Benson & Hedges (Airport)

“Advertisers pursue a change-behavior-by-inducing-anxiety objective by playing on consumer anxieties. The ads work through both thought and feelings.”
- Thomas C. O'Guinn, Chris T. Allen, Richard J. Semenik

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) imagery, ideas 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 print advertisement and see if you notice anything interesting:

The first impression of this advertisement is that the woman has been taken aside so that her luggage could be gone through for customs or security reasons.

The woman is holding what appears to be a passport in her hands.

There is no one in this area except for the woman and two men.

The questions to ask are:

1. Who would experience anxiety being in a room alone with two men who are complete strangers and who have the authority to search personal belongings? 

2.     Why isn’t a woman security officer in this room?

The message in this advertisement is so blatant that it is almost not subliminal.  However, since most people do not spend more than a couple of seconds looking at a print advertisement, the message is received subliminally by most viewers of this ad.

Take a look at the body language of the woman.

The message in this advertisement is loud and clear:  The woman’s privacy has been violated by the two men.


The woman’s personal belongings have been handled by the two men pictured in the advertisement.  The suitcase is still open showing her personal items in disarray.  A shoe and clothing are preventing the suitcase from being closed.  The woman hasn’t taken the time to shut the suitcase because she is in a state of shock.

In dream symbolism, luggage symbolizes your identity and sense of security.1

In this ad, the woman’s luggage (symbolizing identity and sense of security) has been clearly violated.


Take a look at the woman’s facial expression.  The woman looks like she is humiliated.  

Notice that the woman’s cheeks are flushed:

Flushed cheeks are caused by embarrassment, stress, panic, or shock.2


Now take a look at the man to the left of the ad:

His look is predatory in nature.  Predatory in this context means “seeking to exploit or oppress others.” 3

This man appears to be contemplating what his next move will be.

This ad clearly shows that a violation of some sort has taken place. 

The degree of violation is left open to interpretation.

Take a look at the following definitions of the word “violate” 4:

1.  to break in upon or disturb rudely; interfere thoughtlessly with: to violate his privacy.
2.  to break through or pass by force or without right: to violate a frontier.
3.  to treat irreverently or disrespectfully; desecrate; profane: violate a human right.
4. to molest sexually, especially to rape.

Most, if not all, women have a fear of violation on both a subconscious and conscious level.

One fear of violation involves sexual abuse.  Agriphobia is the fear of sexual abuse.  Why would people have agriphobia?  The answer is simple: sexual abuse is  a violation of trust and a violation of personal space.5

1 in 3 American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime.6

Common Reactions to Sexual Assault are as follows7:
Shock, disbelief, numbness
Intense emotions; anger, fear, anxiety, depression
Extreme worries about safety
Inability to remember details about the assault
Difficulties sleeping, nightmares; fear of the dark
Feelings of being "damaged" or violated
Memories of previous trauma


After 911, increased security measures have taken effect at airports.  Questions have been raised concerning whether or not airport security protocols (TSA regulations) violate the personal privacy of the people flying.  Airport security Pat Downs has become a very controversial subject.

For some people, the TSA security checkpoint is a giant source of anxiety.8

Tens of thousands of passengers are submitted to patdowns and full-body scanners every day. More than 300 full-body scanners are being used at 65 airports across the country.9

ABC News release an article entitled “Is TSA Security Patdown Sexual Molestation?”10

The TSA has taken heat for its controversial pat-down procedure, which has been described as "sexual assault," "abuse," and "invasive" by perturbed travelers and organizations such as the ACLU.11

The uproar has been so strong that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole Monday defended the new practices saying such moves are necessary to protect the flying public.12

Previously, TSA screeners were required to use the back of their hands when searching sensitive regions. The enhanced pat-down rules allow them to use their palms and fingers to feel, twist, squeeze, and prod passengers.13

For many men, women and children, this "enhanced pat down" is a traumatic experience.14

Some have compared the pat down procedure to sexual assault.15

One blogger wrote of her experience following a pat-down, "I began shaking and felt completely violated, abused and assaulted by the TSA agent." 16

Former Miss USA Susie Castillo recorded her reaction to the TSA pat down, which brought her to tears.17

One passenger proclaimed, “When I left the security screening yesterday, I didn't feel safe. I felt violated, humiliated, assaulted, and angry. I felt like I never wanted to fly again. I was so furious and upset, my hands shook for quite some time after the ordeal was over. I felt sick to my stomach for hours.18

And it's not just passengers who are upset with the searches. Pilots are speaking out about the searches, with one going so far as to say he felt sexually molested, and vomited in his own driveway while contemplating going back to work, and being subjected to another patdown.19


"Sexual assaults by officials acting under color of law can happen in jails, during traffic stops, or in other settings where officials might use their position of authority to coerce an individual into sexual compliance. The compliance is generally gained because of a threat of an official action against the person if he or she doesn’t comply."20


A fear of violation is presented in this specific advertisement towards women smokers.  The fear of violation is presented in this advertisement in order to the increase the anxiety level of women smokers.

This fear of violation is presented at a subliminal level since most viewers of this print advertisement will pay little attention to the ad.

The goal of the advertiser is to heighten anxiety levels so that the sales of cigarettes increase.  

The target is the unconscious minds of women smokers.

Why would the advertiser want to increase anxiety levels?

Smokers use cigarettes for many reasons, but many report that they smoke to relieve anxiety, despite the health danger of cigarette smoking.21

The belief that smoking is stress relieving is pervasive.22

Nervous people smoke more than other people.23

Nicotine creates an immediate sense of relaxation so people smoke in the belief that it reduces stress and anxiety. This feeling of relaxation is temporary and soon gives way to withdrawal symptoms and increased cravings.24

Anxiety disorders are debilitating and omnipresent, and women are twice as likely to suffer as men, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.25


Here is some information, from the Anxiety Control Center, concerning the operations of the unconscious mind:

“Many of these fear reactions come from the unconscious part of the mind.  One reason for this is that the unconscious mind holds all of your emotions from every event in your life.  It is as if there is a video recording of every memory or event that has emotion attached to it.  So at times when fear hits, seemingly “from out of the blue,” it is because one of those old repressed memories has been triggered.  The fact that you aren’t aware of the trigger makes it even more frustrating, because it then feels out of your control.

Many memories attached to emotions such as, embarrassment, grief, sadness, shame, anxiety or anger are repressed or pushed down into the unconscious.  It is almost as if the child’s mind is saying “I can’t deal with this now, so I’ll push it away till I’m older and I am able to do something about it.”   So there you are, an adult and up comes a feeling of fear or anxiety that was attached to the long forgotten memory.  

Unfortunately most of the time we aren’t aware of the memory itself, only the feeling that gets pushed up into consciousness.  And it seems as if the feeling comes from out of the blue.  One thing I have found is, there is always a trigger, even if it is too small for you to notice consciously. Something always triggers emotions.  The trigger can be a thought moving so quickly through your mind that you don’t notice it, it can be a scent, a song on the radio, or even the tone of voice someone is using.” 26

The trigger can also be a print advertisement like the one presented in this blog entry.


  1. Oh dear ! From a humorous picture of a woman sitting on a suitcase we suddenly have:
    She been sexually molested.
    The Customs official is a monster.
    She been patted down.
    She's embarrassed, stressed, anxious and in shock.
    She's been violated by both the men.
    She's in a room ? Looks more like the custom's table to me. hardly a "room and it's extremely unlikely there's nobody else around.
    The customs officials are responsible for the disarray. it's not that she can't pack a suitcase.
    She won't sleep well.
    The TSA are sexual molesters.
    She's angry.
    She has repressed memories (don't we all?)

    They say "Conclusions are there to be jumped at" You Sir (or Madam) should enter the Olympics. You're jumping is world class.

  2. I'd say the above analysis of the messaging in the ad is rather spot-on. Having worked in the ad business myself, I know that there is a specific set of objectives for an ad to fulfill. Here, one objective to reinforce the sense of vulnerability that attractive women feel, even if they are professional and refined as the one in the ad is portrayed to be. The second objective is to reinforce the sense of protective, reliable well-being that smoking can supply - the nicotine rush, the ritual, the sense of empowerment - that offers relief to this sense of vulnerability. The third is the value of the "crush-proof box," that serves as a metaphor for the both the woman's inner strength and the protection and relief offered by the cigarettes. With this box, she's crush-proof. Or, with so much about her that's delicate, at least one thing is crush-proof. In a few minutes, she'll be past these creeps and into the international terminal where she can light up and enjoy a menthol 100 from her crush-proof box, and oh, won't that make everything right. Go out and buy a pack today.