Advertising experts are divided over whether iiNet's latest ad campaign contains subliminal messaging in breach of the communications regulator's rules.
The telco embedded a two-frame message, which appears for less than one tenth of a second and can only be read when the TV is paused, in its latest ads around naked DSL and iiNet's BoB2 product.
The text contains a URL and the first 100 to visit the page were given a free iiNet gift pack. These have now run out after word of the message was circulated on web forums like Whirlpool, but iiNet is now giving away five iPads in a random draw.
Advertisement: Story continues below
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said it had yet to examine the ad to determine whether it broke subliminal messaging rules. It would only do so if it received a complaint.
However, the Free TV Commercial Industry Code of Practice says licensees must not broadcast ads which “use or involve any technique which attempts to convey information to the viewer by transmitting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness”.
Ten, during its ARIA awards program in 2007, was the last broadcaster to be pinged by ACMA for subliminal messaging. The program was peppered with subliminal ads for KFC, Bigpond, Toyota, Olay and Chupa Chups.
“iiNet's ad probably does break ACMA rules around subliminal messaging,” said Tiphereth Gloria, digital and social media strategist at George Patterson Y&R in Sydney.
“They're more likely to be aware of the risks but they've chosen to do it consciously, knowing either way it's a win-win.”
She said there were two scenarios, either only the nerds see the message and then spread valuable word of mouth about iiNet's products on forums such as Whirlpool, or the ad gets banned, in which case iiNet receives even more free publicity as people would watch the ad just to see the subliminal frames.
Iain McDonald, creative director and founder of digital marketing agency Amnesia Razorfish, said he did not believe the ad was a case of subliminal messaging as the content itself, given that it is a slab of text, “could not be digested subliminally”.
“Whether it breaches regulation is another question but it seems that reading the message is only possible if a person uses a pause button in this instance and at that point it is obviously no longer subliminal,” he said.
“My opinion is that iiNet are trying to innovate and have some fun with the audience, not manipulate them directly.”
The Communications Council, the peak body representing marketing agencies, is examining whether the ad breaches subliminal messaging rules. However, the issue is so unprecedented that the council said it may not have a firm view until next week.
An iiNet spokesman said the people who bought its products were marketing savvy and saw through traditional pitches, so the company's last few campaigns have taken a “tongue-in-cheek approach”.
“The competition in this ad was a fun way to reward our fans while poking fun at the outdated notion of subliminal TV advertising,” the spokesman said.
The hidden message read: “Wow. Impressive. You not only spotted this in our TV ad, you found a way to read it. That can't have been easy. This whole page only lasted two frames. That's less than one tenth of a second. Well done, sir or madam. We're going to reward your awesome pausing powers with a little gift. Type this link into your browser: iinet.net.au/2framefreebie. And yes, you can tell your friends. But let's keep it to a maximum of a hundred, ok? And hey, watch for more two frame freebies in our next TV campaign.”
McDonald said the campaign could have ongoing benefits as “once word has spread through viral and media people may start associating iiNet ads with embedded hidden rewards and potentially pay more attention and be less likely to skip”.
But on the same token, he said consumers did not like to be manipulated, “not even for a micro second”, and there would be a “backlash” if iiNet was found to have breached subliminal messaging rules.
Gloria said subliminals in TV and cinema advertising had been around since the 1960s, mainly in the US. She said it was “not a transparent, ethical or genuine way of advertising” but it had never really been proven to work either.
“What iiNet have done here is taken the talkability factor related to 'easter eggs' - technology (gaming, programming) techniques of adding fun, hidden features only accessibly by keyboard hacks or lateral thinking – and brought them to an old medium, TV,” she said.
Many advertisers are trying to get around the fact that so many people skip ads. Australian TV networks have been increasingly including advertisements inside the program content itself.
In Britain, advertisers are creating ads that are designed to be viewable at up to 12 times normal speed.
The ads feature lingering shots of brands, logos and famous characters linked to products.
“They say that when viewing on fast forward, you actually pay more attention because you want to catch the moment the show starts again,” wrote Scott Goodson, founder of global advertising agency StrawberryFrog, in a blog post earlier this year.
Chris Coughlan, director of research consulting at analyst firm Telsyte, said he thought iiNet's campaign was smart advertising.
“iiNet wouldn't have Telstra's deep advertising pockets, and this ad will fly through the social media channels and generate much more interest than if it was just a standard TV spot,” he said.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/iinets-easter-egg-may-breach-subliminal-ad-rules-20111026-1mj4a.html#ixzz1btln37jP