Archive for Ad Analysis

Advertising & Rhetoric

Perhaps it’s because I can’t resist a good laugh.  Perhaps it’s because of Elaine Benes and the J. Peterman catalogue.  Whatever the reason, I love SkyMall. It’s free entertainment.  Cat toilets and portable infrared sauanas—what’ s not to love?

But if I’m truthful the product descriptions are the best part.  Anybody who can write up a product description about Skel-E-Gnomes deserves respect.  Plus with the Aziz Ansari stamp of approval there isn’t a reason to debate the importance of this magazine.

As English teachers, most of us teach visual rhetoric and advertising too. SkyMall can be an excellent way to implement some of the rhetoric studied.

Have students examine the catalogue.  Then, ask that they write their own product descriptions.   This type of an exercise offers students the opportunity to practice rhetorical strategies in a small space.

Provide them a list of images from the magazine.  They will choose one and write its product description.  It’s important they don’t see the original.  This should be an exercise in advertising and rhetoric. You can set a word count and ask that they employ a certain amount of rhetorical devices too.  You might even end this exercise by having students work with the 2005 AP Language and Composition rhetorical analysis from The Onion.


Possible Skymall Products


Possible Rhetorical Devices

  • Anaphora
  • Epistrophe
  • Polysndeton
  • Asyndeton
  • Metaphor
  • Alliteration
  • Simile
  • Rhetorical Appeals
  • Testimonals


If you’re feeling very adventurous you might have them construct a product description and a satirical version as well.

Rhetoric: Olympic Advertisements

As promised, today we talk about Olympic advertisements.  While the 2012 games are over, it’s still a good way to engage students in the process of viewing advertisements through a critical lens.   Introduce this particular exercise by discussing the sheer size of an Olympic audience and the role that Olympic sponsor.  Some good resources for this kind of discussion include:

Begin by asking students to simply watch the commercials without pens and pencils.  They’ll think you’ve lost it.  Then, ask them to watch a second time recording responses for critical thinking questions and SOAPSTone.  You may choose to discuss as a class or have them turn in for a grade.

P&G “Proud Sponsor of Moms

As you watch the commercial construct a series of detailed notes for each category of SOAPSTone. 

Speaker Occasion Audience Purpose Subject Tone









  1.  Explain the impact of using this particular age/size of children?  Why not babies?  Why not teens?


  1. Describe the emotional impact of the commercial itself and explain how that effect is accomplished.



  1. Why is there no dialogue until the very end?


  1. Why end with the image of a diver? Why not the weightlifting or balance beam?




Nike’s “Find Your Greatness

As you watch the commercial construct a series of detailed notes for each category of SOAPSTone. 

Speaker Occasion Audience Purpose Subject Tone









  1. Why begin with only the noise of the jogger’s feet on the pavement?


  1.  Define greatness in modern culture.  Define greatness according to this video.  Put both in your own words.


Now, identify the pros and cons to the videos perspective on greatness.  Be thoughtful in your responses. 

Pros Cons


  1.  Why argue that “greatness” is not a rare DNA strand?  Think about audience and where/when this commercial was aired.


  1. What argument does the commercial convey?  What might be the purpose of such an argument in light of the audience/event in which it aired?

Rhetoric: Olympic Advertisments

The lengths to which I will go to watch Olympic coverage in my own house has become ridiculous.  As I crawl into bed, I still feel compelled to watch one more race, one more event, one more dive.  Perhaps it’s the competition or my own fascination with events like track cycling that glue me to the TV for hours. Whatever the reason, thank god they’re over.

Now please IOC don’t take this the wrong way.  I love the Olympics.  Truthfully. Synchronized swimming nose clips and all.  I’m just not sure that I could take many more of these late night rendezvous with Bob Costas.  His after 11 p.m. coverage was killing me.

And while I always watch the Olympics avidly for the events, there’s no denying the role of the commercials themselves.  Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign was a jaw dropper.  And that’s of course where it gets interesting for any English teacher.  It’s not as if we don’t already look to commercials to  teach the elements of rhetoric or make students practice SOAPSTone. We do.  But teaching that plus the rhetoric of the Olympics.  Now that’s a bonus.

And since school has just started for so many of you, why not “wow” your new students by introducing rhetoric via Olympic advertisements?   My next post will highlight commercials that can be easily partnered with an introduction to rhetoric or used as part of an advertising unit.  Until then glory in the U.S. medal count and for goodness sake go to sleep.

Presidents’ Day: Toyota’s Dancing Presidents

The focus of this weekend’s impromptu posts is Presidents’ Day commercials highlighting the following key terms “presidents” and “dancing.”  Silly?  Yes.  Disturbing?  Most Certainly.  Opportunity to teach cultural point of view and highlight how silly we can be?   Absolutely.   Hopefully this weekend’s post can help you add social commentary, media literacy and humor to the classroom.

There is a chance, however small, that yesterday’s Value City Furniture “Dancing Presidents” commercial simply did not satisfy your need to see our founding fathers break it down.  Never fear.  Today, we’ll give you one more commercial featuring our newly minted back up dancers President Lincoln and President Washington.

Toyota Presidents’ Day 2011 Commercial –“Presidents Care”

At 30 seconds, this is a much more standard commercial.  Have student consider the patriotic elements as well as the highly choreographed presidents.  You may have students compare this “dancing presidents” commercial to the Value City Furniture commercial highlighted yesterday.  Questions for viewing, written response and discussion are below.

  1. Describe the reason that Toyota would feature “pseudo” hip hop music and dance moves in this commercial for car sales over President’s Day weekend.  What argument does this make about the audience they’re trying to reach?
  2. What patriotic elements are included in the commercial?  Explain their purpose?
  3. Again, why dancing presidents?  What difference does it make that these Presidents are choreographed and wearing tuxedos?
  4. Of the two dancing presidents commercial, Value City & Toyota, which is ultimately more effective?  Explain your reasoning.
  5. Considering that you’ve viewed two commercials that prominently feature dancing presidents, what argument could you make about society or culture?

Super Bowl 2012: Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to analyze commercials.  All types of commercials.  Even, *gasp*, some of the worst.  

1.  Why do you think it is important to use commercials to teach students rhetoric?  What types of commercials do you think work the best with students?
What does Emily say?


Emily:  I think students respond the best to commercials with humor. However, I think they do the best job of analyzing commercials with dogs in them.  For some reason it is easy for them to extract a larger argument when a canine is involved!

Is Aubrey right?

Aubrey: Humor, dogs, even Kia’s “Hamster Rap” make a difference in student response.  Although I will say that I’ve used Google Chrome’s “Dear Sophie” commercial and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.  Something about children growing up and swelling music.  Judge for yourself.

Google Chrome: “Dear Sophie”

2.  Sharethrough argues that consumers should demand all commercials live up to the same “hype” and content quality of Super Bowl Sunday.  Do you think that companies have the responsibility to entertain, morally challenge and delight their consumers?

Emily: No, I don’t think it is their “responsibility.”  However, I think the more

What does Emily say?entertaining they are the more effective they are in engaging viewers, which brings in more revenue.  I worry about commercials with the intent or responsibility to morally challenge their consumers.  I don’t think it is inappropriate or wrong, but I think it says a lot about the current state of our country and our morale if moral education is coming through 30-second spots that should be geared toward promoting a product.


Aubrey: I like entertainment.  I’d like to demand more entertainment. I’m not in a position to demand when it comes to advertising.  I don’t own aIs Aubrey right? Volkswagen, a Chevy or even a Ford.  There’s little chance that I’m going to fall wildly in love with Nacho Doritos or Bud Light.  So technically they don’t really owe me anything.  When it comes to morally challenging though, it seems complicated.  Ultimately even advertising that promotes “good” wants to also promote consumerism.  I don’t think either or those things are wrong individually.  I worry that together people, events, even “things” can be misappropriated.


3.  What commercials have had the most impact over the last ten years.

Emily: The commercials with lasting appeal are the ones that people find What does Emily say?themselves repeating later in the day.  The catchphrase or tagline is key.  The commercials with a statement like “don’t leave home without it” and “the other white meat” last with audiences.  The commercials with lasting appeal are the ones that people find themselves repeating later in the day.  However, my favorite taglines are ones like “Have It Your Way” and “I’m luvin’ it.” Mmmm…fast food.

Aubrey: Taglines are important.  I can’t remember as a child how many times I said, “Time to Make the Donuts” but it was far too many.  Personally, I feel the shift to commercials that showcase music and limited dialogue has been significant.  Clearly,  Volkswagen’s “The Force” is a near perfect example and the Chevy Sonic “Stunt Anthem” from Sunday was quite good.   But I would classify one my favorites as the Nike “Tag” commercial. Idea, execution, acting, music–it’s all amazing.  I may have looped it while writing all my responses.

4.  Choose an item or buisness that you think is in need of a revamped advertising campaign.  Explain yourself in an appropriate and witty way.


Emily: One store that I think is in need of a better advertising campaign is Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry.  I turn the television every time those commercials come on the air.  They are toxic.  No matter what approach they take (like the most recent commercials that have a man proposing on the big screen and then football players commenting on the fact that he went to Jared) they are still miserable.  Actually, I think most jewelry commercials are horrible.  The ones with Jane Seymour are pretty horrible too.
Is Aubrey right?


Aubrey: Gag, Jane Seymour and Kay Jewelers.  “Every Kiss Begins with Kay” is the worst.  Those commercials make me feel dirty if I don’t press mute fast enough.  They are rivaled by all of the Lexus ads asking you to make this a “December to Remember.”  I think I just threw up in my mouth thinking about that ad campaign.

Super Bowl 2012: Commercial Values

While having students identify details about language and “landscape” is important whenever teaching commercials/advertising, it’s imperative that they be able to identify larger cultural themes.

If advertising reflects who we are as a society at any given time, how do commercials shape those values?  It’s something that as adults we may ponder, but it can be difficult for students to make those cultural leaps.  They may be able to identify the implicit humorous aspect or even discuss how a commercial’s choice of music impacts an audience, but they struggle to see the bigger picture.

Since Super Bowl commercials are “quintessentially” drawing on American experience, mores, values and nostalgia, they become a perfect forum to discuss these larger cultural representations with which students so clearly struggle.  Today we’ll examine two Super Bowl ads from this past Sunday and provide a list of viewing questions for writing response and discussion.  However, the ultimate goal is to get students to identify American values and/or beliefs.

After students view each commercial have them construct a series of big picture arguments about how we “envision” the United States. Have them construct an argument prompt that questions the validity of this point of view.  See the examples below and use them as a model to get students critically thinking/writing.  Note: Having students identify big picture elements in commercials will be difficult.  Having them turn those into writing prompts will take time, patience and modeling.  Be sure to set aside ample time for this type of activity.


History Channel-Swamp People: “This is Your Boss” 

  1. Explain the effect on the audience of repeating “This is your.”
  2. Examine the use of the following words: water cooler, 401K, co-worker, wingtips and break room.  Explain how the images that accompany them are supposed to create a sense of irony.
  3. Explain why the final narration of the commercial drops the “this is your.”  Explain how the tone changes as a result.
  4. What argument does this commercial make about the actual History channel program?

BIG PICTURE ROUND-UP: Identify two big picture arguments this commercial makes about the United States.  Your ideas must be complex enough to prove thoughtfulness.  Choose the best one and create a moral/ethical dilemma argument prompt.  Use the model below as a starting point.


Big Picture: Americans don’t just value work they value work that requires physical labor.

Writing Prompt: While the American dream is dependent upon hard work how much do we actually value physical labor?  Provide evidence a variety of sources both historical and modern.

MetLife “Everyone” 

  1. Identify MetLife’s purpose in using cartoon characters to sell insurance.  Why not use real people?  Who is the audience?
  2. Why cartoon characters with a “real world” landscape/backdrop?  What is the impact of this contrast?
  3. View the commercial a second time paying particular attention to the language. Explain the impact and importance of repeating each of the phrases below:
    1. “No Matter who you are, no matter where you’re from”
    2. “Every family, everywhere”
    3. “Not just the ones who can figure it out, not just the most fortunate”
  4. Examine the tagline, “I can do this.”  Why is this an important phrase in regards to life insurance?

BIG PICTURE ROUND-UP: Identify two big picture arguments this commercial makes about the United States.  Your ideas must be complex enough to prove thoughtfulness.  Choose the best one and create a moral/ethical dilemma argument prompt.  Use the model below as a starting point.


Big Picture: All Americans regardless of class need to provide for their family’s security and comfort.

Writing Prompt: Does life in America provide security and comfort for everyone?  What roles do income and/or class have to do with family safety?  Provide evidence from a variety of sources both historical and modern.

Super Bowl 2012: Car Commercials

I do believe that, taken all together, Chevy’s commercials in Super Bowl XLVI were hands down the best.  From indie music to humorous takes on the apocalypse they presented a good/fresh take on the tired car add.  But, it would be unfair to simply examine Chevy commercial after Chevy commercial.  Even though I was born near Detroit, it can’t just be about the Motor City.

This Super Bowl had some solid car commercials.  They might not rival Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” commercial, but they’ll work, offering examples of teamwork, high school “expectations,” and the animal affections discussed in yesterday’s post.  Use the ads and the accompanying questions below as starting points for implementing a smaller unit based solely on car commercials.

Hyundai “All for One

  1. Examine the limited dialogue between characters in the commercials.  Focus specifically on words like “impossible” and “try.”  What is the connotation of these phrases as they relate to the action of the ad?
  2. Why would Hyundai choose the Rocky theme song to sell their product?  Consider their origin, how their seen as a car manufacturer, even their car design/price as you respond.
  3. List as many categories of Hyundai employees as possible.  What is the argument being made by their inclusion?
  4. Humor?  Identify it.
  5. The tagline argues, “There’s always a way.  That’s just our way.”  Explain the purpose of this specific repetition (epistrophe).  What is implied?

Chevy “Happy Grad

  1. Explain how this commercial plays upon a “preconceived” notion about graduation and gifts.
  2. Identify two ways in which humor is created via the parents’ interactions with each other.
  3. Explain two ways in which this high school grad is characterized. For each explain what this characterization is supposed to imply to the audience.
  4. Many car commercials, read Lexus holiday ads here, focus on using elaborate bows on cars in an effort to suggest the “size” of the gift.  Examine the commercial again.  Look for the red bow.  Decide why its inclusion creates humor.
  5. This commercial was the winning entry in the Chevy Route 66 Super Bowl ad contest.  What significance results in having an individual create/construct this ad instead of a company?  When 2012 Super Bowl air space runs 3.5 million dollars per 30 seconds, what does Chevy have to gain from using this type of an ad?


Volkswagen “The Dog Strikes Back” and Making of Video

The great thing about the Volkswagen commercials is that the company also releases a “making of video.”  It’s a great way to get students to reconsider the way in which we culturally view advertising.  Have students watch the making of video after viewing the commercial as a way of deepening your discussion about the rhetoric of today’s advertising.

  1. What is the advantage of having limited narration?
  2. What role does music play in telling the story?  Explain the impact.
  3. Identify the elements of humor employed.  What impact do they have on the audience since the actor is a dog? Why build an entire narrative around a character who can’t speak?
  4. Is the Star Wars theme, a nod to last year’s “The Force” commercial necessary?  Explain whether or not this “nod” to last year’s Super Bowl commercial helps or hinders the narrative.

  1. What argument is made about Volkswagen’s ads and their impact on a global audience?
  2. Identify the elements of humor employed in the “making of” video.  Explain why they exist.  Isn’t this supposed to be just an explanation of how the commercial was shot?
  3. What does the attention to detail in the Stars Wars section convey to the audience?
  4. Consider the amount of time that went to into constructing the costumes and the set what argument is being made about consumers and Volkswagen’s relationship to them?

Super Bowl 2012: Intro Advertising

Today we begin to tackle Super Bowl commercials from 2012.   Our goal: to give you some articles and videos to begin a unit on teaching advertising. Hopefully by now your heartburn and disdain for Mr. Quiggly has worn off.

To begin, consider having students read The New York Times article, “Before the Toss, Super Bowl Ads.” This year, most Super Bowl advertisers have released ads early or offered up 30-second teasers.  As a result, Super Bowl ads have been viewed, liked, tweeted and reblogged millions of times.  This shift in marketing should be one of the primary focuses of their annotation as they read the article.  You’ll also want them to examine the accompanying infographic.

Consider using the following questions for classroom discussion or written response:

  1. Discuss the pros and cons of releasing a full length commercial before the Super Bowl.
  2. What type of argument do companies make about their products by creating a “teaser” or “trailer?”
  3. Examine the infographic.  Consider the number of ads presented by individual companies as well as the quarters in which the commercials air.  Construct two implicit arguments based on the information.  (THINK: what impact does timing have on an advertisement and/or brand?)

NPR also has an excellent story about the “Three Hidden Themes of This Year’s Super Bowl’s Ads” that you might consider having your students examine too.  Be forewarned.  The third theme is “sex” and specific reference is made to a drinking game based on the types of commercials that appear during the game.  If you choose to give your students only a section, stick to number one and two on the list.

Consider using the following questions for student response. 

  1. Why might “nostalgia” be one of the best ways to market towards any audience?  Identify what types of objects, characters, music, etc. would trigger your own nostalgia and make you more likely to buy a product.  See if you can do the same for types of “nostalgia” might “trigger” your parents.
  2. The story argues that human attention is “arrested” when animals appear on screen.   Why do animal ads sell?  Remember not all advertising includes “cute” kittens/puppies.
  3. What is it about ads with sex appeal that sells an item?  Do commercials that appeal to sex draw audience focus away from the actual product?

Finally, consider using the video below from sharethrough.  Their tagline is “every day should be the Super Bowl.”  Have students watch the video looking specifically to identify implicit arguments.

  1. What is implied by the use of the phrase “a battle of advertisement?”
  2. Define “content” according to the video.  Explain the difference between “contents” impact on the viewer versus “ads.”
  3. What is implied about consumers’ power in regards to advertising?  What role does technology play?
  4. The video ends by saying that this type of shift will make good advertising a “lasting part of our culture.”  Explain what the cultural role of advertising should be.

Super Bowl 2012: Overview

Do any Google search for advertising lesson plans and in Google language you’ll see “about” 3.8 millions results.  Change “advertising” to “commercial” and that number climbs to over 18 million.

With such vast resources available, it might seem as if starting a unit on the rhetoric of commercials would be a matter of pointing/clicking.   Instead, it’s tricky.  The lessons plans feel too simple or only ask for summary.  Worse, the commercials don’t meet the needs of your “audience” because of their age or content.

Do any good lessons plans for commercials exist?

It’s easy to waste countless hours searching and come up empty handed.

Ultimately good commercials are hard to find.  Most are too “adult,” too irritating or too foolish for use in the classroom.  Even Monday after “the big game” might leave you feeling as if those 3.5 million dollar ad spots didn’t quite live up to their potential.  It’s easy to see why between Elton John as the king of Pepsi and’s take on “confidence”.

In the midst of all the commercial teasers and Super Bowl Ad chatter, it seems only fitting to use that momentum to pick up where we left off last week with print advertising.  So this week we’re going to tackle Super Bowl commercials.  Of course, we’ll parse the “good” Super Bowl commercials by sorting them into categories and providing you a variety of sources to serves as background.  So relax. Maybe even close your eyes after your late night, snack food debauchery.  Just don’t let your mind wander to any of those Doritos commercials.  You’ll regret it.

Ad Analysis: Week in Review

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to analyze the psychological effects of Public Service Announcements (PSAs).

1.)  I love the HSBC advertisements from their “Different Points of Value” campaign.  They are witty and cause the viewer to rethink a common scene.  This week I would like to play the role of art director and provide you with an image and ask you to come up with three various perspectives.  

Aubrey:   I’m glad you’ve picked this.  It’s been on my mind a lot lately especially with the 911 call and hospitalization for “exhaustion.”   Here’s my take: Trophy Husband…Cleavage…K2 Spice Smoker

Emily:  Impressive…and moves chronologically as well.  It’s like your tagline follows the crescendo of her downfall.  I know it’s invading her privacy to release the full 911 call, but I just can’t believe that a grown adult making that much money is inhaling nitrous oxide.  I mean, c’mon.  Really, Demi?

2.)  Like I said on Thursday, I am haunted by the “this is your brain on drugs” PSA.  Describe your favorite PSA .

Aubrey: I was always really horrified by the “ I Learned it from Watching You” PSA.  As I look at it now, it’s somewhat of a laughable premise for a PSA but in 1987 it was very upsetting to me.  Although really the dad’s hair/mustache should have upset me too.  

Emily:  My brother and I used to quote that all the time as joke.  It’s the perfect punchline to any awkward situation.  That’s how I like to live my life:  deflecting all responsibility for my flaws onto others. 

3. When researching for the PSA day I was shocked at how graphic and abrasive the PSAs of today are.  Even though I was scared of an egg frying, the PSAs now are so much clearer, more direct, and harsher than the ones we grew up with.  What would you attribute to this change?

Aubrey: I have to imagine that a world that embraces all forms of reality television, including A &E’s Intervention, no longer feels the need to sugar coat the truth.  If kids can watch actual drug addicts in the throes of their addiction how can a “standard” print ad actually reach them?  

Emily:  I just feel like they are so in your face.  I think you’re right:  kids are more aware of the bad in life.  However, these PSAs are so threatening toward the recipient.  The PSAs we had when growing up just sought to scare us into submission.  The PSAs today seem more geared toward accusing the viewer that we are to blame, which then scares us into submission.  Like you said, we grew up seeing PSAs blaming parents for kid’s drug abuse.  Today’s ads are more shock and awe:  if you use too many paper towels Africa will go away.  They’re just too extreme for me to find them really effective.

4. While I love Dr. Pepper, I hate the commercials for Dr. Pepper Ten.  What is an ad that brings you to rage?

Aubrey:  I appreciate that you use the words, “brings you to rage.”  While there are a multitude of things that aggravate me in the world of advertising, especially 5 Hour Energy commercials, there is nothing more enraging than a company capable of good that turns to the dark side.  Geico, I’m talking to you.  You make me laugh with your Abraham Lincoln commercial.  But then, you follow it up with Woodchucks.  Really?  It’s not funny.  Those do not look like woodchucks.  Shame on you.  Just thinking about it makes me grit my teeth.

Emily:  I love the Geico commericals.  Even the woodchuck commerical.  I find them hysterical.  I reference the “little pig went wee all the way home” all the time in class.  It is to the point now that I will go “weeeee” and the kids shake their heads because they know what I’m alluding.  And they don’t think it is funny.  Maybe it is just because I have the humor of a 5th grader and love tv shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos and can watch videos of people falling while dancing like I’m getting paid for it.