updated 3/3/2006 1:13:11 PM ET 2006-03-03T18:13:11

KFC’s new television commercial that allows viewers to slowly replay the ad to find a secret message has been rejected by ABC because of the network’s long-standing policy against subliminal advertising.

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ABC declined to say anything more about its decision but KFC disagreed the ad is subliminal. Unlike secretly placed words or images designed to play on the subconscious, the chicken chain says it has been publicizing that the ad contains a message and telling viewers how to find it.

“We ran it through our legal counsel,” said KFC spokeswoman Laurie Schalow. “We don’t feel it was subliminal advertising but ABC did feel it was too close.”

The ad, which began airing last week, is a seemingly ordinary pitch for KFC’s new 99-cent Buffalo Snacker chicken sandwich. But if replayed slowly on a digital video recorder or VCR, it reveals a message that viewers can enter on KFC’s Web site to receive a coupon for a free sandwich. It’s aimed at countering the rise of digital recording technology that enables viewers to skip rapidly past commercials.

ABC, which is running a version of the ad without the hidden message, is the only network to reject the ad.

The Federal Communications Commission said in 2000 — following complaints about an ad with a subliminal message about then-presidential candidate Al Gore — that it discourages subliminal advertising but has no formal rules against it.

University of Missouri advertising professor Paul Bolls said the KFC spot appears to be the opposite of a subliminal ad because “they’ve primed people to the presence of this frame in the TV ad.”

So far, KFC is happy with the results. The Louisville, Ky.-based unit of Yum! Brands Inc. said more than 70,000 people have entered to receive coupons on the chain’s Web site and site traffic has increased by 60 percent.

At least one advertising executive said he’s surprised ABC would shy away from KFC’s new strategy.

“I would think the networks would look to partner and encourage experimentation with techniques that involve the viewer and discourage them to skip the commercials,” said Jamie King, senior vice president at Publicis & Hal Riney, based in San Francisco.

“Broadcasters need to recognize that their role in a marketer’s media mix is going to evolve. They should evolve their points of view accordingly.”

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