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Urban legend nips iiNet 'subliminal' campaign

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Australian ISP iiNet has pulled a TV advertising campaign after its two-frame “Easter egg” fell foul of this country’s advertising rules.

The ISP’s idea would probably win awards rather than criticism in a less po-faced country: once news escaped about the Easter Egg, thousands of viewers reversed their normal TV ad-watching habit, freeze-framing instead of fast-forwarding until they found the message:

“Wow. Impressive. You not only spotted this in our TV ad, you found a way to read it. That can’t have been easy. This whole page only lasted two frames. That’s less than one tenth of a second. Well done, sir or madam. We’re going to reward your awesome pausing powers with a little gift. Type this link into your browser: iinet.net.au/2framefreebie. And you can tell your friends. But let’s keep it to a maximum of a hundred, ok? And hey, watch for more two frame freebies in our next TV campaign.”

Unfortunately, there won’t be more “two frame freebies”, and this campaign has been pulled, because of this clause in the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice: “A licensee may not … use or involve any technique which attempts to convey information to the viewer by transmitting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness”.

If iiNet had decided instead to flog a dodgy weight-loss cure, the ads would still be airing. If it pretended it could cure impotence, ditto. If its advertisement offended some viewers, the outfit that enforces TV ad standards, Free TV Australia, may well have decided to do nothing at all. If it was telling outright porkies to try and forestall a new government policy, it might not only get to run its advertisement; the TV stations might also help it along by schooling their on-air presenters to give the campaign a push alone.

However, because of an urban legend born out of faked data from a 1957 experiment, not only is subliminal advertising banned, but it so spooks our regulators – the kind of people, apparently, to whom real science is a mystery but X-Files-level science is treated with “it might be true” seriousness – apparently took rapid exception to the iiNet campaign.

iiNet’s apology, penned by iiNet’s general manager of retail, is here. ®

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