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Does 'subliminal synergism' trick magazine readers?

The yellow glow from a porch lamplight in a cigarette advertisement is picked up in the yellow banner headline across the article on the opposite page. . . . The purple border from a Kellogg's cereal ad is repeated in the purple headline on the opposing page. . . . The light-blue jogging suits of models in a Bell System telephone ad match the light-blue headline across from it.

You're not likely to notice this use of color as you leaf through New Woman magazine. But it's a new advertising technique called ''subliminal synergism.''

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New Woman uses it to tie editorial content to advertisements. Readers, supposedly, will unconsciously take the cue. Magazine officials proudly announced this to the advertising trade press as a way for advertisers to get two pages of advertising for the price of one.

Tucked back on Page 63 of the June 14, 1982, issue of the trade magazine Advertising Age is this blurb on New Woman magazine's dip into the unconscious:

''(Subliminal synergism is) a technique whereby the dominant color or colors of a four-color ad page are picked up on the page opposite as a color-coded tint block behind a headline. They say the harmonious colors thus cause reader eyes to move automatically from editorial to ad.''

Sound harmless enough?

Ellen McCracken thinks otherwise. Even though she says women's magazines are already notorious for boosting brand names in their stories and columns, that's an overt, obvious connection between editorial content and advertising. She calls this new technique a ''covert'' connection.

In her upcoming book on women's magazines, Ms. McCracken estimates that with subliminal synergism and other forms of ''covert'' advertising, women's magazine comprise 95 percent advertising.

''But this is one of the first times a magazine has come out and said it was doing this (subliminal synergism) to attract advertising,'' she says. In the same way that high school and college English classes dissect books to discern their real meaning and effect, Ms. McCracken urges a look at hidden meanings in mass media.

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''What I'm trying to do is give women the tools for analysis of the magazines and what's going on in them, so we can tell the magazines what we want,'' says Ms. McCracken. ''We can't help but be more intelligent if we know what's going on,'' she says. ''We're more in control of our lives.''

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