Pyramid Power in Advertising

"Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose.”
- Egyptian Tomb Curse

The practice of placing hidden (subliminal) ideas 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.

The Dark Side of Subliminal Advertising is a blog site that exposes the advertising technique of placing hidden (subliminal) ideas, imagery, and words in advertisements.  

It is important to realize that ads are not designed for the conscious mind, they are deliberately designed to reach the subconscious mind.  The subconscious mind operates under a different set of laws compared to the operations of the conscious mind.

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 in order to increase sales.

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

This ad portrays a man smoking a cigarette at sunset.   The man has built a fire and is lighting a cigarette from this fire. 

Ancient Egypt was ruled by kings called pharaohs. Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was a child of the gods and a god himself. 1

The smoker in this ad represents a customer for Camel cigarettes.  For J.R. Reynolds, the maker of Camel cigarettes, the customer is king.

“The Customer is King” is a “corporate cliche meaning that the direction of a business is ultimately determined by its customers. The business is compelled to sell products and services that customers want/need, at a price they are willing to pay, and provide an acceptable level of service, otherwise customers will look elsewhere and they will not make money.” 2

This ad shows a sunset behind the customer (king).

The sunset can represent the ending of someone’s life and “has always been associated with the symbol of death.” 3

Notice in the background that there is a pyramid.

The word “pyramid” is derived from the Greek words Pyramis and Pyramidos.  The meaning of the word Pryamis is obscure and may relate to the shape of a pyramid. 4

The word Pyramidos has been translated as "Fire in the Middle.” 5

Notice the large fire in this ad.  The flame appears to be touching the base of the pyramid.

It takes fire to light up a cigarette.

"The Egyptian sun god Ra, considered the father of all pharaohs, was said to have created himself from a pyramid-shaped mound of earth before creating all other gods. The pyramid’s shape is thought to have symbolized the sun’s rays" 6

“The ancient Egyptians first constructed pyramids to use as tombs for the kings and queens; their function later changed to be resting places for the souls of the deceased. Pyramid building was also later expanded to include pyramids built for non-royal (yet wealthy) individuals.” 7

In this ad, the pyramid represents the imminent tomb waiting for the death of the smoker.

The man in the above ad represents a king (pharaoh) whose future tomb (pyramid) lies in the background. 

Now take a look at this ad and see if you notice anything interesting:

The setting for this ad is twilight. 

Evening twilight is when “the sky generally remains somewhat bright and blue” 8 and symbolizes the “shadowy border of death.” 9

“Evening-light is associated with the West, symbolizing the location of death.” 10

The sunset in the West has always been associated with the symbol of death. 11

It is interesting to note that when the Pyramids were built, they were deliberately aligned east to west. 12

The camel is facing West.

Notice that the man is kneeling.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,  the original meaning of the act of kneeling was when a worshipper approached the realm of the underworld13

The Ancient Egyptians believed that after death they would go to the dark and terrifying place called the Underworld. 14


Seeing pictures of camels and pyramids in an Egyptian setting is not unusual for Camel cigarette ads. 

However, take a look at the following three different cigarette brands that have pyramids in their ads.


The above Parliament ad doesn't take place in an Egyptian setting.  Now, why do you think that a pyramid would be placed in this ad? 


In the above Benson & Hedges ad, a giant pack of cigarettes appears as one of the  pyramids (tombs).


Very interesting.  The above cigarette brand (Pyramid) is named after a "tomb."

The above three ads (Parliament, Benson & Hedges, and Pyramid) have pyramids (tombs) in them which symbolize the imminent graves for the kings (customers) of these cigarettes.

The association of pyramids with death is presented in a subliminal manner without immediate detection from the viewers of these ads.


Here is another Camel advertisement:

In this ad, Joe Camel is shown busting out of a pyramid (tomb).  This pyramid (tomb) cannot contain Joe Camel (representing Camel cigarettes).  However, the pyramid (tomb) will contain the dead king (customer).

As smokers around the world are buried and gone, the camel continues to march on:


In the United States, there are 443,000 annual deaths due to smoking. 15

This equates to about 1 out of every 5 deaths in the United States each year. 16

Worldwide, approximately one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco (one in 10 adult deaths). 17

“Tobacco has killed 50 million people in the last 10 years, and tobacco is responsible for more than 15 percent of all male deaths and 7 percent of female deaths.” 18

By 2030, the number of deaths from smoking and the chewing of tobacco will rise to 10 million deaths per year (worldwide). 19


  1. Interesting article, but I'm sorry to say you couldn't be more wrong.

    Advertisers (and more importantly, the devs themselves) use pyramids for 2 main reasons. 1: Symbol of power, the average consumer has no idea/doesnt care about it's association with death. To the average person, the pyramid shows power, and beauty, and wonder. 2: Pyramids, like other Simple visual geometry create perfect sight lines to control the movement of the consumer's eye as it traverses the ad.

    example: in the first ad, the pyramid shape along with the fire creates an arrow which points to the description/ sales pitch of the advert, while the sight-lines generated from the left side of the pyramid match the contrast of the mans arm creating a negative arrow pointing to the mans face / cigarette.

    THAT is the subliminal messaging of the first ad, not the kings and tombs and smoking kills bullshit that you're talking about. Your argument runs completely contrary to what the designers and advertisers are trying to do.

    So you're wrong.

    <3 Tainerif

    1. The model in the first two ads was featured in a Camel print ad campaign with many other ads. In this ad campaign, the ads with the pyramids in them have a sunset/twilight setting. The other ads in the campaign show the model in various nature settings in broad daylight.

      Why would the ads with pyramids have a sunset/twilight setting when all of the other ads in this Camel campaign have a broad daylight setting?

      Color psychology is used by presenting the pyramids in a sunset/twilight setting. As mentioned in this blog, there is a symbolic association with a sunset/twilight setting and the end of life, death.

      On a conscious level, you are correct in saying that the average consumer has no idea/doesn't care about a pyramid's association with death. However, at the subconscious/unconscious level, a pyramid is associated with death, especially in a sunset/twilight setting. In the above ads, the association of pyramids with death is presented in a subliminal manner without immediate detection from the viewers of these ads from a conscious standpoint.

      Also, a pyramid is a tomb made for a pharaoh. A pharaoh a type of king. This is common knowledge whether thought about consciously or not.

      The Dark Side of Subliminal Advertising takes a look at advertising from a subconscious/unconscious perspective.

      “Ads are not meant for conscious consumption. They are intended as subliminal pills for the subconscious in order to exercise an hypnotic spell,” - Marshall McLuhan

  2. What a bunch of nonsense.

    From someone who works in coming up with ads, I can tell you we're not psychologists. The man is kneeling because that's what menly men stereotypically do in the wilderness. It's twilight because twilight is pretty. It's lots of pyramids because you're showing predominantly Camel ads. Camels = Egypt = pyramids. Get it?

    Also the creatives who came up with the original idea probably figured they'd get a free trip to the pyramids if they made an ad with pyramids in it.

    See how easy this is?

  3. It is true that advertisers are not psychologists. Psychologists are consulted by advertisers. There is a strong relationship between advertising and psychology. Here are some great books showing the realtionship between psychology and advertising:

    1. The Psychology of Advertising - Bob M. Fennis, Wolfgang Stroebe
    2. Freud on Madison Avenue: Motivation Research and Subliminal Advertising in America - Lawrence R. Samuel
    3. Brandwashed - Martin Lindstrom
    4. Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy - Martin Lindstrom
    5. Why People Buy: Motivation Research and Its Successful Application - Louis Cheskin
    6. How to Predict What People Will Buy - Louis Cheskin
    7. Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing - Douglas Van Praet

  4. Complete hogwash! GOSH man you've got too much time on your hands! The man is an adventurer in an exotic landscape at a time when 'pyramid power' was all the rage. The implication is that if you light up a Camel Brand cigarette for those few moments you'll be enjoying the exotic taste of the smoke just like the exotic scents / smoke of those foreign lands.

    Good Lord you've got too much time on your hands!!

  5. I think the beauty of these ads is in the many ways in which they can be interpreted. I happen to think the article writer is correct in his analysis of these ads.

  6. Well it appears the writer has discovered a new way of advertising. Get the cigarette companies to tell their customers that using their products will kill them. What a novel idea, a sort of reverse psychology. I wonder if it will catch on?
    I'm convinced the author of this conglomerate of BS is himself (herself) in dire need of a psychoanalyst. He/She is exhibiting an obvious fear of death, possibly due to his/her Father dying a nasty death from cigarette induced cancer. There are very clear signs of sexual repression and a possible history of sexual abuse.
    See I can do it too. And I've read no books on the subject. Luckily there are very few cigarette ads these days, but still they continue to be sold albeit on a slowly declining level. Perhaps it's because all those smokers saw the truth in advertising. Tombs, death, sexual disorders, poor colour choices etc. etc.


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