Writing about ads

Your analysis will show how the features of the ad (the visuals and the words) combine to create a picture that connects with a specific image of the brand. In other words, you will present an interpretation of the ad—what you think it “means” or adds up to.

Choose an Ad: Do not choose a mere “notice”—not an ad that says “20% off shoes!” Find one that focuses on conveying an image of the brand. On Collab/Resources, I have a folder of print ads you can choose from. You could also find your own, but I’d like to approve it before you begin.

Analyze Visual Elements: These questions will help you think critically about the ads. I do not want you simply to answer each question when you write the essay; instead, use the questions as pre-writing to develop your interpretation.

Look at the overall design/layout–how are the various parts arranged? Where are viewers asked to gaze? What is most prominent and least prominent in the ad?

Look at the color scheme—what colors dominate? Dark shades, light shades, specific colors? Are the colors bright and primary like a kindergarten classroom, or dim and dull? Is it black and white? Colors set a mood—cheerful, ominous, serious, silly, etc.

Look at the words—do they give information, evoke emotions, speak authoritatively, humorously etc.? Are there many words? Few? None?

Look at the people (and animals!)—men, women, children? What do they represent, socially or culturally? What can be said about their facial expressions, poses, styles, education, occupation, social class, ethnicity?

Look at the background–what is the setting, is it outdoors, indoors, urban, rural, fancy, plain, etc.? What does the background “signify” (i.e., freedom? Wealth?)

Look at the object being advertised–what significance does it have in American culture? (For example, cars signify mobility, freedom…)

Look at the underlying theme(s), as opposed to the overt plot. (For example, the plot of an ad may show a man driving a sports car down a winding mountain road, but the theme of the ad could be the desire for control…).

Once you’ve thought about all the details of the ad, you’ll be ready to develop your interpretation of it. Your interpretation should address this question: what “image” does this particular ad construct about the brand, and how do the details of the ad construct that image? So you need to describe what you see in the ad AND explain how it comes together to create the image you think it creates.

Page Length: Aim for 750 words (3 pages double-spaced); you can go longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Will this essay have a claim? Yes; your claim will be the sentence(s) in which you state your interpretation of the ad. It will be debatable, because it is an interpretation, not a fact—therefore, it is a claim.

Q: Will this essay have reasons? Yes; your reasons will be sentences that tell the reader why you believe your interpretation to be valid.

Q: Will this essay have evidence? Yes; your evidence will be the sentences describing the visual/textual details in the ad that support your interpretation of the ad.

Q: Do I need sources for this essay? None other than the ad itself, and you don’t need to cite the ad itself beyond simply identifying it (“This ad for Coke Zero…”)

Q: Will this essay have an introduction and a conclusion? Yes; the introduction will orient the readers and prepare them for what’s coming, and the conclusion will re-cap your interpretation of the ad.

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