“As an individual becomes aware of subliminal phenomena, the shock may cause him some initial physical or emotional discomfort — possibly even concern over his sanity.” –Wilson Bryan Key, Subliminal Seduction: Ad Media’s Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America,1973
Are you being sexually aroused by this condo ad? Being the big geek that I am, I find it impossible to look at this Crossroads condo publicity shot without thinking about the work of Wilson Bryan Key. Back in the 1970s, Key was part of a rat pack of media studies professors, back when media studies was so cool it could get you a role in a Woody Allen movie.
In his time, Key made his mark as the whistle-blower on the use of subliminal messages in advertising. His book Subliminal Seduction is a manual on how to protect oneself from “media rape” (his words) by identifying the hidden sex messages in everyday ads. Despite its questionable academic merit, the book is a blast to read simply for Key’s obsessiveness in detecting naughty bits everywhere. (Is that an ice cube in the martini glass or the towering shadow of a rhinoceros penis?)
Bunk or not, Key’s techniques offer a fun way for us to look at the Crossroads ad. Consider the obsession with long bottles, both on the store shelves and in the firm grip of the man’s hand. Think too of the man’s “bottle” and its perfect alignment with the woman’s breasts. Is this a simple condo ad or is it telling us something more?
I’ll say this much: This is a Rennie condo ad and it wasn’t created on a whim. It involved time and planning. Choices were made, models were posed and a final image was selected. The people who did this were paid to do it, and probably paid pretty well. A hack job it is not. Key’s writing may be over the top, but he isn’t the only one with sex on his mind.