Which way to go now?
I think to myself, if I go left down this road,
there’s the risk of death and destruction.
A life edged with fear and high adventure.
Of course the possibility of total ruin.
But would I be able to spend all time, eternity,
in the safety of a place without the promise of a thrill?
And this is how it all began.”
- “Crossroads” (Johnnie Walker Commercial)
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.
This month’s blog entry will feature a commercial for Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky. This advertisement epitomizes the essence of the Dark Side of Subliminal Advertising.
The Johnnie Walker commercial can be seen at this link:
“CROSSROADS” JOHNNIE WALKER AD
“You’ve reached a crossroads in your journey.”
The beginning of the commercial features a man standing at a crossroads in the desert.
Notice the warning signs behind the man that suddenly appear out of nowhere:
“Which way to go now?”
A light blue car is driven up to the man and the driver slows down to offer the man a ride. Notice the look of concern in the driver’s eyes and facial expression:
Also, notice the warning signs behind the light blue vehicle:
The man immediately turns down the offer for a ride, by the driver of the light blue car, by waving his hand for the driver to continue on.
The driver leaves the man behind. As the car leaves, the man at the crossroads shakes his head to the left and right as if meaning “no way.”
Take a close look at the bumper stickers on the light blue vehicle:
The light blue car symbolizes "playing it safe".
Light blue is associated with peace, tranquility, quiet, pure, understanding, health, healing. 1
The bumper stickers portray the driver as a person who “plays it safe.” He is very careful to be cautious and to avoid taking any risks.
The sign that reads “Child on Board” is underneath the sign that reads “School Careful – Slow Down.” This shows that the driver is a family man with at least one child.
One bumper sticker has the name “Jesus” on it, showing that the driver is a conservative Christian.
This driver of the blue car represents a person who does not drink hard liquor.
The man at the crossroads wants nothing to do with this driver’s lifestyle, so he immediately rejects the offer to “play it safe and not drink hard liquor.”
Also, the warning signs on the roadside corners are sending the message, to the viewers of this commercial, to avoid going down the road of “playing it safe by not drinking hard liquor."
“I think to myself,”
The man at the crossroads is standing next to a large heart that says “Love You":
Suddenly, a white car driven by a woman pulls up alongside the man:
“if I go left”
After the word “left” is mentioned by the narrator of this ad, the woman is seen looking directly at the man. With a nod towards the passenger side, she invites the man to take a ride with her in the white car:
There is tremendous symbolism involved with the decision to “go left”. In this commercial, to make a decision to go left means choosing to go towards the “left hand path” on the crossroads.
The left hand path represents the “path of evil, maliciousness and danger.” 2
“The left has become nearly universally shunned. The right has been associated with all things good and pure whilst the left has been shunned as unholy, evil and relegated to inferiority.” 3
“down this road,”
The man approaches the passenger side of the car (the left side of the woman). As he starts to get into the car, this shot of the woman’s profile is seen:
The woman has transformed into someone or something else:
The woman’s skin turns very pale compared to the initial appearance of the woman. Notice the line along the woman’s neck looks like a seam. Also, the woman's hairline on her forehead has holes in it like a plastic doll’s head would have for artificial hair.
“there’s the risk of death”
This picture of the woman appears when the narrator says, "there's the risk of “death”:
In some cultures, the right path / left path symbolism means, “right is good, is life, is divine; but the left is female, bad, evil and morbid.” 4
“Pythagoras set out in his Table of Opposites that the right hand side, male; lightness, was the opposite of the left hand side that was female, and darkness.” 5
The right side was considered “to be godly, representing life; the left side is dedicated to demons and the devil, representing death.” 6
When the woman looks directly at the man, he backs away from the car, alarmed at what he sees.
In this commercial, this woman is a spirit of death.
Hard liquor is considered a “spirit” (distilled liquor).
Before the woman shows up in the car, the man is standing next to a large heart shaped object with the words “Love You” on it. This represents the love that the man has for hard liquor (spirits).
By consuming too much hard liquor, there is a risk of death, especially if an individual becomes a heavy drinker or an alcoholic.
Overconsumption of hard liquor can transform distilled liquor into a “spirit” of death.
When the narrator says the words “and destruction” the woman drives away in the white car leaving the man behind.
The color of white, on this car, connotes cold, isolation 7 and also death. 8
After the woman drives away, the man at the crossroads becomes surrounded with flying debris:
The frame of a car is beginning to form from the debris:
“A life edged with fear and high adventure.”
A man is seen driving the car as the car begins to take form from the debris:
The orange car, formed from the debris, pulls up to the man at the crossroads:
The color of orange, on this car, is used to draw attention – such as the caution signal on a traffic light. 9
Caution serves as “a warning against danger or evil.” 10
The driver of the orange car offers the man at the crossroads a ride:
At first, the man at the crossroads likes this offer:
“Of course the possibility of total ruin.”
Soon however, the man at the crossroads notices that there are police cars chasing the driver of the orange car:
As the police cars drive by, the man at the crossroads looks into the windows of one of the police cars and here is what he sees:
The mouths of the policemen are megaphones:
The police cars pass the man at the crossroads in pursuit of the driver in the orange vehicle:
The driver of the orange car has cheated death. This is represented by the reverse order where the orange car is totally destroyed and then transforms back to its original condition.
Since the driver has cheated death, the police are chasing the man in order to claim back his soul which should have been lost in the accident. The policemen are, in effect, Death’s enforcement agents.
This is a similar theme to the Final Destination movies. In these movies, Death chases the people, who have cheated death, in order to claim back their lives which should have been lost in the first place.
The mouths of the policeman are shaped like megaphones because they are calling out to the driver of the orange car that there is no escaping death. Megaphones can call out in a range as far as 1500 feet.
These policemen are spirits of death.
As mentioned previously, hard liquor is considered a “spirit” (distilled liquor).
It is shocking that a car accident occurs in a hard liquor commercial.
By drinking and driving, there is the risk of death.
When drinking is involved with driving, distilled liquor can become a “spirit” of death.
According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion.” 11
“US adults drank too much and got behind the wheel about 112 million times in 2010. Alcohol-impaired drivers are involved in about 1 in 3 crash deaths.” 12
In 2010, there were 10,228 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities (out of 32,885 total fatalities in motor vehicle crashes). 13
A survey of 178 countries finds 30 to 40 percent of road deaths are caused by alcohol. 14
“But would I be able to spend all time, eternity,”
The beginning of sunset:
The man at the crossroads is contemplating a decision as it gets darker outside.
“in the safety of a place without the promise of a thrill?”
In the darkness of night, the man at the crossroads makes a choice to go down the road of hard liquor consumption, with all the risks that drinking hard liquor entails.
He makes this choice instead of choosing to play it safe “in the safety of a place without the promise of a thrill.”
“And this is how it all began.”
The viewer of this commerical has the power to choose what kind of drinker they want to be:
2. Moderate Drinker
3. Binge Drinker
4. Heavy Drinker.
Jean Kilbourne, who is the Chair of the Council on Alcohol states the following two comments:
1. “It frightens me still to realize how deeply alcohol advertisers understand the precise nature of addiction and how deliberately and destructively they use their knowledge” 15
2. “Recognizing this important marketing fact, alcohol companies deliberately devise ads designed to appeal to heavy drinkers. Advertising is usually directed toward promoting loyalty and increasing usage, and heavy users of any product are the best customers. The heavy user of alcohol is usually an addict.” 16
Drug policy reform expert Pete Guither writes, “So do alcohol companies do any marketing to heavy users? Sure. It isn’t changing the use of alcohol, only what brand is getting the larger share of the market.” 17
The top 5% of drinkers of alcohol account for 42% of the nation’s total alcohol consumption.18
About 17.6 million Americans abuse or are dependent on alcohol. 19
Globally, the “harmful use of alcohol results in the death of 2.5 million people annually, causes illness and injury to millions more, and increasingly affects younger generations and drinkers in developing countries. 20