How to Analyze an Advertisement

Finding Ads' Hidden Messages

By Arthur Asa Berger

There's more to advertising's message than meets the casual eye. An effective ad, like other forms of communication, works best when it strikes a chord in the needs and desires of the receiving consumer -- a This article originally appeared in connection that can be both intuitive and highly Issue# 37 calculated. The following questions can help foster an awareness of this process. Use them for class or group discussions or your own individual analysis of ads or commercials. You may be surprised by the messages and meanings you uncover. 1. What is the general ambience of the advertisement? What mood does it create? How does it do this?

2. What is the design of the advertisement? Does it use axial balance or some other form? How are the basic components or elements arranged?

3. What is the relationship between pictorial elements and written material and what does this tell us?

4. What is the use of space in the advertisement? Is there a lot of 'white space" or is it full of graphic and written elements?

5. What signs and symbols do we find? What role do they play in the ad's impact?

6. If there are figures (men, women, children, animals) 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)?

7. What does the background tell us? Where is the advertisement taking place and what significance does this background have?

8. What action is taking place in the advertisement and what significance does it have? (This might be described as the ad's "plot.")

9. What theme or themes do we find in the advertisement? What is it about? (The plot of an advertisement may involve a man and a woman drinking but the theme might be jealousy, faithlessness, ambition, passion, etc.)

10. What about the language used? Does it essentially provide information or does it try to generate some kind of emotional response? Or both? What techniques are used by the copywriter: humor, alliteration, definitions" of life, comparisons, sexual innuendo, and so on?

11. What typefaces are used and what impressions do they convey?

12. What is the item being advertised and what role does it play in American culture and society?

13. 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-up shots have? What about the lighting, use of color, angle of the shot?

14. 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.

Footnotes: Excerpted with permission from Signs in Contemporary Culture: An Introduction to Semiotics by Arthur Asu Berger (Longman, Inc., 95 Church Street, White Plains, NY 10601) Author: Arthur Asa Berger is professor emeritus of Broadcast & Electronic Communication Arts at San Francisco State University, where he taught from 1965 to 2003. He is the author of more than 100 articles and 60 books on media, popular culture, tourism and related concerns.

ds, Fads and Consumer Culture : Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture Analysing advertisements from a cultural perspective, based on the book by Arthur Berger

Slide 2: Hours per year spent by average citizen watching TV: 1679 (p. 63) Price of air-time for a 30-second commercial during 2006 Superbowl: $2.5 million (p. 2) Total amount spent on advertising in the US (2005): $280 billion (p. 113) Total amount spent on advertising in the rest of the world: $241 billion (p. 114) Americans who expressed interest in products to block adverts (2004): 69% (p. 6) Some facts and figures

Slide 3: Advertising as communication Berger's model of focal points in the study of communication (p. 52) Audience Art Artist Society Medium

Slide 4: Analysing advertisements Berger uses different approaches to analyse advertisements, including: Semiotic analysis Psychoanalytic theory Sociological analysis Feminist analysis Historical analysis Myth/ritual analysis

Slide 5: Semiotic analysis Semiotics is the study of signs how things can be used to deliver some kind of message. The important point to remember when considering how things functions as signs is that the meaning attached to them is arbitrary. The meaning of signs is a convention that is learnt within a group/society, it is not a natural and universal meaning. What signs, symbols and codes can be found in the advertisement?

Slide 6: Psychoanalytic theory Freud suggested that our ego continually balances the primitive subconscious desires for satiation of our id against our superego, which provides critical self-examination and anticipates the potential damage of actions proposed by our id. Advertisers frequently try to encourage our id in order to get us to notice and desire their product How does the advertisement make use of the human psyche to sell products?

Slide 7: Sociological analysis Consider how elements of the text are relevant to such matters as socio-economic class, gender, race, sexuality, status and role. How does the advertisement reflect social concerns, and the problems of people in their daily lives?

Slide 8: Feminist analysis As a specialist application of sociological analysis, feminist analysis is particularly concerned with power structures in society, especially those that keep women in an inferior position. How does the advert reflect the values of male-dominated society?

Slide 9: Historical analysis Here the advert can be evaluated in terms of the changes that have taken place in advertising over the years, how the advert fits into a larger campaign and/or previous advertising campaigns. How does the advertisement relate to historical events?

Slide 10: Myth/ritual analysis Advertisements often contain allusion to contemporary popular culture. In addition, there is a vast wealth of shared cultural knowledge relating to mythical knowledge, such as biblical stories or classical mythology. How does the advertisement relate to ancient myths?

Slide 11: An example: Fidji perfume advertisment How might we use Berger's six different approaches to analyse and understand this advertisement?

Slide 12: Semiotic analysis empty space position of mouth in photo posture of mouth/lips Polynesian woman? long, dark hair orchid Fiji: the tropics (escape) language: French

Slide 13: Psychoanalytic theory the snake: phallic symbol the snake: anxiety the word 'sex' contained in the advert (subliminal) removal to the tropics, away from the civilising influence of home N.B. This advert appeared in some countries without the snake. Why?

Slide 14: value and importance of romantic heterosexual love target audience: young women seeking escape? prestige product: expensive perfume, French language and associations with high culture role of women: providers of sexual pleasure, temptress ethnic assumptions: women from less developed nations seen as less repressed, more passionate (more primitive) Sociological analysis

Slide 15: Feminist analysis snake: phallic symbol? = subjugation, dominance women's role as objects of male pleasure objectification of women in adverts: accessible to the male gaze, on show to gratify male desires holding the desirable bottle of perfume, but perfume's purpose is to please men: women perpetuate male dominance? return to paradise = return to male dominance? (Garden of Eden: And [your husband] shall rule over you )

Slide 16: Historical analysis Cleopatra killed by a snakebite Advertising: historical context

Slide 17: Myth/ritual analysis Medusa Garden of Eden Women as dangerous, snakelike, venomous Temptation

Slide 18: Interactive oral assignment: instructions You (the whole class) have been chosen as the committee that will nominate and choose the best print advertisement of all time. 1. Work in pairs (preparation: HMWK) Each pair will nominate one advert. You need to select that advert, and prepare a short presentation of the meaning contained within that advert. 2. The meeting (the IOA: next lesson) Each pair presents their advert, after which the whole group discusses the adverts and decides on the winner. Criterion: The advert that communicates the most meaning

Slide 19: Interactive oral assignment: further information 1. Preparation Your mark for the A criterion will largely be determined by the preparation you do. How well have you understood the advertisement? How well are you able to analyse its content and meaning? 2. The task During the task, you will be running the meeting yourselves. Your ability to contribute to the ongoing discussion, and interact with the others is part of how you will be assessed on criterion C. How clearly you present your ideas, particularly the analysis of your advert, will be assessed on criterion B. Remember to consult the marking criteria for information on how you will be assessed in this task.

Slide 20: Berger, Arthur Asa (2007) Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture: advertising's impact on American character and society. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield References

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