Australian Political Party's Terrible "Subliminal Messaging" Actually Genius

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 21 2012 3:31 PM

Australian Political Party's Terrible "Subliminal Messaging" Actually Genius

clp-jerk-off-ad

Do you want to flee the U.S.’s grindingly negative campaign ads? Just make sure you don’t head for Australia. In a recent TV spot, the Country Liberal Party in the land of Oz’s Northern Territory turned to rude subliminal messaging to discredit Paul Henderson, the Territory’s chief minister and a member of the rival Labor Party.

As coded messages go, this one is pretty unsophisticated. In the ad, an optometrist’s eye chart appears—but instead of the traditional jumble of letters and numbers, it spells out HENDO IS A JERK OFF GET RID OF HIM. Tabling my surprise at seeing “jerk off” used as a noun for the first time since seventh grade (couldn’t they have thrown in a hyphen?), I’m actually not even sure the dig counts as subliminal. According to psychologist Vance Packard, a subliminal stimulus affects only the unconscious mind, yet this spot likely hits viewers above the threshold of awareness. Perhaps it’s more of an Easter egg.

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But perhaps the lack of subtlety was the point. A truly subliminal message might not have made much of a difference in the race. But this ham-handed approach, so easily spotted, made the commercial easy fodder for the blogosphere, bringing the “HENDO IS A JERK OFF” message well beyond the Northern Territory’s election.

The CLP altered the ad yesterday after Australians cried foul. But the commercial’s message will live online forever. Sorry, Hendo.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer.