Subliminal Advertising

Subliminal advertising became an issue in the 2000 presidential election.
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On September 13, 2000, two U.S. Senators, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon and John Breaux, D-Louisiana, requested the Federal Communications Commission to provide an "immediate and impartial" review of the Republican National Committee's allegedly "subliminal" "RATS" ad. The Senators reportedly told FCC Chairman William Kennard that a review of the controversial ad would be in "the best interests of both political parties, and all Americans."

It had been shown that when the ad was slowed down, the word "RATS" appeared briefly while a voiceover criticized Vice President Al Gore's prescription drug plan as one in which "Bureaucrats Decide." Republican presidential nominee, George W. Bush, told reporters that he believed the appearance of "RATS" in the advertisement was accidental. Indeed, Governor Bush said that he was "convinced" that the advertisement was not meant to send a subliminal message.

The so-called "RATS" ad had run over 4,000 times in 33 markets nationally for about two weeks. The ad reportedly cost the RNC over $2.5 million. The ad has been pulled from the airwaves.

Alex Castellanos is the person who created the allegedly subliminal ad. He denied that it was intention to create a subliminal ad. He called it a coincidence that the letters that appeared first spelled out the word, "RATS."

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) apparently has no regulation barring subliminal advertising per se, such ads are considered by FCC to be "contrary to the public interest."

On September 15, 2000, FCC responded to the controversy by writing to Television executives asking them about the controversial "RATS" commercial containing the allegedly subliminal message. Essentially, the letter asked the execs whether they knew that the word “RATS” flashed on the screen for a split-second. And, if they did know, FCC wants to know "the facts and circumstances of your decision to broadcast the advertisement.” The FCC letter was sent to 217 TV stations which may have aired the ad.

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Actual cases involving so-called "subliminal advertising" are, in actuality, few and far between. Nevertheless, one recent federal district court case did involve the allegation of subliminal advertising. (Rickel v. Mountain Valley Television Corporation, et al., No. C-96-1033 DLJ, United States District Court for the Northern District of California, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19961, November 27, 1996.) Click here now for a summary of this case.

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