I am looking for a word where people are able to see the hidden meanings and subliminal manipulation in the media. Is there any word, phrase or idiom that might suit the narrative I'm trying to summarise? I don't want my project to be titled 'seeing through manipulation' if that helps.

This is for an art and design project, rather than a paper. The word doesn't have to be too academic but should have a certain flair to it. I hope that makes any sense. I'm sorry I'm really poor in explaining this!

Sample sentence [project title] (from comment below by OP):

'How to _____________ [See Through Subliminal Manipulation] in Advertising'

  • perspicacity or perspicacious fit the meaning. They come from a Latin word that literally means "see through". Can you give the heading of the article with a blank where the word should be? Does it have to be a one-word heading? – chasly - supports Monica Nov 14 '18 at 14:50
  • savvy, shrewd, astute, sharp-witted, sharp, canny, perceptive,... – FumbleFingers Nov 14 '18 at 14:55
  • Have you consulted you thesaurus? I'd start with section 457: Carefulness, which includes watchful, vigilant, circumspect and guarded, amongst others. – Toby Speight Nov 14 '18 at 17:00
  • @chaslyfromUK Yes, they do indeed! That's the quality I want to instil in my target market through this thesis. Basically, 'How to See Through Subliminal Manipulation in Advertising' is the topic I have right now. I just want a concise way to put it in. – Minahil Mustafa Nov 14 '18 at 17:38
  • @FumbleFingers These are very suitable words but more so on the qualities that would already be in the viewer as opposed to me educating the viewer about how they can see through manipulation. – Minahil Mustafa Nov 14 '18 at 17:49

Depending on the slant of the article, maybe something about "Resisting Media Misdirection" or something. "Media Misdirection" has a nice ring, and has the connotation of dishonest trick, if that is the line of argument you are pursuing.

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In a broader sense, you can use the idiom separate the wheat from the chaff (consider only what is of value to us in the advertisement and discard the unnecessary stuff which the advertiser seeks to manipulate us towards seeking/buying).

'How to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff in Advertising'


separate the wheat from the chaff
To separate the good or valuable from that which is inferior.

With so many manuscripts arriving daily, it's a challenge to separate the wheat from the chaff and spot the really exceptional ones.

Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

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It sounds like you're looking for a combination of skeptical and perceptive. On its own, I think "perceptive" gets the job done conveying the qualities a person with great insight and awareness, but "skeptical" has stronger connotations for doubt and questioning narratives. A skeptical person is not necessarily very perceptive though, and perceptive people are not always skeptical. Hence why I see it as a combination of the two.

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From your comment:

'How to See Through Subliminal Manipulation in Advertising' is the topic I have right now. I just want a concise way to put it.

How about:

Detecting Subliminal Manipulation in Advertising

Decoding Subliminal Manipulation in Advertising

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  • I got to these but I really wish there was some sort of phrase or idiom that would make it sound like a very nice project. These options sound like what a research paper would be called, not an art project. I should have added that in my initial question. I LOVE the word decode though. It's very suitable. – Minahil Mustafa Nov 14 '18 at 17:45
  • 1
    @MinahilMustafa - You should edit your question to include a description of your project- I.e., an art project. – Jim Nov 14 '18 at 18:31

to pierce TFD

  1. To succeed in penetrating (something) with the eyes or the intellect:

As in your sample:

'How to Pierce the Subliminal Manipulation in Advertising'

Pierce in this sense is seen in 'pierce the veil', 'pierce the darkness' and 'pierce the corporate shield'. There are many other uses of pierce in this sense.

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How to avoid being mystified by (subliminal manipulation in) advertising.

How to demystify (subliminal manipulation in) advertising.

Definition of the verbs 'mystify' and 'demystify' on the Online Oxford English Dictionary:


verb [with object]

1 Utterly bewilder or perplex (someone)

‘I was completely mystified by his disappearance’

1.1 Make obscure or mysterious.

‘lawyers who mystify the legal system so that laymen find it unintelligible’


Early 19th century: from French mystifier, formed irregularly from mystique ‘mystic’ or from mystère ‘mystery’.


verb [with object]

Make (a difficult subject) clearer and easier to understand

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Since I’m having trouble understanding the intent of the question, I’ll suggest divine:


    Discover (something) by guesswork or intuition.
    ‘his brother usually divined his ulterior motives’
    [with clause] ‘they had divined that he was a fake’

American Heritage Dictionary:

    To guess or know by inspiration or intuition:
    somehow divined the answer despite not having read the assignment.

Collins English Dictionary:

    If you divine something, you discover or learn it by guessing.

Macmillan Dictionary:

    to guess something from what you already know

So you can say

How to divine the truth ….

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The German for see through is durchschauen, which is pretty much the same, but one word, with only the meaning that you are looking for. So, if we look into a dictionary, we find

to read [sb.'s face, sb.'s character]

I think that's just about right.

How to read advertizing

We also see figure out, psyche out, and a bit over the top, to scrutinize sb.'s soul (jdn. bis ins Innerste durchschauen).

Changing the transparency metaphor to something else, you could also use interpret, decrypt, decypther, unravel, unscramble, untangle, ...

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Unmesmerising the manipulative messages - decoding the hidden symbolism in advertising.

...as a creative way of hopefully inspiring a more artsy title for you.

I’ve suggested ‘mesmerised’ as the opposite of ‘canny’ - which means ‘careful and shrewd’ which would be a word I’d suggest for one who ‘has the ability to see through’ something. I just put it round the other way. Because I perceive that what you’re suggesting as the issue is ‘how advertising subtly mesmerises us’.

I’m a bit disappointed at dictionary definitions of ‘mesmerise’ which don’t even mention ‘Mesmer’, the stage hypnotist after whom the term originated. Mesmerised really means ‘hypnotised’, or ‘lulled into an unsuspecting state’. But anyway...




Canny decoding - Demystifying the manipulative messages in advertising

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