Tag Archive for advertising

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.

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: 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 Cars.com’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.

Weekend Culture: Commercials

Viral videos consume us.  Surprised cats and spray bottle babies are at the heart of a technology rich culture.  But homemade videos aren’t the only videos that go viral.  Each week Visible Measures with Advertising Age releases a list of the top ten viral video advertisements.  It’s an incredible resource for the classroom.  All are ready made “arguments” for use in your classroom.

Consider having students watch any advertisement 2-3 times.

  • First viewing should be basic comprehension
  • Second viewing should focus on detail
  • Third viewing should allow them to answer guiding questions and/or create them on their own.

You may choose to have students SOAPSTone the ads by simply tweaking the category of “speaker” and changing it to advertiser/company or director.

Chipotle Commercial-“Back to the Start”

This is part of Chipotle’s anti factory farming and organic/free range campaign.  The commercial employs wooden toys to tell a three-part story.  Small farm turned factory farm turned small farm again. Willie Nelson sings a cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” in the background.  Use the commercial as a perfect pairing for teaching The Jungle, Fast Food Nation and the 2011 AP Language & Composition prompt about locavores or teach it on its own.

Some guiding questions:

    1. Why children’s toys?
    2. What arguments are made over the course of the commercials?
    3. Why “The Scientist?”  Why are the lyrics important?  Why Willie Nelson and not Coldplay?
    4. What is the importance of the final phrase “cultivate a better world?”
    5. What is the significance of the title?
    6. Write your own essential big picture question.  You are so smart.  You can do it.

Samsung Galaxy S II Commercial- “The Next Big Thing”
This pits the iPhone (without ever mentioning its name) against the Samsung Galaxy.  The commercial itself is a caricature of Apple fanboys and girls.  Use this to discuss the role of technology and even the importance of the “it” cell phone in today’s culture.

Some guiding questions:

1.  Identify elements of satire/humor.
2.  How are Apple consumers characterized?
3.  In comparison, how are Samsung consumers characterized.
4.  What is the significance of the title?
5.  Write your own essential question.

Weekend Culture: Advertising

If everything’s a text how do we hold students accountable?  The Common Core, under Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, requires that students be able to assess and evaluate multiple sources of information in different formats.  You would think that students, for all their “media” savvy, would know how to do this already.  And yet, they struggle.  And we struggle too.  To assess media means we have to think nimbly.

This weekend we’ll focus on some engaging and innovative advertising campaigns that can be employed to teach argument, purpose, and image analysis.

Perhaps, it’s me but Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ad campaign is sleek and smart.  There are four ads total and each one contains an image and keyword.  In smaller text at the bottom is an argument about how the word (“Viral,” “Disruptive,” “Charged,” and “Worldly”) represents the magazine’s edgy, new personality.

Consider having students read the Ad Age evaluation of Bloomberg’s advertisements as background.  While the advertisements could be used independently, the hamburger patty ad labeled “Worldly” is a perfect partner for The Jungle and/or Fast Food Nation.  In two sentences located in the lower left hand corner phrases such as “far flung,” “global food supply” and “crucial” speak to many of the big picture arguments raised by Upton Sinclair and Eric Schlosser.

Use our post on image annotations from September 2011 to have student annotate and write for any/all of the advertisements. Consider discussing how more text or images would change the effect.  You may also choose to have students create a T-chart of pros/cons to evaluate effectiveness.

Weekend Tech: Steve Jobs

Everybody was talking about it and by everybody I mean all of my students.  I expect them to discuss reality television, the NBA lockout, even homecoming requests on Facebook.   But I don’t expect detailed conversations about Steve Jobs.  Not from high schoolers. And certainly not in a meaningful way.  But the way they talked about Jobs got me thinking.  They were right.  The reaction in the last several days has been remarkable.

Teaching is about opportunity presenting itself and this a chance to for meaningful discussion, writing, analysis, anotation. Having students study/discuss these online “memorials” teaches a variety of skills: media literacy, memorializing in modern culture, the impact of social media, our “relationship” to public figures, the importance of technology, technology innovation and so on.   All of it’s critical thinking.  Who are we as a society in relationship to this loss?  This weekend I’ll post some of the best “remembrances” for classroom use.

Pitch Me Another: Apple’s Ads
The New Yorker’s Back Issues blog put together a retrospective of Apple advertising spanning the last several decades. It’s great especially the advertisement from 1984.  An easy way to do evaluate advertising, assess a change over time in audience expectations, even print advertising’s use of word choice.

Twitter’s Top Trending Topics: #iSad and #thankyousteve

The the word choice in the hashtags alone is meaningful.  iSad sounds so much like loneliness.  Like loss.  Like grief.  Even I can barely stand it and thankyousteve sounds almost like the closing of a letter or email or text.  Now perhaps I’ve been manipulated by all the media coverage too but it is fascinating.  The language is meaningful and economical.  Consider class discussion, writing prompt, or big picture analysis.

Here are some useful tweets:

David Pell 

Mark Zuckerberg


NPR’s Monkey See