Magazine Analysis Assignment

Essay Assignment: The Signs of a Magazine Advertisement, due before class on Jan. 25th (please email in pdf format)

Select a full page advertisement from a popular mass audience magazine (e.g., Time, Newsweek, Glamour, Sports Illustrated) and write a 3-5 page, double-spaced analysis of the principle signifying practices the advertisement invokes. How does the ad make meaning? What are the signs in the ad? What are the denotations? the connotations? Does the ad use metonymy? indexical signs? What paradigms does the ad invoke and create? Does it use any syntagmatic systems of meaning? Does it involve myths? What cultural code systems does the ad appeal to? How do the patterns of signification in the ad articulate social codes about things such as power, race, class, gender, respect, or authority? (You may want to print out this set of definitions to help you with this.)

Just about any ad will do, but it's a good idea if you select something you find interesting (or appalling). It's also good to stay away from ads that have lots of detailed information about the product (e.g., herbicide ads for farmers). Ads for well-known and unimportant products are usually the most interesting, such as ads for beer, liquor, cigarettes, beauty items, soft drinks, sports cars, corporate image ads, etc. Feel free to discuss your analysis with others from the class, as long as your ad is different from theirs. 

Recommended Structure

A good way to begin your analysis is to try to reconstruct, in your first paragraph, what happens when you first looked at the ad. What did you notice first? Why did it grab your attention? What did it make you think of? Do you notice anything else after looking at the ad for a while? What happened when you read the written copy -- did it, perhaps, change your understanding of the pictures? Once you've done that in your first paragraph, begin to explain how the ad works, starting from denotations and working up from connotations through codes and ideologies. So the second paragraph should be about denotations, the third perhaps about the most direct connotations, the fourth perhaps about some paradigms, and so forth. 

Two useful analytic techniques can help you interpret an ad: 

1) Imaginative Substitution: You can often identify cultural codes in the ad by using imaginative substitution (also known as the commutation test): what would happen if the ad used a model that was the opposite sex? A different race or age? What if the background were different? Answering questions like these helps develop an understanding of the key signifying elements of the ad and the ways that they relate. 

2) Ask: What does the ad assume you know? Most ads would not make sense if you did not already know a lot. If I say “Mary had a little . . . “ you know what comes next because you and I both know the nursery rhyme. I can assume you already know the nursery rhyme. Similarly, when advertisers make an ad for Coke or Budweiser or Marlboro cigarettes, they can assume you already know a great deal about those products. But there are also many more subtle things ads assume: about beauty standards, perhaps, or about social class, or about families. These assumptions are not all neutral: often an ad asks the reader to take on a perspective, a point of view on things, that if you think about them explicitly, you may not agree with them. Sometimes ads ask of a reader to assume things about themselves, to assume the point of view of a particular kind of identity or subjectivity. (This is known as interpellation.) These assumptions that are structured into a text are usefully called “the conditions of intelligibility,” that is, the conditions that need to be in place for a text to make meaning. 

Things to avoid: 

Do not talk about how effective or ineffective the ad is in selling the product. Do not talk about what the advertiser is trying to do, about what the advertiser’s intention is. The point of this kind of semiotic analysis is to see what the ads tell us about society and culture, not to evaluate the ad’s effectiveness. Do not claim that the ad makes people think that if they buy the product, they will be like the beautiful or famous person in the ad. (People are not that stupid; ads work by involving the audience in building systems of meaning, not by tricking them.) 

Don't just provide a laundry list of things you notice about the ad. Use the terminology and principles explained in class and in the reading. (Avoid saying things like “the ad gives the viewers meanings,” “the ad tells us,” “the ad implies,” “the advertiser wants the reader to believe,” “the ad makes the reader want x,” or other colloquial language for explaining what’s going on. Use semiotics!) Write your analysis in the form of an essay, in a clear and interesting way. There is no one correct way of explaining the systems of meaning-making in the ad; writing a good analysis involves some imagination as well as accuracy. Keep it short, but spend some time working on it. It will be easy to fill up a page or two with random comments about the ad, but difficult to provide comments that are illuminating, precise, and thorough. 

To get a sense of what these look like, there are examples of good student semiotic analyses here, here, here, and here. 

Please include the ad or a scan of it with your essay, in .pdf format, and make sure to use page numbers. The assignment is due before class, via email, Jan. 25th.
Part 1: Advertising Analysis
Choose six ads from various magazines for analysis. Your ads should show a diverse range of techniques to advertising and a diverse range of products. If your analysis of each ad varies little from ad to ad then you are demonstrating a limited understanding of advertising techniques and will be marked down. For each ad write a one-two paragraph analysis covering the following topics
  1. Introduction - state the name of the product, the company, and the magazine.
  2. Brand Name - is there anything in the brand name designed to influence the consumer?
  3. Visual Impact - what is the first thing that grabbed you in the ad - what influence does it have?
  4. Theme - explain what the general theme of the ad is.
  5. Slogan - is a slogan used in the ad, if so what is it and what effect does it have?
  6. Layout - what percent of the ad is taken up by the product, the background, the words - what is the influence?
  7. Background - how does the background visuals contribute to the theme of the ad, the image the ad is trying to project, what associations are being suggested
  8. Use of Colour - does color play an important role in the ad, is it used effectively, how doe it influence to viewer?
  9. Use of Language - does the ad use techniques using language to influence the consumer?
  10. Psychological appeal or emotional appeal - what emotions are being appealed to? What psychological needs are being appealed to?
  11. Audience - Who is the ad being aimed at? Age group, Income level, occupational group?
  12. Effectiveness - Rate the ad for its effectiveness. Did you find the ad interesting, informative, memorable, stupid, insulting?
Part 2. Do either of the following:

Television Ad Analysis
Choose two video ads that are available for viewing on the Internet. Analyze the ad in a similar manner to Part 1. In your analysis, specifically address the following:
  1. Introduction - state the name of the product, the company, and provide link to ad.
  2. Brand Name - is there anything in the brand name designed to influence the consumer?
  3. Visual Impact - what is the first thing that grabbed you in the ad - what influence does it have?
  4. Theme - explain what the general theme of the ad is.
  5. Slogan - is a slogan used in the ad, if so what is it and what effect does it have?
  6. Visuals - how do the background visuals contribute to the theme of the ad, the image the ad is trying to project, what associations are being suggested?
  7. Use of Colour - does color play an important role in the ad, is it used effectively, how doe it influence to viewer?
  8. Use of Language - does the ad use techniques using language to influence the consumer?
  9. Psychological appeal or emotional appeal - what emotions are being appealed? What psychological needs are being appealed to?
  10. Audience - Who is the ad being aimed at? Age group, Income level, occupational group?
  11. Effectiveness - Rate the ad for its effectiveness. Did you find the ad interesting, informative, memorable, stupid, insulting?

Provide the URL for your advertisements, so that they can be viewed.

or, Design your own Ad
You have your choice of designing an advertisement for a print publication or creating a storyboard for a video advertisement.
  • Create a product you want to advertise
  • Give the product a brand name and slogan
  • Decide what words you want to use to describe the product (language technique)
  • Decide upon a psychological or emotional appeal you want to use
  • If doing print ad, layout the ad in an attractive manner (digital or print)
  • if doing storyboard, use this template. Each box should portray a key frame in your video advertisement, use below each box to describe the frame and include any dialog or voice over information, label each frame (introduction, shot 1, shot 2, conclusion) in space above the box
Marks for originality, appropriate slogan and brand name, appropriate appeal, and saleability(neatness, english, attractiveness)

Format
The choice of format is up to you. You may submit your work on paper with ads clipped from magazines and pasted onto sheets of paper with writeups on the facing page, you may submit your work digitally by scanning ads and creating digital copies that you then insert into a text document or desktop publishing program or you may do a combination of the two. Either way your submission must have a title page and be attractively organized. All write-ups are to be the form of one to two paragraphs with complete sentences.

Resources
Glossary of Advertising Terms



Example of a storyboard
Advertising Claims
Advertising Appeals
Advertising directed at Needs
More Advertising Appeals

Procedure
  1. Look at the advertisement
  2. Answer the questions posed
  3. Combine into 1-2 well-organized paragraphs


  1. Introduction - Digiorno Crispy Flatbread Pizza (frozen) Pepperoni Fire Roasted Red Pepper, Sports Illustrated Magazine
  2. Brand Name - - Digiorno is italian sounding - authentic, crispy - texture word, fire-roasted red - suggests spicy hot.
  3. Visual Impact - pizza slices is the first thing that catches my eye - makes me hungry
  4. Theme - the general theme of the ad is that this brand of frozen pizza is more delicious (better) than the pizza served by delivery services
  5. Slogan - undeliverably delicious - suggests the pizza is better than the stuff that you get when you order from pizza places that deliver
  6. Layout - more than half the full page ad is taken up by the cooked product - influencing you to crave pizza to fulfill your hunger.
  7. Background - the background is countertop and red trim, the area not filled by the pizza - the countertop emphasizes classic notions of home cooking
  8. Use of Colour - red is chosen because it is color associated with italy and it also stimulates hunger
  9. Use of Language - the ad uses a preemptive claim in that of course digiorno pizza can't be delivered it is frozen pizza
  10. Psychological appeal or emotional appeal - the ad is an appeal to the desire for authentic italian pizza, to have hunger quenched, and good taste
  11. Audience - Since this ad is in Sports Illustrated and it is frozen pizza, it is mostly likely aimed at 20-35 year old males with reasonable incomes and the desire for easy but good tasting food
  12. Effectiveness - I would give the ad about 7/10, nothing remarkable about the ad but I think the message is appropriate for the market of frozen pizza eaters.

This is an ad for Digiorno Crispy Flatbread Pizza (frozen) Pepperoni Fire Roasted Red Pepper and was located in an issue of Sports Illustrated Magazine. The brand name is italian-sounding, suggests that the pizza is spicy, traditional pizza. Your eye is immediate drawn to image of the pizza itself, it looks as if you could reach out and touch it. The general theme of the ad is that DiGiorno frozen pizza is better tasting than the stuff you get from the delivery restaurant. This can be seen in the slogan "undeliverably delicious." The layout of the ad with the image of a pizza sitting on the counter top being cut reinforces that the pizza is just waiting to be eaten. The use of red reinforces the italian connection as well it is a color that has been found to stimulate hunger. The ad makes a preemptive claim as it could be argued that "undeliverably delicious" is obviously true because frozen pizza isn't delivered so of course it is not going to taste the same as delivery. The only appeal that the ad is making is to satisfy the consumers need for their hunger to be satisfied with good tasting pizza. The audience for this ad would be the typical reader of Sports Illustrated, a male between the ages of 18 and 30 who needs easy to prepare, satisfying food and have a modest level of income. Overall I would give the ad seven out of ten as it is does a good job of getting its message across as is appropriate for the intended market. However, there is nothing remarkable about the ad.

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