A 1973 effort to brainwash children into buying a rather uncool board game.
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of subliminal messaging in advertising – while most research suggests that it has relatively little to no impact on whether or not someone will buy a product, it may influence brand choices, and as such, it is widely banned from commercials. In truth, it has only rarely been used at all, and the most notorious case was in 1973, when the technique was included in a commercial for the Pressman Toy Corporation’s board game Hūsker Dū?.
A rare instance of a European board game being imported to the American market without a name change or any other significant changes, Hūsker Dū? – which is Danish for Do You Remember? – is a memory based game that has proved surprisingly resilient as a format despite seeming rather dull, launching in the 1950s and still on sale today. The idea of remembering where images appear and then matching them is also a popular computer game format.
Sold as both educational and fun, Hūsker Dū? nevertheless found itself in trouble in 1973, when a commercial aired during the Christmas season, which featured the words ‘Get It’ appearing in subliminal tachistoscopic cuts. Given that the entire sixty second commercial was designed to make you want to buy the game, it’s hard to see what possible difference a subliminal message link this would make even if it worked, but nevertheless, when people became aware of it (and the problem with subliminal images is that they are never so subliminal that they can’t be seen) complaints were made to the FCC and FTC. Part of the problem was that the ads appeared in children’s TV slots, and no one is keen on the idea of big corporations secretly brainwashing kids. The FCC called the ads “deceptive and contrary to the public interest” and they were quickly pulled. An over-enthusiastic employee was blamed for the ‘mistake’, though few believed that. Ironically, the fuss brought more publicity to the game, which might have been the idea all along – who is to say that the tachistoscopic message and the complaints were not all part of a carefully planned publicity stunt?
Of course, the lasting legacy of Hūsker Dū? has been to inspire the band of the same name (using umlauts instead of diaereses). Sadly, the band were not caught up in the backward masking hysteria in the 1980s, thus robbing us of a subliminal double act.
Here’s a commercial – sadly not the banned one, but with a voice over by Mean Gene Okerlund.