasp is another image.  Do you see the image of a vulture above the dead wasp?

This image is a cartoon rendition of a vulture.  The vulture is hovering over the image of the dead wasp:

Here is a comparison of the image of the vulture with both another cartoon rendition and a photograph of a vulture:

BIRD #2:

Take a look at this section of the print advertisement.  Do you see the image of a dead white bird?

Here is a comparison of the image of the dead white bird next to a picture of a white bird:

BIRD #3:

Take a look at this section of the print advertisement.  Do you see the image of a Red-tailed Hawk?

Here is a comparison of the image of the Red-tailed Hawk’s head with a picture of a Red-tailed Hawk’s head.

The image of the Red-tailed Hawk looks like it is about to take flight due to the positioning of the wings:


There are three predominant colors in this advertisement:  yellow, black, and gold.

As mentioned previously, the colors yellow and black relate to the colors of a wasp.

Gold is another color of this advertisement which is the color of the whiskey in the glass.

To an addicted heavy consumer of alcohol, whiskey is as good as gold.


Subliminal images of a wasp and birds in this Calvert whiskey ad have been revealed.

Through subliminal imagery and symbolic meanings, it appears that this ad is portraying an addicted heavy drinker’s life coming to an end.

It is important to understand that the “subconscious mind operates with symbols, pictures and images.” 2

According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, “Pictures, images and symbols convey far more information than words. They reach us on an intuitive level. We can understand images by making associations with them.” 3


In this Calvert advertisement, the wasp is a symbol of whiskey because both the wasp and the whiskey are known for their ability to sting.

“Whiskey is known to cause a stinging sensation in the mouth and the throat when consumed.”4

This stinging or burning sensation in the throat is caused by the alcohol in the drink. This can cause some rawness and discomfort in the short-term, and in the long-term it may have other consequences. 5

A wasp can sting multiple times without harm to itself. 6   Wasps do not die after stinging their victims.

Since the wasp in this Calvert advertisement is dead, it has lost it’s power to sting.

The whiskey (wasp) loses it’s power to sting after an addicted heavy consumer of alcohol dies.


In this ad, the image of a vulture is hovering over the dead wasp.

“Because of the vulture's habit of feasting on carrion, it has become a symbol of death the world over.” 7

Since death is approaching the heavy drinker, the vulture is presented in this ad as a symbol of death.


According to a Germanic superstition, the “omen most often associated with death was a white dove that would appear on the windowsill or in the room of the terminally ill and forewarn the family of the impending death.” 8

The symbol of a dead bird means “Threat to ideals or hopes of freedom; feeling life is only material; one’s spirit feeling defeated or crushed; loss of sense of beauty or meaning in life; an ideal or hope has died; a flight of imagination or creativity has fallen.” 9

A white dove has been a “symbol of peace and hope for thousands of years.” 10

However, the image of a white dead bird in this advertisement represents the situation where the addicted heavy drinker has lost peace and hope as the end of his life draws near.


In this advertisement, the hawk is at the top of the glass of whiskey and is poised to take flight.  The hawk’s back is towards the dead white bird, the vulture, and the dead wasp.

“Hawk symbolism is also associated with death, for the birds often act as the bearers of souls ‘heavenward’.”  11

“This is true of the hawk in California Indian religions as well as in the religious system of ancient Egypt.” 12

Therefore the hawk represents the carrier of the soul of the heavy drinker after the heavy drinker passes away.  In the advertisement, the image of the hawk is facing west.  The west has often been associated with the afterlife of the spirits. 13

There is another interesting symbolic meaning concerning the hawk:

“Because of the hawk’s swiftness in darting down and grasping its prey, this animal is a symbol of death, injustice, violence, and those people who prey upon the weak.”14

In reference to this last symbolic meaning of the hawk, consider the following statistics:

The top 5% of drinkers of alcohol account for 42% of the United States total alcohol consumption. 15

About 17.6 million Americans abuse or are dependent on alcohol. 16

In the United States, excessive alcohol use accounts for an estimated average of 80,000 deaths annually. 17

On a global scale, the “harmful use of alcohol results in approximately 2.5 million deaths each year. 18


  1. I am trying to find an old magazine ad that was for alcohol (I think) that showed a woman getting hit by a car in the background with a small group of adults relaxing in the foreground and I remember our teacher saying something like: "notice the number and gender of the adults in the foreground image and how it is two males and one female.."...and the teacher asked "what is wrong with this photo...who is missing?" He suggested we look at the tiny picture in the background in the ice cubes or whatever and the whole class gasped at once upon seeing a woman getting hit by a car. The teacher proposed that maybe the ad was speaking towards those men who wish their wives were dead.

    1. Please let me know if you find this ad, and likewise if I find this ad I will let you know. Thank you for sharing this.