Monday, September 04, 2006

Subliminal advertising in spam?

Nick FitzGerald sent me a great example of subliminal advertising in a spam message. At least that's what he thinks the spammer might have been up to. The spam contains an animated GIF with four frames. One of the frames (which contains the actual spam message) remains visible for 17 seconds. The other three frames are displayed for 10ms or 40ms, and each of those contains a little random noise and the word BUY in random positions.

Was the spammer really hoping to make us fall for his pump and dump scam with a quick flash of BUY on screen?

Here's the actual GIF with the animation in place (watch out you might be forced to BUY :-)



And there are the four separate frames:

10ms
17s
40ms
40ms

Labels:

56 Comments:

Blogger Justin Mason said...

FWIW, this evolution has been happening in lockstep with a SpamAssassin OCR plugin's development; I think it's one spammer, responding to the new filter.

It's a bit of a silly response, really -- now the presence of the animation bits in a GIF file header means 100% spam. ;)

10:05 AM  
Blogger Richi Jennings said...

See another example. I call it a blipvert, but I'm an old Max Headroom fan.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is hardly subliminal. I can read the short frames without any problem.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly I don't have a problem with it. Obviously they are trying to get people to "Buy BUy BUY!!!" so how is that subliminal? I think it's just an artistic ad. Maybe I'm an idiot.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is hardly subliminal. I can read the short frames without any problem."

DUH! Might want to buy a much faster 'puter then...

SCNR

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Evil said...

SCNR said:

"DUH! Might want to buy a much faster 'puter then..."

-----
This GIF, and most others for the last 10 years uses delay information to show the frames for a specific number of seconds. It's not really dependent on your computer speed.

The time for which they are displayed is well within the bounds of conscious human perception:

I can read them fine in Firefox on an AMD4400x2 processor (running at 6% utilization) with nVidia 7600GT video card.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are really looking for 17 seconds at that message, then you have most probably other problems ;-P

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> DUH! Might want to buy a much faster 'puter then...

Dunno about the original poster, but I'm running an Athlon64 and had no trouble seeing it.

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have FireFox with AniDisable extension set to 'once'. I just see one of the frames.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as far as i know there is no proof whatsoever that subliminal stuff works

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with those saying this is hardly "subliminal." Just someone trying to get attention, no big dea.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Edward Virtually said...

I agree with the theory that it's an artistic ad and a somewhat amusing one at that. With the spammer response to defeat the SA OCR plugin theory being my next choice. The delay is not short enough to be truely subliminal, and I don't think this is due to client limitation. Can you see the subliminal message in this one? :-)

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hardly, I just upgraded my computer and I could see the frames quite easily.

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

buy!

11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

justin martin said It's a bit of a silly response, really -- now the presence of the animation bits in a GIF file header means 100% spam. ;)

There are still a fair number of "fun" animated GIFs floating around and I'm sure folk still Email them to each other to some degree. I note the smiley, but on the serious side, I think taking "has animated GIF [only]" as a "100% spam" indicator is likely to result in unacceptable false positive rates (think Incredimail and all those other sources of animated emoticons, "avatar" iamges and the like).

Hmmm -- on second thoughts, maybe that wouldn't be so bad after all... 8-)

12:43 AM  
Blogger Frootcakeuk said...

I gotta say, this is a very old method of so-called subliminal messaging. With a stable video stream that the user has no immediate control over (namely T.V) this might have SOME effect (albeit very little) but for today's age i beleive this is either an attemp from somebody with little or no experience of such things or simply a joke to get people hyped up about. If it's the former or the latter then shame on you!! MOST people aren't that stupid nowadays with each day more becoming aware to these type of things! And those who aren't would surely know someone who does! I'd say nice try but it's not really is it? just a scummy attempt at a scammy advert! Grow up!

1:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the guy above me.

You are an idiot. ANyone could see 2 40ms frames in a row with relative ease.

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A faster computer? The 'BUY BUY!' goes on for 90ms, almost 1/10 of a second. Human vision is much more perceptive than that.

2:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An overclocked A64 3700+ to 2.85 Ghz, can see it no prob. Perhaps you need a browser what plays them new fangled annie, er, annie gifts

2:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From another article, one of the images is up for several seconds (the main ad), another is up for 40ms (BUY you can see), and yet another is up for 10ms (the subliminal one), with another 40ms frame of the same inserted between the 17sec and 40ms frames. Probably hoping no one would notice that one of the blips is only 10ms...

3:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I receive these ads all the time in my mail box. I really wonder why they keep at it since most of these stocks are crap or false.

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You all do just realize that this company did something to make us stare at their ad for 17 seconds, ensuring that we read at least part of it out of boredom?

This is just free hype for them.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Manni said...

ANyone could see 2 40ms frames in a row with relative ease

The trick in getting something to be "subliminal" is not to make it display as short as possible. In fact, the term "subliminal" gets this all wrong. To prevent conscious perception of a visual stimulus, you need to display a mask after the stimulus. Timing is crucial, but the point is not to display the stimulus as briefly as possible.
In this case, there is no real mask and that's why most people can easily see the target stimulus.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you need a framerate of over 50Hz for subliminal messages not to be noticed. ideal is 63Hz.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really can't see what the BUY BUY BUY fuss is all about

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A faster computer? The 'BUY BUY!' goes on for 90ms, almost 1/10 of a second. Human vision is much more perceptive than that.

Actually raw human perception rate is about 10Hz. Not taking into account the effect of persistancy caused by the biological elements involved and the effect of the brain. You can see stuff faster than 100ms (0.1s == 10 Hz) because when you "acquire" for 100ms, you'll "catch" a part of the 10ms stuff which will get blended on the "normal" picture. Then the brain "de-blurs", filters and reads.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This got me interested in the effectiveness of subliminals - turns out the original 'eat popcorn/drink coke' researcher (James Vicary) fabricated his research and this study is often cited as evidence that subliminals are effective.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subliminal_message#Effectiveness
http://www.csicop.org/si/9204/subliminal-persuasion.html

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SMOKE.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous ebow said...

Looks almost superliminal to me (a la the Simpsons: "Hey you! Join the Navy!").

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably the spammer doesn't quite get the concept of subliminal and this was their best shot at it. No one said spammers were that smart at more than what than getting around filters.

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate you all.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not subliminal, or at the least, a poor attempt at subliminal advertising. i thought subliminal ads were illegal in the US though? (course, spam's not really reputable anyway).

11:10 PM  
Blogger Jasper said...

He should've spliced a single frame of pornography into it instead, that would've caught my attention.

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It worked with me. I bought.

3:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess you're making a big fuss about this, probably the stupid spammer wanted to make a little flashier email and ended up with this crap.

4:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang.. I tried to BUY and it didnt work?? I want to buy, I like to buy.. NOW I NEED TO BUY!!!!!!

4:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that is sad...

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
> DUH! Might want to buy a much faster 'puter then...

well, even on my c64 a 40ms frame is a 40ms long frame.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Anber said...

I get to work with Affiliates (A.K.A spammers) a lot and one thing is for certain, they are not the most tech-savvy people out there.

This is just one spammers idea of trying to be subliminal, but the medium he chose is not the best to conceal his hidden message. It’s annoying and obvious what he is trying to do, and it will piss people off.

Then again, look at all the interest that this gif are generating.

5:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was taken under the russian theory of the (25th?) frame, yeah?

That was a pretty half assed effort, and quite a half assed filter bypass.

10s "Buy your mother flowers"
(10ms) "and a condom"
(10ms) "I faked your mother good"
~d00fy - http://eld00fy.spaces.live.com/blog/

5:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can so many of you have such lousy humor?

The cat who said you need a faster computer was KIDDING, ya bunch of whiny nerds.

It was a modest joke, but really you guys are the ones I'm laughing at.

This has been a Public Service Announcement. That will be all.

5:33 AM  
Anonymous george said...

This is as far from subliminal as it can get. anyone ever done an animated gif knows that IE doesn't do less than 70ms (100ms?) frames on animated gifs. You need 40ms for a standard 25th frame. Additionally, this one contains two frames.

Last, blipverts are seen as "making you click it" just because the damn thing wouldnt stop distracting you anyway.

6:41 AM  
Anonymous EPT said...

It's about grabbing your attention. It's got nothing to do with subliminal advertising. Jaded netizens mentally filter out constantly or periodically moving components of webpages. This gif is a steady image that relatively rarely animates. You will notice the movement in a previously immobile part of a webpage.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A better technique could be to use the text (first frame) as a background and superimpose "BUYBUYBUYLOLZ!" (or some other variant) over the body frame- as it were. and a fading in/out (still fast) would give it more of a subliminal look.
Hey, it's an art form for some...

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Bichi said...

Richi, you're such a whore. 'See another example' you post, with a link to your site. But it's not another example - all you've done is steal this guy's story.

Richi, you suck. Not just literally as we all KNOW but in the qualitative sense of having no redeeming social characteristics whatsoever.

You really really SUCK.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous web design uk said...

haha I've had that spam e-mail. That 'Buy' stuff doesn't work I hope!

9:41 AM  
Anonymous G Ullible said...

where can i buy this animated gif technology? I really really want to buy it.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous James Heinrich said...

I'm fairly certain this has nothing to do with subliminal messages. When these types of spam GIFs first appeared last month, the initial frames of the animation were simply chickenscratches, not text. I'm pretty certain it's an attempt at counteracting antispam OCR by assuming the OCR program will simply look at the first frame of the animation (ideally containing nothing recognizable as text/spam) and then ignore the final frame which contains all the incriminating stock-promoting text.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stock is real enough and right now trading at 0.52. I should have BOUGHT!

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know who gives a rat's a**. The ad sucks with or without the Buy Buy Buy. That's not subliminal and it's not news.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Funny to see that vendors use this information ... "Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have identified a "pump-and-dump" stock spam campaign which uses an animated graphic to display a "subliminal" message to potential investors."

http://www.sophos.com/pressoffice/news/articles/2006/09/subliminal-spam.html

12:42 PM  
Blogger Eleftherios Kosmas said...

subliminal ads don't work... me... has... to... go to the mall... buy stuff i dot need...

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Nick FitzGerald said...

James Heinrich: I'm fairly certain this has nothing to do with subliminal messages. When these types of spam GIFs first appeared last month, the initial frames of the animation were simply chickenscratches, not text.

Indeed, and as I also reported to John and he noted in TSC (search for "Animated Noise").

James: I'm pretty certain it's an attempt at counteracting antispam OCR by assuming the OCR program will simply look at the first frame of the animation (ideally containing nothing recognizable as text/spam) and then ignore the final frame which contains all the incriminating stock-promoting text.

Agreed. When reporting this to John the extent of my suggestion this was subliminal advertising was, after describing the effect, "Kind of like the (apocryphal) subliminal advertising effect" and as a question in the message's Subject: header. I think it is a "better" anti-OCR approach than the "noise" one, but my money's on it being primarily motivated by the spammers' anti-OCR concerns.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Geno_dba said...

I think you guys are missing the point. If I build a bomb and it fails to detonate, should it be dismissed as a sad attempt and forgotten? If this worked, and there are those who are spending major $$ to develop this tech, then you guys would be screaming bloddy murder. Just because one guy hasn't a clue doesn't mean that the other 10 million don't as well.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Richi Jennings said...

@Bichi: get a life. Check the date on my post. I'm not the research-stealing whore (read between those lines if you have enough brain cells to rub together).

And next time you want to go all ad hominem on my arse, kindly include some contact details.

10:52 PM  
Blogger encefalus said...

LOL, this is a little bit scary :) I wrote an article about subliminal messaging at http://encefalus.com/cognitive/subliminal-messaging-subliminal-advertising-subliminal-learning/ and I linked back to your blog. If you want check my view on the whole matter :)

2:22 PM  

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