Advertising agencies can be pretty sneaky in their efforts to market products. From subliminal messages to large-scale marketing campaigns, it’s a safe bet that almost every method has been used in an attempt to sell you something.
Often, there are hidden messages or images hidden in the advertisements themselves. These can vary between suggestive words, evocative images, and clever statements about the company that aren’t always clear from the beginning. Of course, not all hidden advertising messages are nefarious, with many acting as simple easter eggs by the artists.
We’ve put together a list of 20 of the sneakiest hidden messages in advertising, from witty, obscure posters, to hidden tidbits in famous logos that you might never have noticed before.
20. Three Green Bottles
Unless you’re particularly filthy minded, this image of three green bottles from a beer ad seems fairly innocent at a glance. However, rotate the image 180 degrees and it’s a whole different story.
19. Bear In The Mountains
One of the more easily recognisable logos on this list, the Toblerone logo also conceals a sweet little homage. Look carefully at the mountain and you’ll see a bear standing on two legs, in reference to the chocolate’s town of origin.
18. The Text Cyclist
The Tour De France has been going since 1903, and has become the most prestigious cycling event in the world. Take a close look at the logo, and you’ll see that the ‘OUR’ and orange circle make up an image of someone riding a bicycle.
17. Mickey And Crossbones
Pirates of the Caribbean was somewhat more ‘mature’ than their usual output at the time of its release. Despite this, they hid a reference to their most well-known mascot in one of the film’s most widely used promotional posters.
16. Dollar Lettuce
We’re starting to get into very sneaky territory now. This notorious KFC ad features a tiny dollar bill hidden in the ‘Snacker’s lettuce, in a subliminal message reinforcing the budget price of the sandwich.
15. Hairy Armed Lady
Initially, this Palmolive ad just looks like a typical ‘shampoo photo’ of a lone woman sitting in the shower. However, the male arm closest to us is certainly not her own, suggestive of more than what the advertisement shows at first glance.
14. Crusty Bread
Ok, this one isn’t particularly sneaky. The day this bread advertisement was given the go ahead is the day subtlety in marketing died. Gotta give the ad agency props for being so ballsy though. See, we can be unsubtle too.
13. Owl Eye ‘O’s
While this logo is totally innocuous to children or the particularly innocent, for those aware of the Hooter franchise it’s clear what the eyes on the ‘o’s really indicate. Hint: it’s not a reference to the delicious food that the waitresses serve.
12. Suggestive Dancers
Considering this is an advertisement for ‘Junior Jazz Dance Classes’ we’re not sure that the people printing the advert realised how suggestive the two ‘dancers’ in this image are. For those not seeing it yet, just imagine the space between the dancers is a torso, and their heads are… well, we’re sure you can figure out the rest.
11. Not Just A Reflection
Other than looking hideously dated, it doesn’t initially look like there’s much to see in this old Benson & Hedges ad. Take a look at the area that the man is grabbing on the woman’s back though. Looks pretty phallic right? We’d be willing to concede that it might just be an odd reflection were it not for the ‘soft pack’ and ‘hard pack’ references.
10. Arrow In The ‘Ex’
This is a great example of a simple yet informative hidden symbol in a famous company logo. The gap between the ‘E’ and ‘x’ forms the shape of an arrow, indicating that the company are fast, efficient, and progressive.
9. Convenient Skittle Placement
We’re not entirely sure on the reasoning behind this one, other than a cheap way to grab people’s attention. The ‘S’ on the red Skittle is positioned in a way that makes it look like the flavour is ‘Berry Sexplosion’. Probably tasty, but certainly not tasteful.
8. Dirty Ice Cube
This infamous Coke ad from an Australian campaign featured a hidden illustration that went unnoticed for over a year. When Coke realised that one of the blocks of ice contained shapes suggestive of fellatio, they sued the original artist.
7. A to Z
Similarly to FedEx, Amazon’s logo also features a nice little reference to the service the company provides. The orange arrow underneath the text points from A to Z, indicating the huge amount of stock that the online retail giant offers.
6. Just Watching Some Liftoffs
This perfume advertisement might be one of the most distasteful (and totally 90’s) pieces of marketing ever. And that’s before you notice the rocket on the computer screen, firing directly upwards into the young lady’s unmentionables.
5. Fun On The Beach
Ahh, a nice day at the beach, looks like everyone’s having a wonderful day of innocent fun! Wait, why is that man’s head there? And what’s he doing with that paddle? And what’s that going on in the background? If there was an award for visual innuendo, this ad would win it by force of sheer quantity.
4. ‘T’s Enjoying A Snack
Our favourite example of ‘people in the letters’, Tostitos manages to show off exactly what you’re meant to do with their product within the logo. The two ‘T’s are shaped like people sharing a tortilla chip, while the ‘I’ handily holds the dipping salsa.
3. Heads Getting In The Way
For those unfamiliar with this sci-fi magazine, no, it isn’t actually called ‘SEX’. The front covers have become famous for covering up the ‘F’ in ‘SFX’, particularly when there’s a photo of a particularly attractive woman featured.
2. Hidden Skull Ladies
A hidden image within a hidden image. The back of the moth from the poster for The Silence Of The Lambs features what looks like a skull on its back. Look even closer though, and it becomes clear that it’s actually a group of posing naked women; a reference to artist Salvador Dali’s “In Voluptas Mors”.
1. The F1 Marlboro Barcode
The F1 Marlboro Bardcore incident is clear evidence that tobacco companies are the sneakiest in the world when it comes to their advertising. Following the banning of tobacco advertising at many country’s F1 racing events, Marlboro decided to get creative with their sponsorship of Ferrari.
For a time, the Ferrari F1 car prominently featured what appeared to be a red, black and white barcode. However, when zooming around the track, the ‘barcode’ blurred, becoming very suggestive of the famous Marlboro logo.
Although the barcode was removed after pressure from the press and racing community, Marlboro and Ferrari has denied that advertising the tobacco company was their intention. Check out our blurring of the image above, and let us know what you think.