Brainstorm
Services

EDUCATIONAL
MATERIALS

West Chester University

Fall 2001

Spring 2002

West Chester University

Fall 2002

 

Home

Course Information
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  ENG 020 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Notes on the Art of Fiction: Early Forms
  The Short Story
  Graduate Students Define the Art of Fiction
  Bartleby the Scrivener - Questions for Analysis
  Notes on Melville
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  A Vocabulary for Short Fiction and Beyond
  Study Guide for Fiction Exam
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  A Catalogue of Poems
  Notes on Langston Hughes
  Lines of Continuity
  Poetry Take Home Exam
  The Birth of Drama
  Oedipus
  A Doll House
  Study Guide for the Final Exam
  A Glossary of Literary Terms

Notes for Basic Writing (ENG 020)
  The Rhetorical Situation
  Essay #1 Assignment Sheet
  Workshop Assignment for Essay#1
  How to Write Descriptively
  Building a Thesis
  Overcoming Reader's Block
  Analysis and the Culture of Advertising
  Essay #2 Assignment Sheet
  Writing Effective Introductions
  Writing Effective Conclusions
  Propaganda Analysis
  Politics and the English Language
  Propaganda: A Sample Analysis
  Midterm Exam: Tips for Writing on the Spot
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Mapping the Parts of an Arugment

General Announcements
  Announcements for LIT 165
  Assignments for LIT 165
  Announcements for ENG 020
  Assignments for ENG 020

Contact

Go Exploring
  A Weblog for LIT 165
  A Weblog for ENG 020

Join the Conversation
  LIT 165 Discussion List
  ENG 020 Discussion List

 

~~ ANALYSIS Applied to the Culture of Advertising ~~
(Writing with an expository purpose)

Three questions are addressed in these notes:

  • What is analysis?
  • Why analyze advertisements?
  • How do you "do" an analysis?

What is Analysis?

Have you ever asked yourself if there's a difference between looking at something and really seeing it, really understanding it? Sometimes we find ourselves looking on at life passively, without getting too involved. Or something seems very complex on the surface and we back away from it-it's too much to deal with. I'm probably not, for instance, going to get involved in taking apart my car's transmission. I'm sure the whole mechanism makes perfect sense but I'm just not interested. I'm not going to put the hours in to learn about it. So when my car sputters and spits and dies one day at a red light, I'll get it towed right to the mechanic. Fix it myself? I don't want to know about it. Of course, I'll wish I had a different attitude when he hands me the bill for $1400. I'll wish I had the ability, the knowledge, to effectively analyze that problem and fix it.

Analysis helps us every which way we look. We'd hardly survive in our complex environment without the intellectual power to analyze situations, problems, theories, arguments, political candidates, consumer products, values, and on, and on. The ability to analyze something is an intellectual skill that can be applied in any field of study, be it mechanical engineering, literary criticism, or environmental activism. We're practicing it in our writing course precisely because it is so ubiquitous.

To analyze something, to "really see it," we have to break it down and then intensely examine all of its component parts. Only then can we really begin to understand how it works, what it means, whether it floats, what's wrong with it, how it can be fixed. When we analyze something, we observe it, study it, walk around it and see it from different angles to discover what new conclusions can be drawn about it. We may start unconsciously, voluntarily-even exuberantly. I may come across a poem I enjoy so much that I want to read it over and over again. Each reading, as I go over and over the language, I'm analyzing its meanings and its effect on me. And each time I read that poem, I'm getting more and more "out of it." I'm really seeing it.

The desire to analyze advertisements is usually rooted in our experience with particular ads that strike some kind of chord-they may shock, excite, entertain, or offend, but they've gotten our attention above the noise made by the billion or so other advertisements dumped our way. When we analyze, however, we're doing more than experiencing. We're standing back from our direct experience of a particular ad and consciously observing it, questioning it, looking for unspoken messages about values and attitudes and studying how these messages are being sent. Being a good analyst may be less relaxing than just passively watching or listening, BUT it can be infinitely more interesting, and we learn a lot more. It's when we stand back and analyze the stimuli that we come up with IDEAS…when we analyze what's going on around us, we also start to gain some control over its influence on us. It may be as simple as saying, that pitch no longer pulls my strings.

As the philosopher (Socrates) said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." If he were living today, he might have also said, "The unexamined ad is the one that dupes us."

Why analyze advertisements?

Let's face it. Annoying as it may seem, advertising is the heart and blood of our entire economy. Without massive advertising, consumers would never be motivated enough to purchase the products that fuel capitalism, economic growth. Corporations pour millions, billions into advertising. They do it because they know they'll see a return on that dollar. They know their clever, catchy ads will persuade enough people to part with their hard-earned money. Because advertising is so pervasive, and so persuasive, and sometimes so invasive, and sometimes so abrasive, it deserves intelligent, critical attention. As citizens, we have a public duty to protect the vulnerable among us--as Congress has tried to do recemtly, holding hearings to investigate whether the entertainment industry has been unethically marketing adult product to children. It's the kind of investigation that's long overdue, in many people's minds.

Why analyze ads? If we're trying to practice the skill of analysis, why not? Can you think of anything more pervasive in our culture? You can't even walk into a classroom anymore without being advertised at. Nothing, nowhere is sacred. No space, it seems, cannot be filled with a commercial message. The consequences, the implications of this all out attack on our attention are far reaching. We have to learn to analyze this stuff if we're to make intelligent, ethical decisions about how, where, and when we spend our money. We have to become more aware of how advertising works so that we aren't continually duped by Madison Avenue. And because what we do with our spending money, in this global economy, effects more than ourselves. Where our consumer dollars land has a ripple effect that influences what happens to people in other countries far across the world.

Advertisements are a lot like Zen koans these days, sometimes they are humorous and sometimes they are serious, or mysterious, sending us complex, unspoken, intuitive, subconscious messages about the values and attitudes embedded in our culture. They will claim to reflect our culture, but actually they have a large hand in shaping it. Advertisements achieve this, not with actual words (which usually say very little), but with images and sound. Below the surface level, there's a deeper meaning to what's going on. The unspoken content is the most important part of the message!

How can you "do" analysis?
(The following material is adapted from a textbook titled, AMERICAN CULTURE AND THE MEDIA: Reading, Writing, Thinking (Cassebaum/Haskell), Houghton-Mifflin, 1997.

First, recall that analysis involves breaking something into its componet parts, observing, examining, studying those parts closely, and then drawing conclusions based on what you find there. At the heart of your analysis are the tools--the ideas or concepts you use--to break your subject down into its component parts. It's sometimes a tough intellectual process, but afterwards, you will have gained a much clearer, more insightful understanding of your subject. You will understand your subject's inner workings, and you'll be able to make your subject more meaningful to your reader.

Although the work of analysis is something that at some level we all do unconsciously, still, for a more thorough and complete analysis, it helps to work through the following stages:

  1. Find a subject to analyze by noticing your impressions. (It might help if you relate this directly to advertising. Find the specific ad you want to work with and then freewrite on your impressions. See the questions below to get you started on guided freewriting exercises.)
  2. Collect information. (This may mean simply examining your chosen ad very carefully, or it may mean trying to compare it to stylistically similar ads, or similar product ads.)
  3. Come to conclusions from the information. (What point do you want to make about the way in which the ad you're analyzing attempts to be persuasive?)

Finding a Subject
Consciously examine your impressions. Ask yourself some general questions, which may help you zero in on your subject:

  • What am I feeling?
  • What interested me most? (how did the ad get your attention?)
  • What image or phrase stands out? (what is most memorable about the ad?)
  • What was funny, not funny? (does the ad use humor, fantasy, nightmare?)
  • What parts irritated me? (does the ad intentionally irritate?)
  • What did I admire? (how is the ad targeted to me to get me to "admire" it?--NIKE example with skateboarders and high school girls basketball players)
  • What stood out as different? (advertisers are always seeking novel ways to get your attention!)
  • What is repeated? (what's the "pitch"?)
  • What patterns are there?
  • What is my overall reaction?

Once you've noted your impressions, you can begin collecting information to test them, and from there you arrive at your subject. For example, based on my examination of a guitar ad, I may have the impression that the advertiser wants to sell me an image, or an "aura" (a feeling that surrounds the product), rather than pitch individual features of the actual product. It might cause me to wonder whether other guitars are pitched this way. So I may set about looking at as many guitar advertisements as I can so I can test my impression. Does the same apply to other guitar ads? I find that it does! So I've got my subject: the dubious way guitars are advertised. (Any issue of Acoustic Guitar or Guitar Player will provide concrete examples.) Or maybe I wanted to stick to analyzing a single ad. I still have my subject: An ad for Ovation guitars demonstrates how that company is trying to sell us an image instead of a guitar.

Collecting Information
More scientifically known as "data," the information you collect is the cornerstone evidence that supports your "theory" (the conclusion you'll draw). Three ways of collecting information are (1) finding examples, (2) recording details, and (3) keeping a count.

If I'm wriitng an analysis of a single ad, I can limit my data collection to a strong reading and recording of the details of that one ad. However, if I want to analyze guitar ads in general, I have a lot more data to collect. But I'm in luck, I've found (say) six different guitar ads in a single magazine! If I look at another magazine or two or three, I'll probably be able to collect six more, which will give me at least a dozen examples to choose from! Lots of data, strong cornerstone.

As I look carefully at the ads I've found, I record details about each one that I'll be able to use if I need to compare and contrast them later. I try to have a "system" for recording the details I observe by asking the same questions of each ad I look at--for example, what are its parts, what kinds of images are used, what are the unspoken messages suggested by the images (their connotative meaning), what do the words say? etc…

I may even count the number of "weasel words" in each ad to determine which products are most interested making vague claims…

Coming to a Conclusion
Examples, details and numbers can help you draw a reasonable conclusion, even if they don't entirely prove that conclusion beyond a shadow of a doubt. It's okay for your data to suggest your conclusion without absolutely proving it. Analysis and the conclusions that are drawn from it can't be proven the way we can prove that water boils at a certain temperature at certain altitudes. But interpretations, analysis and conclusions are still very useful. Through thoughtful analysis, you can get the reader to consider your conclusion and to start to question or to be persuaded by the amount and quality of your evidence. Your analysis will end up being most convincing if you suggest conclusions rather than state them as if they were facts and if you are careful that your conclusions don't make generalizations your evidence can't support or justify.

 

 

 

     

 


Questions? Contact me.

All materials unless otherwise indicated are copyright © 2001 by Stacy Tartar Esch.
The original contents of this site may not be reproduced, republished, reused, or retransmitted
without the express written consent of Stacy Tartar Esch.
These contents are for educational purposes only.