Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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What to watch for when analyzing ads
Our notes from class on Thursday, 23 January 03

These are some of the questions we asked in class as we were evaluating first the print ads in magazines and then the commercials.   Some of the questions in the first lists are specific to print ads.

How are images used in this ad?
How is color used, and what is being done with accent colors?
Are shadows used?
What are the background images or the background setting in the ad?
How are the images placed in connection with each other? (like the Sketchers ad with 9 frames)
How are they placed on the page?
Are the images balanced?
What’s missing? (like the top of Nelly's head)
Is there movement suggested in the ad?

How are words used?
How much written text is there?

What kinds of sounds or smells might be hinted at in this ad?

Who’s in the ad, and why?
How old are the models?  What gender are they?  What race?  Class background?
Is sex used in this ad?  How?
Are the models celebrities?
Where are the models looking? What can you say about their gazes?
What can you say about the models' poses?
How do the models seem to feel?

What’s the main idea of the ad?
What are its themes?
What messages are we getting about this product? ("If you start drinking milk, you’ll look like this.")
Is the focus on the product?
Is the focus on the desire?
Is the ad appealing to your fears?
Is it appealing to your sense of shame (like about body odor or bad breath)?
Is it appealing to your desire to fit in, to be equal with or close to others?
What’s the connection between the image(s) and the product?
Does the ad "make sense"?
What’s the name of the product and how does that relate to the ad?
How easy is it to get the message?  How hard does the viewer have to work?

What else is going on in the marketing of this product?
How has this product been marketed in the past?
What other ads might come to mind as we look at this ad? What is the larger context?
How is this ad trying to distinguish itself from, to stand out among, all of the other ads?

For whom is this ad appealing?  For whom is this ad NOT appealing?

What values is the ad appealing to?


How is music used?
What is the effect of the beat of the music?
How are other sounds used?
Is silence used?
Is there a narrator?  What does his/her voice sound like (tone of voice? accent?)?
How do the sounds and music make you feel?  Emotional appeal?

How words are used?  In dialogue?  In the background?  Written out over the images?

How are images used together?  And scenes?
How do the images and the combinations of them affect the viewer?

What are some of the larger contexts for this commercial?
What approaches have other commercials for this product taken?
What other commercials use the same kind of approach used in this commercial?

And here are some questions from Signs of Life, directly quoted from pages 118 and 127:

Why am I being shown this or told that?
How do the characters in the ad function as signs?
What sort of people don't appear as characters?
What cultural myths are invoked in this ad?
What relationship do you see between those myths and the intended audience of the publication?
Which ads do your group members respond to positively and why?
Which ads doesn't your group like?

Why are these colors used, or why is the ad in black and white?
Why are cute stuffed animals chosen to pitch toilet paper?
What are those people doing in that perfume commercial?
Why the cowboy hat in an ad for jeans?
How does the slogan "Just Do It" sell Nikes?

Look too for what the ad doesn't include:
Is it missing a clear view of the product itself or an ethnically diverse cast of characters?

In short, when interpreting an ad, transform it into a text, and read it as you would a poem or an editorial or any piece of rhetoric--for in its mandate to persuade, advertising constitutes the most potent rhetoric of our times (Maasik and Solomon 127-8).


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA