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Analysis of Advertisements

- For what academic purposes are you analyzing advertisements?

- How do your current purposes differ from those of others who have also
analyzed ads?

- What aspects of the ads will be your main concern?

- What general approach will you adopt (e.g. semiotic analysis, content
analysis, linguistic analysis, rhetorical analysis or a psychological

- Why are you adopting this approach?

- What are the strengths of this approach?

- What published examples of the approach do you know?

- To what extent do these offer useful models?

- What different dimensions do you seek to cover?

- Which advertisements will you compare/contrast and why?

- Are they similar in content (e.g. product), style, intended audience or


Some Analytical Frameworks

There are two main kinds of approaches to describing the content of any media text
(such as ads). These are semiotic analysis and content analysis. It is rare for both to be
used together since they stem from quite different ideological stances.

If you focus on the act of interpretation, you might explore the theme of active
interpretation. Here your concern would be to illustrate how meaning is not 'contained'
in the text but is generated in the process of interpretation. You would need to stress
what viewers/readers/listeners 'bring to' the ad. This could take one of two general
forms, tending to emphasize either similarities or differences in interpretation.

One way to explore broadly similar processes would focus on some of the key
inferences which are involved in interpreting the ad. Inference involves drawing on your
own existing knowledge rather than simply on what is explicit in the ad. This requires
very detailed analysis, perhaps of how you make sense of the ad (though you couldn't
comment on similarities without checking this against interpretation by others).

Alternatively, you could focus on diversity of interpretation. Clearly, this approach

demands empirical evidence of how different viewers/readers/listeners seem to interpret
the ads on which you are focusing. It would be likely to consider such factors as class,
age, gender and ethnicity. Note, however, that this may take you beyond the intended

With a psychological focus, you might choose to explore the advertisement's apparent
psychological appeals. Those listed here are simply one taxonomy of such appeals. And
you would need to investigate how viewers/readers/listeners in the intended audience
interpret these.

A quite different stance and associated framework is that of Media Education. Here, you
would be exploring key features to which you might wish to draw the attention of
others. Such frameworks vary, of course, and you might like to consider how the one
offered here differs from those of other media educators. What features does it
foreground, and what does it background?

Some Key Questions

What exactly is being advertised?

Where and when did the ad appear?

Why might it have appeared there and then rather than elsewhere?

What appears to be the intended audience?

In what ways does it utilize features of the particular medium used (poster, television,
film, radio or magazine)?

What graphic mode(s) is/are used (e.g. still photography, drawing, animation, live

Describe the overall design.

Where is it set in space and time?

Who are the participants?

What do they do?

What key objects are featured?

What part is played by words (choice of words, typography/voiceover)?

What part is played by the use of sound and/or light?

Which features are foregrounded and which are backgrounded?

What significance might all of these features have for the intended

What key inferences must the viewers/readers/listeners make to make sense of the ad?

What intertextual references can you discern (to other ads, to other genres, to other
people etc.)?

How else does the ad seek your involvement?

With what is the product associated?

What does the product seem to symbolize?

What does the ad seem to suggest about gender roles, class/status, age, ethnicity or

What cultural assumptions and values seem to be involved?

What use is made of humour, and to what effect?

What do you regard as the most likely preferred interpretation offered in the ad?

What scope does there seem to be for alternative interpretations?

Advertising tends to follow a basic format - a slogan or a striking image catches our
attention, the body of the ad contains more factual information about the product , and
a pack shot or logo reinforces the brand identity.The combination of these elements,
even though we may only look at them for the average time of 1.5 seconds, leaves us
with an impression of the values that are attached to that brand, and a sense of who the
target audience for the product is (male? female? pensioner? teenager?).

When first analysing an ad you need to decide

WHO the ad is aimed at - describe them demographically and psychographically

WHAT is being advertising and WHAT is specifically highlighted about the product (the
benefits) in this ad?

WHY this helps sell a product

WHERE/WHEN this ad might appear in order to reach its target audience

Lines of Appeal

Then you need to decide what techniques are being used to communicate with the
audience. According to Gillian Dyer (Advertising as CommunicationRoutledge 1988)
advertisers use, among other techniques, the following lines of appeal. They use images
of or references to these things to tap into our desires - and fears:

Happy families - everyone wants to belong

Rich, luxurious lifestyles - aspirational

Dreams and fantasy

Successful romance and love

Elite people orexperts

Glamorous places


Art, culture & history

Nature & the natural world

Beautiful women - men AND women like looking at beautiful women, so the thinking
goes: men admire them, women admire what makes the men admire them.

Self-importance & pride

Comedy & humour

Childhood - can appeal to either nostalgia or to nurturing instincts

These lines of appeal are effective because they deal with our social needs. Children are
considered a special target group when it comes to advertising, and strategies are used
to especially target them - read more from the Media Awareness Network.

When analysing an ad you need to consider what kind of appeal is being made - does
this ad tap in to your desire to be considered successful by your peers, for instance, or is
it more about making you feel as though you will belong to a happy group if you own a
certain product? Often advertising creates need - in order to sell a product that we did
not know existed, advertisers have to make us aware that we need it.

The Language of Advertising

The purpose of advertising language is to persuade. Whereas the slogan and the image
can be humorous or attention-grabbing, the body copy is always to extoll the benefits
of a product and thus persuade the audience to buy buybuy! In his influential book,
Confessions of An Advertising Man (Atheneum, 1988) David Ogilvy lists the most
persuasive words in advertising as

suddenly miracle
now magic
announcing offer
introducing quick
improvement easy
amazing wanted
sensational challenge
remarkable compare
revolutionary bargain
startling hurry

These words act as triggers to interest audiences in a product. They are also over-used,
and may, these days, be counted as clichs.

Advertising makes use of a direct mode of address (the most commonly used word in
advertising is 'YOU') and short, active words. In analysing an ad you have to identify the
key persuasive words and consider their effect on an audience. Be critical: are the
advertisers taking a tried and tested approach or are they being original? Does the
approach work?

Images in Advertising

Understanding the image is key to understanding the message of the ad, which may
work on many different levels. You must consider the following:


What is it of? How many images are there? Is there a main image plus a pack shot? It is
a literal representation of the product or is it a metaphor?

How is the image positioned - ie what is the camera angle and where does this place
the reader? Is it neutral (an eye level shot) or is the subject give authority over the
audience through a low angle?

What kind of image is it - high quality, full colour, lovingly enhance image or fuzzy black
and white shot? If a TVC, is it shot on tape or film?

Non-Verbal Communication - what is being said without words by the body language of
the model?


Once you have explored the basics you must consider the connotations.

Content Signs - what information is imparted by the mise-en-scne? the costume and
accessories of models? The setting? What do we infer from these signs?

Intertextuality - does this ad refer to any other media text? Is it a parody? Through the
use of music or characters does it evoke eg) a major motion picture or a novel

Combinations of signs - what does the image, together with any music, or with the
anchorage provided by the caption suggest, as opposed to the image just by itself?


Advertisement analyses dont fall into a specific category of essay. That is to

say, we can include deconstruction of ads as simple example essays or process
analysis essays. However there is a possibility of giving the analysis a single
format in which we clearly mark three stages or divisions: a descriptive
introduction, a powerful central paragraph and a personal conclusion.