Guest Column: Subliminal advertising – at least we can understand the message |

Guest Column: Subliminal advertising – at least we can understand the message

Rats. Bureaucrats. Democrats. Technocrats.

Who ya gonna blame for the “subliminal” message in George W. Bush’s campaign advertisement that got pulled off the air because it flashes the word “RATS” across the screen while Al Gore’s Medicare plan is being denounced.

The explanation: It’s just the last four letters of the word “bureacrats” as it bounces onto the screen in a flashy bit of advertising graphics. If you pause the ad, you can see a little bit of the “c” as well. But it clearly focuses on RATS while superimposed over a picture of Gore.

Bush called it “bizarre and weird” that anyone would suggest the Republicans – hereafter referred to simply as the ‘Cans – would try to send a subliminal message about the ‘Rats.

Alex Castellanos, who made the ad, said it was just a coincidence that part of the word came up onto Gore’s face.

“It’s a visual drumbeat,” he said. “People get bored watching TV.”

That’s true. And they were just unlucky that RATS was the part of the word that showed so clearly. It could have been UCRA, or REAU, or some other unintelligible string of letters. Shucks.

If that had been the case, it would have been just like most of the other commercials on television. I can’t make heads or tails of ’em.

There was a day when people watched television for the programs. There were situation comedies, and variety shows, and sports, and movies, and so on.

Today, as Mr. Castellanos pointed out, people get bored watching TV. That’s because the programs are boring.

Why did “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” become such a big hit? Was it Regis? Was it the tagline, “Is that your final answer?”? Was it the money, or the sweat on the contestants’ faces?

No. It was a game show. Plain and simple. A little better than, say, “Family Feud” and not quite up to the standards of “The Price is Right.”

Millions of people around the country tuned into “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and said to their spouses: “Look, honey. It’s a game show. Let’s watch this. It has to be better than that other crap on TV these days.”

Same thing with “Survivor.” What was it other than a soap opera – a bit more exotic than “Dallas” and a better plot than “Young and Restless?”

See, the trick is to not call them soap operas. That way, people who would not be caught dead watching “General Hospital” can go ahead and tune in without feeling guilty.

So with all that boring television going on, people now tune in to watch the advertisements – or so we are led to believe.

Yes, they can be entertaining. The acting is superb, the writing is sharp and the directing cutting-edge. So what if we don’t have a clue what they’re talking about or, more important, what they’re trying to sell. Hey, they’re clever.

Here’s an example: The commercial about herding cats. It debuted during the Super Bowl, and it has recently resurfaced. A funny commercial, at least the first time.

But I challenge anybody out there to name the company it is promoting. Or what they do. Or where they are. Or how to get ahold of them.

Apparently, they herd cats. So, next time one of my cats disappears, I might be tempted to call them instead of the city’s Animal Control Department.

If you want to see the George W. Bush “RATS” commercial, go online to It’s a repository for all kinds of ads, some of which you’ve seen and some of which you haven’t

After watching the ‘Cans apparent non-attempt to label Gore as some kind of vermin, be sure to check out a couple of Budweiser spoofs.

On the Web site’s Top 100 list, right after a real Budweiser ad, is a hilarious parody of the “Wazzup” series in which a bunch of grandmothers get on the telephone to share their rapport while watchin’ the game and havin’ a Bud.

Also on the site, if you haven’t seen it already, is the “Budwanker” parody of the same ads. In this case, a bunch of clueless white guys try to get down with it.

You can also check out’s current Top 10. For some reason, most of them have some kind of sexual theme. Imagine that.

No. 1 on the list is the Coke advertisement titled “Best Friends” in which two girls proclaim their enduring friendship, only to drop into a cat fight the minute one of them realizes the other didn’t bring the Coca-Cola.

“I never liked you,” says one.

“Because I’m prettier than you?” retorts the other.

Yeah, that one.

That commercial bothers me because it’s part of an apparent trend by Coca-Cola to show that people deprived of the company’s particular brand of soft drink will instantly turn violent.

The worst, of course, is Grandma at the family reunion. Rolling along in her electric wheelchair, Grandma finds out there is no Coke at the reunion.

“What?” she croaks. “I’m 101. This is probably the last time we’ll get together. We were supposed to get Coca-Cola!” She then proceeds to destroy the picnic with her motorized battering ram.

Whatever happened to, “I want to bring the world a Coke,” in peace and harmony?

We’ll never expect peace and harmony in presidential political ad campaigns, will we?


Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.

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