Johnnie Walker Ad

“Sleeplessness, sweat, trembling, a groaning feeling of weakness where your arms are numb and useless, nightmares, (nightmares of death)...” 
- Jack Kerouac

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.

The Dark Side of Subliminal Advertising is a blog site that exposes the advertising technique of placing hidden (subliminal) imagery, ideas, 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:


The ad copy reads: 

"The road to success is paved with rocks.
Let us smooth them for you."


The first premise of the ad copy is that drinking scotch whisky will help an individual with the rocks (hurdles, obstructions, failures) that are encountered on the road to success. In other words, Johnnie Walker promises to smooth the rough ground (rocks) with scotch whisky.

Now, in the context of drinking scotch whisky, let’s look at two other meanings of the ad copy and the picture of the glass of ice cubes. 

In the business world, there are many social events and meetings where alcohol is available.  When Johnnie Walker scotch whisky is poured over ice, the ice cubes begin to smooth out as they dissolve in the glass.  The advertisers are stating that consuming scotch whisky is part of the road to success in business.

The road towards becoming a successful heavy drinker is paved with rocks (many alcoholic drinks over ice).  When Johnnie Walker scotch whisky is poured over ice, the ice cubes begin to smooth out as they dissolve in the glass.  Therefore consuming scotch whisky is part of the road to becoming a successful heavy drinker. 

COLOR PSYCHOLOGY - BLACK

Black is the color of choice for the branding of Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch.  According to color psychology, black is associated with elegance and class.1  However, there is another association with black.  According to color psychology, black is also the traditional color of feardeath and mourning.2

ROCKS = ICE CUBES

The common phrase “on the rocks” means serving a drink over ice.  Often the term is used when referring to a straight shot of liquor poured in a short glass filled with ice, ie. "I'll have a Scotch on the rocks.” 3  

The focal point of this print advertisment is the ice cubes (rocks) in the glass.  

Notice that there are only ice cubes in the glass, no alcohol is in the glass.  

Also, take notice that there are more ice cubes in the glass than what is needed

This print advertisement is very unique because other liquor ads do not show glasses without alcohol in them.  Also, other liquor ads do not show ice cubes falling out of a glass.

If you were to try and take a photograph of an empty glass of ice cubes to see if you can produce a similar result to the picture in this Johnnie Walker advertisement, you will find that you can’t.  That is because this picture of the glass and ice cubes is not a photograph.  It 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.” 4

This print advertisement is saturated with subliminal imagery.  Take a few moments and look at the ice cubes in the glass:


While looking at the ice cubes, do you feel a sense of serenity and peace?  Or, do you find the imagery rather disturbing?

Let’s take a look at some of the ice cubes in this advertisement.

Ice Cube # 1:
Do you see the image of a black dog in this ice cube? 


Here is an isolated image of the black dog:


Since this is a scotch whisky advertisement, this black dog is a Scottish terrier.  The Scottish terrier is a breed of dog that originated in the Highlands of Scotland.  Scotch whisky is malt or grain whisky that is only produced at distilleries in Scotland.

Here is a comparison of the image of the black dog with a picture of a black Scottish terrier:


Ice Cube #2:
Do you see an image of a monster in this ice cube?


Here is an isolated image of the monster:


This monster is similar to the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” with arms outstretched.  Notice the web shaped hand.


Ice Cube # 3:
Do you see an image of an eerie looking panda teddy bear in this ice cube?


Here is an isolated image of the eerie looking panda teddy bear, complete with a curly smile and a black circle for the left eye, compared to a picture of a plush toy panda teddy bear:


Do you see the black ace of spades above the panda teddy bear’s head:


“The Ace of Spades has been interpreted as the symbol of Death...which goes back to Mediaeval Italy.” 5

A spade symbol indicates death, misfortune, and personal loss.6

The spade represents “fall and winter and the power of darkness.” 7

In the Vietnam War, “soldiers left the Ace of Spades cards on fallen enemy soldiers to frighten surviving Vietnamese troops.”  Since the spade is the “death card”, the US Soldiers would place it next to the bodies of killed Vietnamese soldiers intending to use the card to frighten the enemy.” 8

Ice Cube # 4:
Do you see the face of a man screaming in this ice cube?


Here is an isolated image of the face of a man screaming:


This is a disturbing image of a man's face, with a gaping mouth, who is screaming in anguish.  A cataract is in the right eye and the left eye socket is black and empty. 

Here is a comparison of the image of the face of a man screaming with a picture of a man screaming:


It appears that the image of the screaming man's face is a negative image.  Here is a comparison of the image of the face of a man screaming with a negative picture of a face of a man screaming:


Other images have been reported as being seen in this Johnnie Walker advertisement:  ghost, vampire, ghastly face, man levitating, medicine man with tongue sticking out, witch doctor wearing ceremonial mask, bird head, alien, and skull.  

This advertisement presents to the viewers a glimpse into a heavy drinker’s hellish nightmare.

An individual is more likely to suffer from nightmares when they are taking drugs or alcohol.9

Here is a statement made by an individual concerning heavy drinking and having vivid nightmares:

“Lately I've been drinking maybe 5 days a week.  I don't get hangovers, nausea or feel like crap the next day...but I do have these incredibly vivid and animated dreams and nightmares.  I have never been one to "remember" my dreams or recall them very easily... but since my drinking habit has escalated they are not only very detailed…but also very easy to remember.

Sometimes they are cool.  Others are extremely disturbing…where I was drowning in a tsunami and woke up gasping for air and clenching my throat.

Others are just bizarre...sometimes very reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland; complete with talking animals, magical devices and other strange things.

Sometimes they have me convinced that I've died in my sleep and am in some kind of supernatural afterlife. Last night I could have sworn in my dream that I was dead; saying to myself over and over "Am I dead?" until I woke up.” 10

There is a physiological explanation for the vivid nightmares that some heavy drinkers may experience.

“Drinking alcohol takes its toll by suppressing all REM sleep for the first few hours of the night. By the time the alcohol wears off, you begin your REM-rebound, with vivid dreams that are more emotionally intense than usual.  This can lead to nightmares if you have any particular issues making you feel anxious.”11

“A 2005 study by Dr. Tore Nielson, director of the Dream and Nightmare Lab found that subjects deprived of REM sleep rated their dreams to be of higher quality.  And because this alcohol-induced REM rebound occurs during the latter half of our doze, and since we are easily aroused from REM sleep, we can often recall with lucid detail the vivid dreams from which we awake.” 12

It appears that subliminal nightmarish imagery has been placed in this print advertisement in order to reach the subconscious fears of the target audience (the heavy drinker).

The most common emotion experienced in dreams is anxiety and fear. 13





8 comments:

  1. As a Neuroscience and mental health student I find this really interesting but my question is that could some of the images not be a coincidence with maybe the angle at which the ice was placed or the way the light shines on the ice some of the interpretations are just too deep for me but overall interesting topic :-)

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    1. It would be a coincidence if this advertisement was a photograph. The truth is, this advertisement is a a piece of artwork with deliberate imagery imbedded. 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.”

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  2. Good article here but I'm not so sure I agree with your analysis. One would think subliminal messages embedded in alcohol adverts might contain hidden references to sex, or women. But I don't see the value in making potential customers ill at ease with all of this death imagery. What would be the purpose?

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    1. The purpose is to foster one of the two great principles that rule the human's psyche: death or thanatos (according to Freud's theories). The other one is life or eros, wich is related with sex, procreation, love, pleasure, survival etc.
      But how do this could influence someone to buy more whisky? The difficulty explaining this is that it doesn't exist a direct and explicit relation between the former and the latter. Very complex and deep mind procedures are involved and scientists have discovered them only after decades of studies and experiments.

      I suggest watching this wonderful documentary about subliminal advertisement.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bygwXLyWTSQ

      P.D.: I apologise for my writing capacity in this language.

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    2. It would make them afraid and anxious,and then they would want a drink.

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  3. This is all very ridculous and laughable. Amazing the ability of a few paranoids who can see danger and threat where theres no dange or threat at all. You mind is probably ill and negative to see so many negative images there. Don't try to spread panic. Instead have a holiday. Or go to a psychiatrist. Or better still drink a couple of glasses of Johnnie Walker and swallow a bomb and die.

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    1. your ignorance is showing.. you obviously have read nothing of the actual advertisers stating they do this...I mean, why contest something admitted by the perpetrators themselves? Im afraid your inability to accept it is what's "very ridiculous and laughable."

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    2. What's your problem, Anonymous? If you don't like being brain washed by advertisers, turn off your TV and radio and don't read any magazines. Television was invented to do this crap.

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