West Chester University
Home Notes for Introduction to Literature Notes for Basic Writing (ENG 020)
Notes for Introduction to Literature
Notes for Basic Writing (ENG 020)
ANALYSIS Applied to the Culture of Advertising ~~
Three questions are addressed in these notes:
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!
can you "do" analysis?
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
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:
Finding a Subject
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.
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
Questions? Contact me.
materials unless otherwise indicated are copyright © 2001 by Stacy
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.