Russians bombarded with subliminal ads

MOSCOW -- Deep within a Russian television advertisement for a local beer, Klinskoye, lurked a split-second message for another thirst-quencher: Pepsi.

An image of Palmolive Fruit Essentials soap was there and gone in a blink on the NTV television network. Young viewers of Russian MTV unconsciously absorbed marketing messages for Secret deodorant, the New Musical Express newspaper and the Red Hot Chili Peppers album, "By the Way."

In fact, according to Russian scientists, subliminal television advertising, although illegal in Russia, is strewn across the airwaves.

Russian television stations insist that they have no way of knowing whether video material provided by advertising agencies contains subliminal messages. Advertising firms and the companies whose products appear in subliminal messages deny any involvement.

"There are very many cases. I'm surprised by the quantity," said Svetlana Nemtsova, deputy director-general of the All Russian Research Institute for TV and Radio Broadcasting, a state agency.

"There are channels that are impossible to watch," she said, referring to the amount of subliminal advertising broadcast. "There are channels that don't overdo it, and there are channels that don't do it at all."

She declined to list the offenders.

But time is running out for them. Nemtsova and other Russian scientists at the broadcast institute have developed equipment to trace subliminal messages that will constantly monitor Russian TV airwaves by the end of the year.

Nemtsova said the institute hasn't pursued TV stations for breaches. That would be the role of the Ministry for Press, Broadcasting and Communications after the device goes into operation.

"We're still testing this device, but we can see what outrages are going on," she said.

Issued warnings

The broadcasting ministry issued a joint warning in June to television stations to stop using subliminal advertising. Those caught could be removed from the air or fined, it warned. Two years ago, ATV, a television station in the Siberian city of Yekaterinburg, was banned from the air for two months after being caught bombarding viewers with the subliminal message to keep on watching it.

Representatives for Procter & Gamble and Pepsi denied knowledge of any cases of subliminal advertising. A spokeswoman at Colgate Palmolive in Moscow said no one was available to comment.

Nemtsova said that her institute built its new detection device, known as ODSV-1, at the request of the broadcasting ministry and that it took four years to develop.

The device actually casts almost too wide a net. Not only does it capture subliminal images, but also frames with poor focus or quality, and blank frames filled with black, white or another color.

Some images are perplexing. In a clip aired on MTV, the body of a woman wearing a T-shirt bearing the word "porn" was superimposed with a man's head.

"What is that? Something incomprehensible. I don't even know what it's supposed to be!" Nemtsova exclaimed, before showing a string of other cryptic subliminal images in video material bearing the MTV logo.