Analyzing Print Advertisements

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SWBAT apply rhetorical analysis tools to a static visual advertisement by analyzing two modern advertisements.

Big Idea

Print ads and pictures can carry strong rhetorical appeal.

Lesson Overview

Warm-up: Student-led video analysis

20 minutes

After working with the Halftime in America commercial, one of my students asked (more like pleaded!) to watch an "Extra Gum" ad that they thought was "awesome."  Since I want to encourage students to recognize rhetorical situations and appeals in their own experiences and to share these, we will start by watching the commercial and spend a few minutes discussing the rhetorical strategies.  

The student showed it to me at the end of class on his phone, and it does have a lot of strong teaching possibilities; the commercial manages to make a heartwarming emotional appeal through a narrative without the use of words (music only), in a gum commercial.  So it is an opportunity to see some different strategies used in a commercial.  And, since he brought it up and a couple other students also chimed in, I will ask them to start the discussion with some of the rhetorical moves that they were drawn to.

We will also take a quick look at a satire of the "So God Made a Farmer"ad to introduce the rhetorical power of humor (God Made a Factory Farm from Funny or Die).  Similarly to the gum commercial, we will analyze this as a class; it gives the students a chance to apply their understanding of analyzing video in new contexts while also allowing me to do more formative assessment following the stronger performance they showed yesterday with the Paul Harvey commercial.  However, doing a full-blown lesson with these I think would be overkill at this point.  Further, they are doing a more thorough collaborative analysis of print ads later in the lesson.

The particular point I do want to make sure of is how this genre of satire depends largely on delivery and logic--that there is a very strong logical argument in the piece.

Joint Analysis of a Print Ad

25 minutes

In this lesson section I want to model some of the unique challenges for analyzing print ads.  Because they are static, everything is occurring in one spot, and subtle connotations are important to recognize.  In a similar fashion as was done with the videos, I will model a step by step process for breaking down the parts of the ad first, then look at the pieces to establish the rhetorical situation and appeals.

I am using a Skyy Vodka ad because it is rather provocative, but at the same time has a lot of sophisticated things going on that are easily understood once pointed out to students.  It also catches their attention.   There are clear sexual undertones in the ad, so it gives me a chance to dispel the myth that “sex sells.”  I ask them if there was a commercial for a fast food restaurant with a female model in a bikini eating a burger, are most men watching going to remember what restaurant it was?   The point here for the students is that sexuality has more sophisticated rhetorical use than just being on the page or in the video to draw eyes to it.  The other reason I like to use a more provocative ad such as this is that it implies a bit of freedom for students to analyze what is really there and go with their instincts, even if it feels like something they shouldn’t talk about in school.  I feel like they are exposed to so much more provocative imagery and messaging that I'm doing them a disservice if I don't address it in class and teach students how to analyze it, too.

To begin our analysis I will put the ad on the Smartboard and ask students to brainstorm all the things they literally see (this will be a good opportunity to hearken back to Weird Al Yankovic's "Word Crimes" video, where his notes the common mis-use of the word "literally" in common speech!), not saying any suggested meaning.  I give the example that I see a blue bottle extending from the top to almost the bottom of the page against a bright red background.  From here I ask them to shout out things they see, and I write them on the board.  If they say anything that is more of a connotative or symbolic observation, I just ask them to save that for later.  The students usually see colors, people, parts of people, text, and size.  I will also point them to font style, spacing, placement on the page, architectural lines, etc., to model looking at an even smaller level of detail for analysis.

The next step is to look at what is being suggested from the things we see, and in doing so get into the SOAPS elements.  To begin, I will go down the list of things they literally saw, and ask what connotative meanings or rhetorical impacts each might have (their are some clear sexual connotations--if students are cautious to note them, I will, in order to set a tone that we can look at that sort of thing in an academic way, and that I trust them to be mature in talking about sensitive issues).  To guide them in their thinking and model asking questions, I will pose some leading questions based on what they saw to work on the rhetorical situation.  For example, they will all say the audience is men, so I will ask “young or old?”—they all say young immediately, so of course the next question is “what did you observe in our list that suggests this?”  (they first fixate on the young woman, which opens the door for the “sex sells” learning moment of above.   However, the bold colors, sharp fonts, etc., all can contribute to this.) Depending on how they are doing in bring up specific details themselves, I will continue with these types of questions (another great one is whether it is expensive or not). 

After we’ve marched through the items and addressed the SOAPS elements, we’ll turn to address the appeals.  Ethos is particularly challenging with ads, because the idea of credibility is tied more into the persona of the brand, and the beliefs it represents.   So we will spend some time with this idea, drawing on the two car commercial examples of previous lessons (Halftime in America and So God Made a Farmer) to talk about what persona is being presented regarding the car brands, and in this case the Vodka brand.  I will also share with them what the company itself said on their press release for the campaign, that they were trying to appeal to a young, single, jet-setting male, and those that aspire to be part of that crowd.   Once I feel like they have an understanding of how to address a print ad, we will move to the next part of the lesson where they do it themselves.

Small Group Analysis of Print Ads

25 minutes

In this section students will use the skills and strategies for analyzing a print ad just modeled to establish the rhetorical situation (SOAPStone) and appeals in new ads they haven't seen.  To really emphasize small details, I will have them go through a similar step-by-step process in identifying visual elements before establishing the rhetorical situation and appeals.  

I ask them to work in pairs for this activity so there is collaboration, but each member really has to participate.  In earlier lessons they worked in larger groups, so now I'm moving them toward being able to do this kind of analysis on their own.  I've seen that they all have a good 'friend' in the class and that there are no students that will feel bad when asked to get into pairs on their own, so I will let them find their own partner.  If I wasn't confident they would be able to do this, I would do the pairing.

I will then give each pair two ads to work with, ones they did not bring in so they are working with pieces they haven't thought about.  While the distribution will be relatively random, I will to give each group one that I think the members of the group may have some familiarity with, and one that they will not, to give them experience in both spaces.  I will give each group the following instructions and let them go at their own pace (while it may be necessary to urge a group forward, I don't want to put them on the clock for this one; each ad has unique circumstances, so it may require different amounts of time at particular steps.  Also, there are only two people in each group, so participation shouldn't be an issue).

  • each group should have one person write, and do a brainstorm of everything they literally see in the ad--people, colors, clothes, size of images, fonts, lines, etc.--everything smallest detail (this is the same thing we did in the modeled analysis).  They should be sure to have two columns, one for this "literal" list and one for connotations.
  •  After this is done, the next step is to write connotations in the other column, and as they talk about these connotations, establish the SOAPStone rhetorical situation, then discuss the appeals.  I will ask them to pay close attention to purpose, moving beyond "they want to sell the product."
  • When they have completed analysis of both ads, the students will choose one of the two ads that they will present to the class.  I will go over these guidelines to help them along (ad presentationguidelines.pdf).  Putting the "presentation" label on it gives a little more weight to it so they will dig deeper, knowing they will have an audience.

Once they start, I will circulate around the room and help them in the analysis.  Part of the design of this activity is to allow for individual instruction and to have informal conversations with students about the ads.  When I've done this kind of work in the past, I usually have to make an astute observation or two with each group to get them going, or ask about specific details of the ad to get them thinking in a deeper manner, and to emphasize the fact that everything in an ad is thought out--though that doesn't necessarily mean it will be successful in its purpose.