“Rats” Ad May Not Be Subliminal, UT Professor Says

Knoxville — The political commercial that flashes the word “rats” has reintroduced many Americans to the world of subliminal advertising.

Subliminal ads are images or messages that are too quick or too camouflaged to be consciously recognized by a viewer.

A University of Tennessee advertising professor said the “rats” ad may not fit this definition.

“Actual subliminal ads are banned, so when someone sees an ad and says it’s subliminal, they may be referring to something else,” said Dr. Ron Taylor. “If it’s truly below the threshold of recognition, then obviously no one would be able to recognize it. And someone has recognized it.”

The television ad was aired by the Republican National Committee, attacking vice president Al Gore’s prescription drug benefit plan. During the commercial, the word “rats” is briefly flashed on the screen.

Taylor said studies have not shown subliminal advertising to be any more effective than normal advertising.

“A person’s defenses and argumentation against subliminal images is the same as they have at a conscious level,” Taylor said. “So to think that people are being manipulated without their knowledge just doesn’t make any sense.”

The ad has since been removed from the air.