Analysing Advertising

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

Lines of Appeal

Then you need to decide what techniques are being used to communicate with the audience. According to Gillian Dyer (Advertising as Communication Routledge 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:

These lines of appeal are effective because they deal with our social needs.15 Basic Appeals are listed by Jib Fowler in Mass Advertising As Social Forecast. You can read the list here.

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 buy buy! In his influential book, Confessions of An Advertising Man (Atheneum, 1988) David Ogilvy lists the most persuasive words in advertising as



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

Advertising makes use of a direct mode of address (the most commonly used word in advertising is 'YOU') and short, active words. Read a list of the most commonly used adjectives and verbs.

When 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:



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

Stereotypes in Advertising

Ad campaigns often make use of stereotypes - as a shorthand way of communicating a set of meanings. Sometimes the stereotype is deliberately set up and then challenged, to comic effect. However, given that a considerable proportion of our self-identity comes from the images and messages in the advertising that surrounds us, stereotyping in advertising is seen as potentially harmful.

Gender stereotypes are the most common. Men are shown as primarily functional, associated with heavy machinery, business decisions, wearing executive suits and watches, being taller than women etc etc. Women are decorative, associated with kitchen equipment and domestic financial decisions, often shown lying down on beds and floors.

Race is also the source of stereotyping in many ads.

You must be ready to spot any sort of stereotyping in your analysis of an advert. Why was that stereotype used? Is it likely to cause offence? Does it distort the intended message of the ad?

Further Reading

Finding Ads Online

You will find a good selection of the latest advertising on these sites: