The Art of Persuasion
     Guidelines for Advertising Analysis
in the Exemplary Middle School Curriculum
         by Richa...
Guidelines for Ad Analysis
                    in the Exemplary Middle School Curriculum

"Whatever the object for sale is...
o Sometimes it is not what is in the ad that pulls the viewer in, but what is
            missing. Is there anything missi...
why not? Do these assumptions reinforce or challenge stereotypes about gender
       identity? What messages does this ad ...
objectification of women (and men)
       dismemberment (particularly of women, sometimes with men)
       women competing...
form? How are the basic components or elements of the advertisement arranged?
  What is the relationship that exists betwe...
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The Art of Persuasion

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Advertising Analysis for the Exemplary Middle School Curriculum

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The Art of Persuasion

  1. 1. The Art of Persuasion Guidelines for Advertising Analysis in the Exemplary Middle School Curriculum by Richard Binkney, Ph. D.
  2. 2. Guidelines for Ad Analysis in the Exemplary Middle School Curriculum "Whatever the object for sale is, the copywriter, like the poet, must invest it with significance so that it becomes symbolic of something beyond itself" (Hayakawa, p. 163). You may choose to write a critical essay that "deconstructs" an advertisement of your choice, using the gender lens we've been discussing in class. If you choose a print ad, attach a copy of it to your final paper. You can choose a commercial instead; if you do, please attach a thorough description of the commercial, in case your reader has not seen it (you do not have to include the full description in your formal paper if it does not fit easily). Drawing on the key points made in the language of advertising, analyze the messages your ad is sending. What story is it telling? What symbolic product is it selling? The following are some questions to ask yourself/steps to go through. These are to guide you in thinking critically about the ad - you do NOT have to answer ALL of these questions in your paper. I do expect you to address the ones that are most relevant to a critical analysis of your chosen ad. Step 1: Make Observations Think of five adjectives that describe the ad. Look at the ad and evaluate its aesthetics: o Are there people depicted in the ad? What gender is represented? What race? What do the people look like (young, old, stylish, etc.)? What are their facial expressions? What might you infer about their states of mind from the ways they are presented? How might the intended audience have responded to those representations? o Look carefully at the locale of the scene. Where does it take place? What symbolic significance is the locale likely to have for the intended audience? Locate the scene in time: is it in the past, the present, or the future? What does the temporal location suggest? o Consider the ad as a narrative, a story, or a scene from a play. Can you supply the overall story? What has happened, is happening, or will happen soon? What is this narrative likely to mean to the intended audience? o In the imagery, what appears in the foreground versus the background? Why do you think these choices were made? o Estimate what the camera angle was. Was it far from the subject or close to it? Was it above, eye-level, or below the subject? o Take note of the lighting used in the ad. Does it appear to be natural or artificial? Why or why not? Are certain parts of the ad highlighted while others are not? If so, why do you think this is? Are there shadows? If so, how big are they?
  3. 3. o Sometimes it is not what is in the ad that pulls the viewer in, but what is missing. Is there anything missing in this imagery that the intended audience might supply? o What colors are used? Are they bright? Black and white? In sharp contrast to each other? o If the ad has text or copy, how does it look? What kind of font is used? Is more than one type of font used? How big is the text? What color is the text ? Is there more than one color used? What does the text actually say? What does the large text say? The small text? Step 2: Determine the purpose of the ad Remember the purpose of an ad is always to sell a product! What product is being sold? What do you learn about its objective qualities? (Try to distinguish here between factual versus symbolic appeal.) Do you find the product appealing? Why or why not? Who is the target audience for this product? Children? Teens? Adults? The elderly? Men? Women? Judging from where the ad appeared (the kind of magazine or newspaper), what might you infer about its intended audience? Describe this audience: who they are, what they are likely to be attracted by. What feelings or emotions is the ad trying to associate with the product? Did it work? Why or why not? Make a list of all the various elements in the ad that suggest its symbolic appeal; that is, what positive attributes its purchase will supposedly bring the consumer? Think of the ad as a play: what are the props and characters it employs? How is that symbolic value conveyed? Consider each item you just listed in terms of the intended audience: what signal might that item convey regarding class status, leisure time activities, gender roles, sexual attractiveness, health and vitality, family responsibilities, and the like. Ask "What might this item, this feature, mean to the targeted consumer?" Is the symbolic message of this ad idealizing some aspect of life? If so, what is it and how is it presented? Are there any references to previous ads or other forms of popular culture in the ad - what scholars refer to as "intertextuality"? Ads succeed by framing some things in and excluding the rest. What are some associations to the product and the symbolic themes suggested for it that have to be framed out by the persons making the ad? Why? Step 3: Determine the assumptions the ad makes and the messages it sends Assumptions may not be contained directly in the ads themselves, but in the messages that are produced from them. What assumptions and/or bias does the ad make about gender? (i.e. Women are powerful when they hold a hair dryer in their hands. Men like to drink beer. Women are primary caregivers, etc..) Are these assumptions realistic? Why or
  4. 4. why not? Do these assumptions reinforce or challenge stereotypes about gender identity? What messages does this ad say about what it means to be a man or a woman? About self-identity? About personal happiness, sexual attractiveness, or other forms of self-fulfillment? What assumptions and/or bias does the ad make about race (i.e. African Americans are excellent athletes. Latinos are sensual and passionate. Etc.)? Are these assumptions realistic? Why or why not? Do these assumptions reinforce or challenge stereotypes about racial identity? What assumptions and/or bias does the ad make about class (i.e. Wealthy people are happy and trouble-free. Poor people are always looking for a handout, etc..)? Are these assumptions realistic? Why or why not? Do these assumptions reinforce or challenge stereotypes about class? What might this ad be implying about the nature of human relationships? What kind of nonverbal communication appears with the ad? Which figures dominate? What kinds of cultural beliefs are promoted in this ad? Try to imagine yourself as an outsider to this society, viewing this ad. What seem to be the values of the ad's creators and its receivers? Step 4: Consider the possible consequences of these messages. What are some possible consequences? (long-term and short-term) Do the messages create unrealistic expectations for people? Why or why not? How do the messages in this ad counter or undermine social change? Is this ad socially responsible? How or how not? What does it mean for an ad or a company to be socially responsible? For example, in the closing comments of the video Killing Us Softly 3, Jean Kilbourne states that change will depend upon "an aware, active, educated public that thinks of itself primarily as citizens rather than primarily as consumers." What does it mean to think of oneself primarily as a citizen rather than primarily as consumer? Can one be both a citizen and a consumer? How? Reflect on this ad with the above statement in mind. Advertising is often linked with the process of commodification: that is, taking a human value or need and equating it with the process of buying and using a product. From that standpoint, ask yourself: what human needs and values is this ad attempting to commodify? Issues to be sensitive to include, but are not limited to: impossible, ideal image of female and/or male beauty obsession with thinness obsession with youth (ageism) women of color disproportionately shown as animalistic and exotic images of women as passive and vulnerable
  5. 5. objectification of women (and men) dismemberment (particularly of women, sometimes with men) women competing with other women for men images that focus on silencing women's voices the trivialization of women's power infantilization of women sexualization of teenagers sexualization of children bias and/or prejudice in any form or manner violence against women - the "bruised" look; bondage; normalizing rough treatment; sexualization of violence against women images of the "real men" - how masculinity is presented in advertising the ideal masculine body - focus on size, strength, muscularity glamorization of masculine violence (whether directed at females or not) - sports, guns, video games masculinity as synonymous with invulnerability and indifference to others (the Marlboro Man) - real man as quiet, stoic, rugged individual who doesn't do much talking or relating to other people ads, photos, words, issues and/or inferences which may be offensive to others Ad Analysis Supplement – http://www.humboldt.edu/~adanalysis.htm For a classroom exercise, please select a full-page advertisement from a magazine of your choice; evaluate audience, purpose, and strategy; and present your conclusions logically and persuasively. The thesis statement for this paper will ultimately address either what the advertisement reveals about us as human beings or some hidden method of persuasion or commentary. The following prompts should assist in your analysis. How does your ad appeal to the reader? What assumptions does your ad make about women and men; children, teenagers, and adults; blue-collar vs. white-collar careers; and the like? What trends does your ad capitalize on? Identify if there are issues of bias and/or prejudice that are obvious and/or inferred? How does your ad manipulate and exploit human needs and desires? Which audience does your ad target (consider the magazine in which it appears)? How does it reflect that audience's interests, concerns, socio-economic standing, career choice, lifestyle, and the like? How does your ad employ visual detail? How do these elements represent the product and/or its image and how do they reveal attitude towards the audience and those values that audience holds? How does the ad's text contribute to the appeal? How do the diction and key terms reveal attitude towards the audience and those values that audience holds? What is the general ambience of the advertisement? What mood does it create? How does it do this? What is the design of the advertisement? Does it use axial balance or some other
  6. 6. form? How are the basic components or elements of the advertisement arranged? What is the relationship that exists between pictorial elements and written material, and what does this tell us? What is the spatiality in the advertisement? Is there a lot of white space or is the advertisement full of graphic and written elements (that is, busy)? What signs and symbols do we find? What role do the various signs and symbols play in the advertisement? If there are figures (men, women, children, animals) in the advertisement, what are they like? What can be said about their facial expressions, poses, hairstyle, age, sex, hair color, ethnicity, education, occupation, relationships (of one to the other), and so on? What does the background tell us? Where is the action in the advertisement taking place and what significance does this background have? What action is taking place in the advertisement, and what significance does this action have? (This might be described as the plot of the advertisement.) What theme or themes do we find in the advertisement? What is the advertisement about? (The plot of an advertisement may involve a man and a woman drinking but the theme might be jealousy, faithlessness, ambition, passion, etc.) What about the language used in the advertisement? Does it essentially provide information or generate some kind of an emotional response? Or both? What techniques are used by the copywriter: humor, alliteration, "definitions" of life, comparisons, sexual innuendo, and so on? What typefaces are used and what impressions do these typefaces convey? What is the item being advertised and what role does it play in American culture and society? What about aesthetic decisions? If the advertisement is a photograph, what kind of a shot is it? What significance do long shots, medium shots, close-ups have? What about the lighting, use of color, angle of the shot? What sociological, political, economic or cultural attitudes are indirectly reflected in the advertisement? An advertisement may be about a pair of blue jeans, but it might, indirectly, reflect such matters as sexism, alienation, stereotyped thinking, conformism, generational conflict, loneliness, elitism, and so on.

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