Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Device to Track Subliminal TV Ads

LATSvetlana Nemtsova watching a subliminal television ad that was detected by the new device.
Deep within a television ad for Klinskoye beer lurked a split-second message for another thirst-quencher: Pepsi.

An image of Palmolive Fruit Essentials soap was there and gone in a blink on NTV. Young viewers of MTV unconsciously absorbed marketing messages for Secret deodorant, the New Musical Express newspaper and the Red Hot Chili Peppers album, "By the Way."

In fact, according to scientists, subliminal television advertising, although illegal, is strewn across the Russian airwaves.

Television stations insist that they have no way of knowing whether video material provided by advertising agencies contains subliminal messages. Advertising firms and the companies whose products appear in subliminal messages deny any involvement.

"There are very many cases. I'm surprised by the quantity," said Svetlana Nemtsova, deputy director general of the All Russian Research Institute for TV and Radio Broadcasting (VNIITR), a state agency.

"There are channels that are impossible to watch," she said, referring to the amount of subliminal ads. "There are channels that don't overdo it, and there are channels that don't do it at all."

She declined to list the offenders.

But time is running out for them. Nemtsova and other scientists at the broadcast institute have developed equipment to trace subliminal messages that will constantly monitor TV airwaves by the end of the year.

Nemtsova said the institute hasn't pursued TV stations for breaches. That would be the role of the Press Ministry and Anti-Monopoly Ministry after the device goes into operation.

"We're still testing this device, but we can see what outrages are going on the air," she said.

The ministries issued a joint warning in June to television stations to stop using subliminal ads. Those caught could be removed from the air or fined, it warned.

Two years ago, ATV, a station in Yekaterinburg, was banned from the air for two months after being caught bombarding viewers with the subliminal message to keep on watching it.

Professor Grant Demirchoglyan, an expert on biology at the All Russia Institute for Physical Culture and Sport, a state agency, even suggested that terrorists could use subliminal images to "zombify" targets, adding that it was possible that "psychotropic" viruses could be transmitted subliminally through computer screens to damage the human mind.

Demirchoglyan said it would require repeated viewing to compel a viewer to act but that "any evil intention can be transmitted subliminally."

Representatives for Procter & Gamble and Pepsi denied knowledge of any cases of subliminal advertising. A spokeswoman at Colgate Palmolive in Moscow said no one was available to comment.

Natalya Kolmakova, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, which makes Secret deodorant, said the material aired for journalists at the broadcast institute must be "either some mistake or else some prank."

Alexander Shalnev, spokesman for PepsiCo Holdings, raised the possibility that Klinskoye might have inserted a hidden advertisement of Pepsi into its own beer commercial but acknowledged that such a scenario made no sense. "I don't even want to comment on this because it doesn't make any sense," he said.

Sergei Vasilyev, director general of ad agency Video International, said he knows of no cases of subliminal advertising.

"If it's proven and published, it would be a horrible scandal," he said. "I think the damage they might incur dwarfs the extra sales they could get."

Sergei Khudyakov, director of the advertising sales department at NTV Media, said it's impossible for TV stations to detect subliminal ads. "Even though this practice is considered illegal, why not use it, since there is no way of detecting it? They know they will always get away with it.

"The use of hidden inserts is known to be effective. Any normal company would do it."

Nemtsova said her institute built its new detection device, known as ODSV-1, at the request of the Press Ministry and that it took four years to develop.

The device actually casts almost too wide a net. Not only does it capture subliminal images, but also frames with poor focus or quality, and blank frames filled with black, white or another color.

Nemtsova showed a computer disc for the advertising industry that extolled the virtue of ads that bypass conscious thought. One section described how to advertise using hidden television messages. The maker of the disc, like many CDs and videos bought in Moscow, was anonymous.

When the detecting device begins work at the end of the year each station should install it to check the quality of the material being broadcast, Nemtsova said.

"Factories that make vodka or sausage check the quality of their products," she said. "People who show video materials should be responsible for checking the quality too."