Afterimages are child’s play — literally. Every kid has done the neat trick of staring at something and then shutting his or her eyes to see a color-reversed version hovering in the mind’s eye. But it was only a matter of time before the ad wizards at BMW harnessed this effect for the purposes of subliminal advertising. Watch and see (but don’t worry, the effect can’t hack your brain over YouTube):
BMW just rigged a cutout of their initials in front of a standard-issue Profoto Pro 7B flash unit, set the thing to pop off behind a German cinema screen at a key moment, and voila!: dystopian mental brandvertising! Basically, the photoreceptor cells in your retinas lose sensitivity after being overstimulated — so if you flash ’em and then close your eyes (or look at any blank surface, like a wall or piece of paper), the cells corresponding to the flashed image will send out weak signals to your brain in comparison to the unflashed cells, which signal normally. Result? A reverse-color “cutout” of the letters B-M-W hovering in your visual field. Thanks a lot, science.
OK, we’re laying it on a little thick: although BMW didn’t ask their audience’s consent before zapping them MIB-style, the “afterimage” effect only lasts for a second or two, and only if you choose to close your eyes right after the zapping. The way that motorcycle racer Ruben Xaus commands you to shut your blinkholes at the end of the spot is a little Orwellian, but I’ll admit I’d have acquiesced just to experience the neat effect. And hey, the reactions of the audience afterward were all good, so hats off to BMW for breaking the rules and asking forgiveness instead of meekly asking permission first.