Skip to Main Content

LOS ANGELES — A throat lozenge company says the commercial it wants to run during NBC’s Golden Globes broadcast Sunday is a goof on subliminal ads, but the network isn’t buying it.

According to Pine Bros. chief executive Rider McDowell, NBC has rejected the ad as out of bounds.

“This is clearly a parody of a subliminal ad, and the audience is in on the joke,” McDowell said in a statement. “It’s almost unbelievable to me that the network that produces ‘Saturday Night Live’ wouldn’t understand satire.”


NBC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Subliminal messaging involves images or words that last just a fraction of a second on the screen and, in theory, might influence a viewer without his or her awareness.


The California-based company’s 30-second spot features a pair of marionettes bouncing to a backbeat and the refrain, “It went like this.” There are some 10 flashes of largely indecipherable images sprinkled throughout.

A screen grab of one reveals a cheesy-looking alien face and the words, “You Are About to Lose Control of Your Human Brain. Do Not Resist.”

McDowell has run into network resistance to a cheeky commercial before. In 2005, Fox rejected a Super Bowl spot for Airborne, a product McDowell co-developed, that featured a brief flash of Mickey Rooney’s rear when the actor dropped his sauna towel.

In a letter last month to NBC, an attorney for Pine Bros. asked the network to reconsider airing the spot during the Globes.

“The only way the ad could be considered ‘subliminal advertising’ is if the viewer actually believed that space aliens from a non-existent planet had taken over the television and their brains and were coercing them to buy Pine Bros. Throat Drops,” attorney Paul W. Reidl wrote.

NBC was unmoved, according to Pine Bros. The company provided a letter it identified as from the network and saying that “subliminal perception techniques are not allowed when the content includes a sales pitch.”

An NBC account manager suggested that the company substitute another spot featuring Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, Pine Bros. said.

In Federal Communications Commission statements released over the years, the commission has noted it has no formal, enforceable rules on subliminal messaging but called use of such techniques “contrary to the public interest.”

The Federal Trade Commission has indicated that subliminal ads violate its statute requiring truth in advertising — but only if such ads work, which the FTC says isn’t the finding of consumer behavior experts, according to entertainment industry attorney Jonathan Handel.

“Perhaps there’s a subliminal message embedded in these confusing regulatory pronouncements, but if so, it’s not working. I think,” Handel said, dryly.

— Lynn Elber