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Reading the Blipverts between the lines

Reading the Blipverts between the lines

On Tender

This issue’s column is being composed on an Empire Aristocrat which, for those born after the 1970s, is a typewriter.

Why? The local transformer box caught fire so I’m out of power for a day.

The Aristocrat is my ultimate DR plan, and my fingers are the UPS. The sound of the keys bashing the paper has faint suggestions of some kind of genius in motion. However, the reality is that a machine without a delete feature is bound to increase the use of swear words typically reserved for the terraces of the Arsenal soccer club.

This machine does something that reminds me of two of my favourite screen stars: Arnold Swarzenegger and Max Headroom. Max had a previous life as an investigative journalist who discovered TV was using subliminal advertising or "Blipverts", which caused some people’s heads to explode. He was subsequently chased down by corporate thugs and crashed head first into a height restriction sign. His brain was regurgitated by doctors into a computer program that had only one memory, which was the last thing he saw. Hence his name, Max Headroom.

Max and Arnold both share subliminal messages. The ex-gov once hit back at a fellow politician with a letter containing an acrostic that read “F**K YOU” running down the left margin. My manual typewriter has empowered me with control of the left margin, something that often changes if you email text or use various versions of Word etc. Your vertical message could get completely lost in the auto word wrap.

A quick round robin on the subject of acrostics gleaned this reply from an esteemed CEO who wishes to remain nameless. “A guy I worked with once submitted an internal requirement specification to the steering committee for approval and for a laugh he inserted, in the middle of the doc, a random page from an IBM technical manual on a completely unrelated subject. Not one person commented on it, which I guess is some kind of reverse subliminal message.”

The people I contacted who were judges of tenders said they had never heard of Blipverts or subliminal messages on tenders. But then that’s the whole point, you’re not suppose to notice them consciously. And if they had noticed them would they admit that the winning contract was the perpetrator of the blipvert? It’s a bit like the FedEX arrow that you can only see after someone tells you it’s there.

Is it illegal? TV advertising is covered by the Broadcasting Standards Act and the board of the BSA has very limited powers of prosecution with tiny fines of a few thousand dollars. This has been tested a few times but gone nowhere, because the ads (in one instance by Tui) weren’t judged harmful. For the record, “Broadcasters should not use the process known as ‘subliminal perception’ or any other technique which attempts to convey information to the viewer by transmitting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness.”

“Should” not, but it doesn’t mean they don’t. Do a YouTube search for ‘Iron Chef, subliminal’ for a laugh.

But, there is no law at all which prevents subliminal imagery being embedded in the type face, within the margins or hidden somehow within a watermark or part of the background of an image used in the communications or in PowerPoint presentations between company entities, corporate bodies or government departments.

Dr Ben Wooliscroft At the University of Otago School of Business, department of marketing says, “One of the researchers we know, from Austria, puts words like 'honest' into seemingly abstract art outside public toilets, where the patrons are expected to give a donation to the toilet keeper. With the invisible abstract art donations go up over the same situation with a truly abstract painting. Generally investigated under the name of 'framing' rather than subliminal advertising, it certainly changes behaviour and the consumers aren't aware of it. There's no reason to think it wouldn't work with tenders - unless it was discovered, then it's likely to lead to a reverse effect. After all the corps and govt should be seeing the [FedEx] arrow, graphs, etc. for what they are. Of course, they're probably not... But, stupidity isn't illegal.”

So, like Arnie, I believe the smaller more agile companies should and can fight back in the same way, with the gloves off. If you can find a way to insert a subliminal message that positively reinforces your company’s deal or something that somehow tells the reader that they should chose you, then go for it, take that step and use whatever tools you can. In the meantime I look forward to composing more acrostic messages with my Empire Aristocrat. To quote my friend Arnie, “I’ll be back.”

Note: This text contains no intentional acrostic messages.


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