Subliminal Sex Messages On Movies And Cartoons

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You heard of secret messages hidden in commercials or movies that make you want to buy things…or think dirty thoughts.

Well, prepared to have your conspiracy bubble burst.

Because all those subliminal sex messages everyone thought was riddled across media, aren’t quite what we think they are. (Or accurate).

Let’s look at the truth behind it all…


This is what started it all…

A guy named James Vicaryclaimed he put quick flashes of images that said “eat popcorn” and “Drink cola” during a movie.

He then claimed popcorn and soda sales went through the roof.

However, we find out that later that the guy confesses to lying (after he’s forced to recreate the experiment – then can’t – because it never existed in the first place).


This kind of approach was tried years later in controlled lab experiments. And guess what happened?

The test subjects DID want more of whatever product the lab coats were pushing.


To recreate the same conditions in a commercial setting was far too “delicate.” Which means it’s pretty much impossible to splice in frames of MacDonald’s fries into my movie and then have me buy some – or sneak in frames of pornography land make me want to go out and engage in orgies (thank you Fight Club).

It’s the colorful images and “action-packed, fun-to-be-had” promises 

that sells toys, not hidden messages

The problem was – the truth about the popcorn came too late.

The gullible public had already bought into the idea. And the concept has been forever engrained in our consumer psyche.


For example:

A wine store playing German music might see an increase in sales for German wine. The same goes for French music and French wine sales.

Or, you see a Pepsi can in whatever movie scene. Then if you’re asked which drink you want (Pepsi or orange juice) you’ll probably want the soft drink.


The “want” already needs to be there – and it needs to be pretty soon after you’ve seen the image. Even then, it’s not 100% going to make you buy it.

No amount of subliminal advertising will make a non-thirsty person want to go out and buy a drink.

How about air conditioners?

No amount of blue toned set design is going to make you want to shell out hundreds for a cooler room temp.

FUN FACT: Subliminal messaging in advertising is actually highly frowned upon in many countries and ILLEGAL in many others.

But, what about this…

“We’re just as excited as you.”

What we are dealing with is clever advertising tactics that use psychology – but not in a subliminal way.


Yes. And no.  The first two examples are ones that do NOT work.

Associating the word “come” with a splurging fountain is a bit of a stretch. No advertiser was sitting at his desk thinking, “let’s find something ejaculating to sell more holidays”.  Also, 99% of people don’t even see the word “sex” on the soda can. It was simply a stylized spelling of “Pepsi”.

For most products out there, finding the word “sex” in smoke, grass, hair, water, ice etc. is just a Rochache effect.

The image above is a randomly generated inkblot test. If I tell you to find the word sex, you will. Even if it wasn’t actually put in there.

And as for placing a hot, nearly naked women in an add to make you want to buy it … that tactic might take attention away from the actual product.

So, in most of these cases, a sexual theme within an ad doesn’t work


This Magnum Light Chocolate example does work…

The sexual theme was delivered in a clever yet OBVIOUS way.

And, it’s this cleverness that makes people remember the brand – which is the key to advertising (aka brand recognition, so when you’re faced with a future purchase, you’re eye will go to that one over the competitors).

It’s brilliant.

But it’s NOT subliminal.


Sex may have sold faster than the newest iPhone – but this was decades ago, or longer, and only because it wasn’t as prevalent in the media.

A pack of playing cards with naked women on them would have sold madly in the 1800’s. Now, it would be commonplace at any bachelor party.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, advertisers understood that the sexual line between success and public backlash is very thin.

We’ve gotten so used to seeing sex everywhere, that unless it’s delivered in an AMAZING way (or in such a bad way, it’s still amazing), we won’t take notice.

Instead, advertisers have found the population reacts far stronger to social issues like immigration, poverty etc. Even Victoria Secret has included “personals” with each model talking about their workout routines, feelings


I want to drop kick everyone that calls these subliminal sex messages.

They’re not.

The just hidden images for prank/joke purposes… and most of them aren’t true.

FOR EXAMPLE: The word “sex” doesn’t appear in the Lion King.  It’s actually SFX – a homage to the graphics department.

Also, Aladdin doesn’t say, “Good teenagers take off your clothes.”

It’s, “Good tiger. Take off. Scat. Go!”

The two voice actors were apparently very religious people. So, it wouldn’t have been an Easter egg they would have thrown in.

As for The Little Mermaid … the priest with the erection – yeah, we all know that one.

Nope. The animator insists the only “joke” is that the guy is really short and has to stand on a box – and that lump is his knees.


I don’t want to burst your Disney bubble completely, so here are a few easter eggs that ARE true…

The Rescuers did have an image of a naked woman (a Playboy centerfold) in a window. But it was taken out later when the new executives got wind of it.

The funniest part? Everyone ELSE knew.

Here are some quotes from Disney employees:

  • “If somebody had asked an artist, he would say, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a naked picture in there. I mean, the Playboy centerfold. Everybody knows that…’
  • Everybody who was in animation knew about the centerfold. But nobody asked us,” added Disney animator, Sito

In Who Framed Roger Rabbitredhead sexpot, Jessica Rabbit, DID appear without underwear for a couple of frames.

Although no one admitted to putting it in, Sito explains…

  • “You know in pre-video and pre-VHS and VCR and stuff, people used to put little inside jokes in films because things were running at 1/24 of a second,” said Sito…
  • “So you say, ‘Well, nobody’s seeing anything.’ … And then so [cartoonists] will do that as a joke. But really since the modern age of playing back stuff and everything, they look at everything now, even the old films. They’ll go frame by frame, and they’ll pull those questionable things out all the time.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There you have it. The urban legend of “subliminal marketing.”

What are some of your favorite “sex sells” advertisments? Share in the comments!