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Subliminal advertising for Desperate Housewives during FlashForward

September 28th, 2009 at 11:58pm

It took me three viewings to notice this, but there was what appears to be a subliminal ad for Desperate Housewives during the premiere of FlashForward, which screened on Seven this evening.

I was actually trying to check something on the television screens shown in a store window while Mark Benford was on his way to the hospital, but I let the video run and that’s when I noticed it. In the background while Mark is talking to his wife on the phone, a stationary bus comes in to view briefly, and on the side of it there is a banner which advertises Desperate Housewives, and contains the ABC America logo. I was watching the ABC footage at the time so I wasn’t overly surprised by this, as ABC were carrying watermarks promoting Desperate Housewives for much of the show, even at the time the banner briefly appeared.

Desperate Housewives banner in the background on FlashForward

I then became curious to see if this was an ABC-only thing, or if it carried through to the syndicated version of the show. As I didn’t have a recording of what aired on Seven tonight, I resorted to the Seven website which just happened to be carrying the full episode, and sure enough, there it was, ABC logo intact.

Desperate Housewives banner in the background on FlashForward

I count the banner appearing in 19 frames, however it is only fully visible for five frames, or one fifth of a second.

This raises the question of whether Seven were aware that the ad was in the show…I believe that they probably were, as the offending scene appears at the 17:41 mark of the ABC version and the 16:57 mark of the Seven version, which indicates that Seven may have edited the show. It’s also possible that they simply received a cut-down syndicated version of the show, although why there would be a need to cut bits out of the show for syndication, in the case of this show, is beyond me.

Regardless, Seven are responsible, as a broadcast licence holder, for what they put to air, although whether the regulator ACMA would deem this to technically be a subliminal ad is hard to say. Based on previous rulings…probably not.

It’s ruled that a two-frame flash like this… is ‘near the threshold of normal awareness’, and therefore outlawed.

But a three-frame flash – like this… is ‘at or above’ that threshold.

And in ACMA’s world, something that is at or above the threshold isn’t near the threshold.

So that this Yaris flash, which appeared later in the ARIA broadcast and lasts six frames, doesn’t breach the Commercial TV Code of Practice, and is perfectly OK.

So a five frame ad is most likely to be “at or above the threshold of normal awareness” and therefore not in breach…despite the fact that it took me three goes to notice it. Maybe that means that I am below the threshold of normal awareness?

Illegal or not, I still think it’s grubby, and that ACMA’s previous rulings are ludicrous at best, mainly due to the fact that, for ACMA to take any notice of such things, somebody has to first complain to the TV station and then to ACMA, and if they do that, it means they noticed the ad and are therefore aware of it, which kills off notions of the ad being “below awareness”, despite the fact that most people won’t have noticed it.

Where the threshold should be, I don’t know. But what I do know is that it should be much higher than two frames.


Entry Filed under: Samuel's Editorials,TV/Radio/Media

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  • 1. Clayton Northcutt  |  October 13th, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Can’t be too subliminal *if you actually noticed it*.

  • 2. Samuel  |  October 14th, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I’m using the the bizarre definition of “subliminal” used by the Commercial Television Codes of Practice:

    near the threshold of normal awareness

    I only noticed it on the third viewing, and even then didn’t register what it actually was. I had to go back and check over it.

    It’s not the dictionary definition, but it is still a dodgy form of advertising.


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