Remember subliminal advertising? One of the books that exposed it is Subliminal Seduction, by Wilson Brian Key. The examples in the book use the eternal themes of sex and death to sell products. According to the book, imagery evoking these two themes appears in advertising (often deliberately inserted), thus linking commercial products to humankind’s essential preoccupations.
I don’t know if the word “sex” is being embedded in ice cubes to sell vodka any more. It seems kind of akin to thinking that you’ll hear secret messages by playing Led Zeppelin backwards. But there is no question that big alcohol, big ag, big pharm, and other such corporations are more successful when they avoid straight talk about what they do. Scenes of beautiful landscapes with maybe some kids or a couple walking hand-in-hand are equally useful to sell health insurance, financial planning, energy companies, or mood stabilizers. Subtle is better, subliminal might even be best. And now we hear that Scotts Miracle-Gro is looking at different ways of presenting its marquee brand.
According to an article in the New York Times last week, the company is focusing on community gardens, family members passing along plants, birds, butterflies, tomatoes, and more. No more plants becoming bigger and better like magic any more, and barely any mention of the actual product. As a creative director explains:
“You can’t get people into the category through functional benefits because they’re not even growing yet,” Ms. Skelly said. “We had to shift the conversation from what we’re doing for plants to what we’re doing for people.”
It makes total sense. That’s how gardening products should be sold—through convincing people of the joy of gardening, which has nothing to do with what you pour into the soil or spray on a plant. Ad agencies have long known that pictures of the Grand Canyon look better than oil pipelines and a cowboy riding the range is far more attractive than a cigarette smoldering in an ashtray.
You have to wonder what took them so long.