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projects: ads

Page history last edited by Mark Gaipa 12 years, 3 months ago

Projects and Assignments involving Advertisements


Idea 1: Analyzing ads, from then and now (suggested by Verna Kale, Hampden-Sydney College)


Verna has had success with an assignment that puts a twist on the standard rhetorical analysis of the ad: instead of asking her students to focus on a single ad, she has them do a comparative analysis of two ads, one drawn from a magazine or newspaper that was published before 1940, the other drawn from a current periodical—and the second ad that students work on has to be for a product similar to the one in the earlier ad (e.g., they may choose a pair of ads, then and now, for automobiles, or shoes, or Quaker Oats, etc.).           


Students begin the assignment by visiting the library and exploring periodicals for their two ads.  Once they have their two documents, they are asked to analyze them “in order to explain 1) what argument each ad makes on its own and 2) how those two arguments compare.” Verna also provides some questions students can use to direct their analysis:

  • What arguments do the ads make?  What images support the argument?  Does text support the argument or do the images stand alone? 
  • Are the tone and style of the ads appropriate to the situation and the publication?  How are the ads organized? 
  • Do the ads demonstrate ethos, logos and pathos?  Which of these three appeals is dominant?  Why? 
  • What is the significance of how the two ads compare?  What has changed in the intervening years?  What has stayed the same?  Is this change or stasis historically significant?  Rhetorically significant?  What might the ads say about American culture? 

The end product is a 5-page (double-spaced) essay with a strong thesis statement supported by evidence from the ads and (if necessary) external sources.



Idea 2: Ad disorientation as a trigger for social history research


Ads from old magazines regularly afford us glimpses into a world that’s vastly different from our own. Here’s an exercise that uses ads’ flashes of strangeness to flesh out for our students what living in that other era was like. Give students a handful of magazines that were published during the time period you’re studying in class (say, the early 1910s), and ask them to keep reading the magazines’ ads until each of them encounters something that doesn’t make sense to them. For instance:

  • An ad for Hinds after-shave cream (in Colliers, October 22, 1910: p. 32) reads this way: “Men who shave at home are fast learning that this standard toilet cream is just what they require to keep their faces in a comfortable, healthy condition” (emphasis added). But where would men shave if not at home?
  • Later in that issue of Colliers (on p. 33), an ad for Pompeian Massage Cream makes this claim: “The ‘automobile complexion’ has come to stay, except when Pompeian is used to overcome it.” In fact, automobile complexion has come and gone: so just what was “automobile complexion,” how did one get it, and how wide a problem was it?
  • An ad for Peter’s Milk Chocolate (in The American Magazine, October 1910: p. 6) comes with the following boast: “Digestible food and dessert combined.” Okay, but does an ad really need to claim that their food product is digestible?

Once students locate an ad that confuses them in some way, ask them write out their confusion in the form of a question (perhaps as we’ve done in our examples above) and then have them answer their own question by doing research on their topic—ideally so they’re no longer confused. In class the next day, each student will then hand out a copy of their ad and give a quick 5-minute report on their findings. By the end of the class, you’ll have fleshed out, from a wide range of unexpected angles, a social history of the period that foregrounds how different it is from ours.


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