Subliminal Advertising in The Secret: (Part 1)

August 12, 2012

So, who knew that the film The Secret uses a relentless barrage of subliminal images in the opening sequences, to achieve its extraordinarily high emotional impact?

Subliminal advertising is of course illegal in many countries, but the advertisers who made this film present it as a kind of artistic docu-drama, and not an advertisement. That legal loophole, however, doesn’t negate the ethical considerations involved in the use of such methods. It’s also important to note that the effectiveness of such methods seems to be grossly exaggerated and often misunderstood.

The fact that there is almost no empirical support for the usefulness of subliminal messaging has not prevented numerous industries from producing and marketing tapes which allegedly communicate directly with the unconscious mind… —Skeptic’s Dictionary

But I will lay that discussion aside, and ask both fans and critics of The Secret, if you were aware that in the first minutes of the film you saw images of Ku Klux Klan ceremonies, images of people being burned alive, single frame inserts of money, single frame inserts of the Secret logo, and even subliminal flashes of the teachers themselves before they “appear” properly in the film?


Me neither, until I slowed it down and went through it frame by frame.

Subliminals are just one of a few dozen dirty tricks these advertising wizzkids pulled on their audience. I’ll try to note a few of these other ones too as they fly past at the speed of light.

(Click on the images to enlarge them.)

The first picture we see on the You Tube version (where the first 20 minutes appear) is a message to the viewer:

“…intended as a gift for all…” and “Enjoy this gift!” 

This seems like a friendly welcome to the audience, but it’s actually the first embedded message. The significance of being told that this film is a gift which you have just been been given, will become clearer shortly. The audience has no way of realizing it yet, but they have just been given an active, real life role to play in the drama they are about to watch.

By “receiving” this film as a gift, they have unwittingly carried the film over from the screen into their own lives. And understandably, they think the show hasn’t started yet.

The next images are presented like the beginning of a feature film, or trailer. The signal to the audience is to settle in, get comfortable and start drinking in the images.

We see Rhonda Byrne, head bowed, face blacked out, looking like she is walking through monsoon rains. The sky glows emerald-green. (I’m picking out details which will become significant later, by the way.)

Suddenly she has a black umbrella and she recounts a story about how her life had been a mess and her father had died suddenly.

The screen blacks out. 

In the darkness she begins to say, in a curiously childlike manner, “Little did I know, that in my darkest hour I was to receive the greatest gift.” The viewer has already been told – twice – in the text at the start, that this film is a gift that they have just received. Now we learn that Rhonda herself has also received a gift….

After the black out the lights come up in what appears to be a hotel room, decorated in an old-fashioned aristocratic style. Note the way the window appears as a glowing yellow rectangle. Also note the emerald-green fabric on the roof of the four-poster bed where Rhonda has placed her suitcase. Also note the, um, anatomical appearance of its folds.

As she opens the suitcase like a treasure chest, the yellow rectangle of the window is seen to grow and dominate the picture. It takes on a greenish tinge. The lamp on the bedside table suddenly sprouts a strange shadow that makes it look like it’s got a handle, a bit like Aladdin’s lamp. Byrne’s surroundings take on an other-worldly feel.

Her “greatest gift” is a book, but it also looks distinctly like a video cassette. It has a rectangular yellow note attached to it. (Recall the yellow rectangle of the window a moment earlier.)

The camera view changes and we see Byrne’s face for the first time. She looks concerned or troubled, and barely perceptible behind her, appears the face of a man, looking over her shoulder. This face might have been pasted in by the film makers, or perhaps it’s a painting on the wall. What’s important though is that it’s just a dim presence on the edge of perception, and only appears for this one shot. (It might be a little difficult to see at this resolution, but it’s there on the right just below the top right corner.) Byrne has just lost her father, and now a male face appears behind her as she receives her “greatest gift”.

The note says “Mama, this will help OXOX” For those unfamiliar with it, “O” means hug and “X” means kiss. It also recalls the child’s game of naughts and crosses or tic tac toe (which itself recalls medieval number codes like the magic square, as well ancient glyphs and symbols). Watch for “X’s” and “O’s” to be subtly emphasized in subsequent images.

It is important at this point to register which emotions are being evoked here. The loss of a father (male protection) and a gift from ones child – a child who has noticed its mother’s distress and offers a substitute for the absent male. The yellow rectangle image will be appearing repeatedly from now on, reminding the viewer that everything that follows is a gift from a child. It’s worth pointing out too, the manner in which a parent would accept such a gift – deeply touched, moved, overjoyed….

….And above all, uncritical.

This is a clever piece of marketing, instructing the audience to switch off the normal faculties of discernment, and inviting them to develop an emotional attachment to the product. (Product? Ouch! Sorry, I meant gift!)

It is also clearly directed at a target audience of single mothers.

The book (whose similarity to a video cassette is again emphasized by another camera angle) has no writing on its cover except the child’s note. It appears as if the child’s note is the actual cover of the book. As the book opens, the view of the child’s yellow note is replaced by the view of a yellow page with the words “The World’s Greatest Discovery”. We dive into the page. The camera first highlights the word “yourself” in the text; then the words “you” and “in” are in focus…

And then we dive right into the word “in”. At normal speed these words are barely perceptible. (NLP and hypnosis fans will love this.)

But before the page swallows us in an explosion of yellow light, the camera pulls back slightly and we get a flash of another word, an “advance organizer” to prepare the ground for later scenes: “Rosicrucian”. This is barely readable, but the “Ro” is visible. The next time this word appears, it will be fully readable. Here it overlays the first image of a wild sequence.

Once we break through the page in an explosion of yellow light, we get hit with the film’s first sustained barrage of subliminal images. This sequence starts with a young man frantically toying with a book or something, as fiery images begin to storm around him.

Leaping flames and fires will be filling this entire opening sequence. Here the flames are manipulated by the film makers to resemble human figures — on fire and running. This scene is so incongruous with what preceded it, that the viewer is too disoriented to process all these disturbing and fleeting images. With the pounding music, it is a sensory and emotional overload; a shock.

Those who are already “on board” and identifying with Byrne’s emotions, will be strongly engaged by this dramatic flood of information. Many will find themselves deeply touched by the events they are seeing. Those not on board are likely to be feeling strong revulsion at this point, and will soon filter themselves out from further participation. Probably no viewers will know exactly why they register such stark responses right now.

{Click here for Part 2}

NB Text updated 15 Aug 2012 to include quote & link from Skeptic’s Dictionary. H/T Bronze Dog – see comments in Part 2



  1. Very interesting. Excellent idea to reverse-engineer this invasive bit of mindfuckery. The word “Rosicrucian” is not clear to me in this image, but it makes sense. I’d actually forgotten the Masonic link – I’ve only seen the trailer, but it was plain in that too, like stepping into The DaVinci Code. It really doesn’t fill me with a rosy glow in the current political climate. I remember the good old days when the new age was just about crystals and whale music. Now it’s on its way to becoming a full-blown religion (and according to the Rosicrucian Manifesto, that’s pretty much what they intended right about now). Its bad-tempered priests put you on the hot seat and scold you if you’re not being selfish enough, after you paid a fortune to go there! They know too, you can’t hide: they’re psychic. Ends rant. Look forward to the next installment. At 2 seconds per article it should keep you busy for a while.

  2. Looking forward to the next post! Great intro to a fascinating topic, Yakaru.

  3. @lettersquash,
    I have swapped the Rosicrucian still for the subsequent frame, where the R and O should be more visible. I altered the text a bit too, saying that this image will reappear later, more fully readable. I’ll probably need to back up for about a tenth of a second for the next post and start it there.

    I also notice they used this image to imply that the ancient Egyptians in the coming sequence were Rosicrucian. But I guess that’s less far-fetched than claiming Rosicrucian heritage for The Secret. I only have a nodding acquaintance with Rosicrucianism, but my understanding is that the Chymical Wedding was not about a business plan and life coaching at $1500 a month.

  4. […] is No Excuse « The Secrets of The Secret: Subliminal Impact (Part 1) The Secrets of The Secret: Subliminal Impact (Part 2) — Frightened Eyes and a […]

  5. […] use of subliminal images in the film (already explored in Part 1 and Part 2) not only reveals the film makers’ contempt for the audience; it also reveals the […]

  6. […] the earlier posts (see Part 1), we saw how the advertisers who made The Secret used various standard advertising tricks to sell […]

  7. […] Arthur Ray, motivational speaker and star of The Secret, was found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to two years jail, after he cooked three […]

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