Essay about advisement analysis

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Essay #1: Advertisement Analysis

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand to Fifteen Hundred Words”

In his essay “Masters of Desire” Jack Solomon tells us that advertisements are “signs of cultural desire and consciousness.” What may look like “just show-and-tell,” he says, is in fact

a psychological strategy designed not only to inform you about products but also to persuade you to buy them by making associations between the products and certain pleasurable experiences that may have nothing to do with the product at all—like sex, or a promise of social superiority, or a simple laugh.

That is why advertisements are such good examples of what Solomon calls “the deliberate movement from objective denotation […] to subjective connotation” (SOL 158).

For your first essay, you will conduct a semiotic analysis of a current one-page product advertisement that relies mainly on images and a little text to manipulate consumers. You will interpret and explain the ways in which the ad moves from denotation to connotation, transforming things into signs. What cultural mythologies (ideologies or value systems) does the ad seek to exploit, and why is that significant? In other words, what does it say about the particular cultural moment in which it exists?


  • 1000 to 1500 words
  • 3 – 5 sources: the advertisement; two essays of your choice from Signs of Life Chapter 2; one or two additional sources (optional)
  • Works Cited page

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Questions for Analyzing Images • What is the appearance of the image? Is it black and white? Color? Is it in focus or is it blurry? Consider how the form in which the image is expressed affects its message. If an image is composed of primary colors, does it look fun and lively, for instance? • What kind of image is it? Is it abstract, does it represent an actual person or place, or is it a combination of the two? If people are represented, who are they? Who does not appear? What are the people doing? Are they looking at each other, at the viewer, or away from the viewer? • Who is the intended audience for the image? Is it an artistic photograph or a commercial work, such as an advertisement? If it is an ad, to what kind of person is it directed? Where is the ad placed? If the image is in a magazine, consider the audience for the publication. Do you need any background information to understand the image? • What emotions does the image convey? Overall, is it serious, sad, funny? Is its expression of emotion, in your opinion, intentional? What emotional associations do you have with the image? • If the image includes more than one element, what is the most prominent element in the composition? A particular section? A logo? Any writing? A person or group of people? A product? Why are some elements larger than others? How does each part contribute to the whole? • Where does the image’s layout lead your eye? Are you drawn to any specific part? What is the order in which you look at the various parts? Does any particular section immediately stand out? • Does the image include text? If so, how do the image and the text relate to one another? • Does the image call for a response? For instance, does it suggest that you purchase a product? If so, what claims does it make? Audience: The intended audience for this jeans ad is most likely a woman in her late twenties or older. We see only the model’s back, so she is faceless. That allows the viewer to project herself into the scene, and the nostalgic look suggests that the viewer could imagine herself at a younger time in her life. Note that the product is “stretch” jeans. There’s no suggestion here, although it is often made in ads for other brands, that the jeans will enhance a woman’s sexual appeal; rather, the claim is that the jeans are practical — and will fit a body beyond the teen years. Note the sensible hairstyle and shoes. For an interesting contrast, you might compare this ad to one for Diesel jeans. Emotion: The woman’s body language suggests individuality and determination; she’s literally “going it alone.” She’s neither posing for nor aware of the viewer, suggesting that “what you see is what you get.” And, perhaps, she doesn’t particularly care what you think. Composition and layout: The layout of the ad is carefully designed to lead your eye: The hill slopes down from top right toward middle left, and the bike draws your eye from bottom right to mid-left, with both lines converging on the product, the jeans. For easy readability, the text appears at the top against the blank sky. Text: The message, “The things that give a woman substance will never appear on any ‘what’s in/what’s out’ list,” suggests that Lee jeans are a product for women who aren’t interested in following trends, but rather want a good, old-fashioned value — “substance,” not frivolity. Response: The manufacturer of Lee jeans would prefer, naturally, that the viewer of the ad buy the product. The viewer would identify with the woman wearing the jeans in the advertisement and be convinced that these practical (if not particularly cutting-edge) jeans would be a good purchase. In sum, most fashion ads stress the friends (and often, mates) you will attract if you buy the product, but this ad presents “a road not taken,” suggesting the American ideology of marching to the beat of a different drummer, the kind of old-fashioned individualism that brings to mind Robert Frost and Henry David Thoreau. The pastoral surroundings and the “old painting” effect echo artists such as Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. All these impressions connote lasting American values (rural, solid, middle American) that are meant to be associated with anti-trendiness and enduring qualities, such as individualism and practicality. And these impressions suggest the advertisers carefully and effectively kept the ad’s semiotic messages in mind as they designed it. ...
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