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Advertisements For Analysis Essays

Advertisements comprise thirty percent of the material aired on television, and many of us will view more than two million commercials in our lifetimes.  The A. C. Nielson Company reports that, by the age of sixty-five, the average U.S. citizen will have spent nine years of his or her life watching television—twenty-eight hours a week, two months a year. And in one year, the average youth will spend nearly twice as many hours in front of the tube (fifteen hundred hours) as he or she spends at school (nine hundred hours).[1] We may turn the box off eventually, but the advertisements remain. We are surrounded by them: they cover billboards, cereal boxes, food wrappers, bathroom stalls, tee shirts, and tennis shoes. They seep into our music, our newscasts, and our conversations. We recognize corporate logos and hum jingles ("Ba Da Ba Ba Ba"). In short, advertisements inform every aspect of our lives. Yet we often give them very little thought. We may make aesthetic judgments about them (e.g., "That commercial was funny" or "That commercial was stupid") or view them as innocent means to purchasing ends, but we rarely acknowledge them as messages that require critical attention.

Advertisements, however, do more than entertain and sell more than just products. They suggest standards of normalcy, of coolness, of sexiness, of happiness, and so on—standards that shape the way that we view and interpret the world.  They also serve the profit-driven interests of the corporations that create them. As cultural critic Naomi Klein explains, "Quite simply, every company with a powerful brand is attempting to develop a relationship with consumers that resonates so completely with their sense of self that they will aspire, or at least consent, to be serfs under these feudal brandlords" (149). [2]  In other words, advertisements are hardly innocent means to purchasing ends and, more often than not, hardly true reflections of our senses of self. Instead, they are a powerful force in creating our senses of self. Therefore, advertisements do require a critical eye.

Whenever you analyze an ad, it may be useful to ask yourself some questions:

  • Who appears in the ad? A celebrity or someone well known? An unfamiliar figure? What are the expressions of the people featured in the ad?
  • What is the setting of the ad, and what does it suggest about the message?
  • Who is the audience for the ad, and how do you know?
  • How are language and conversation used in the ad? What, if anything, do the people featured in the ad say? In print advertisements, are there conversation bubbles? For commercials, consider any conversations that might take place.
  • In what ways does the ad attempt to manipulate the consumer into buying the particular product it sells? On what emotions and desires does the ad play? In other words, how is pathos used?
  • Consider issues such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality. In what ways, if any, are they present in the ad? What does their presence in or absence from the ad suggest about the message?

[1] "Television & Health." The Sourcebook for Teaching Science. N.p., 2007. Web. 2 February 2012. See https://www.csun.edu/science/health/docs/tv&;health
[2] Klein, Naomi. No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs. New York: Picador, 2009. Print.

Organizing Your Analysis


This resource covers how to write a rhetorical analysis essay of primarily visual texts with a focus on demonstrating the author’s understanding of the rhetorical situation and design principles.

Contributors:Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2015-08-30 05:01:04

There is no one perfect way to organize a rhetorical analysis essay. In fact, writers should always be a bit leery of plug-in formulas that offer a perfect essay format. Remember, organization itself is not the enemy, only organization without considering the specific demands of your particular writing task. That said, here are some general tips for plotting out the overall form of your essay.


Like any rhetorical analysis essay, an essay analyzing a visual document should quickly set the stage for what you’re doing. Try to cover the following concerns in the initial paragraphs:

  1. Make sure to let the reader know you’re performing a rhetorical analysis. Otherwise, they may expect you to take positions or make an evaluative argument that may not be coming.
  2. Clearly state what the document under consideration is and possibly give some pertinent background information about its history or development. The intro can be a good place for a quick, narrative summary of the document. The key word here is “quick, for you may be dealing with something large (for example, an entire episode of a cartoon like the Simpsons). Save more in-depth descriptions for your body paragraph analysis.
  3. If you’re dealing with a smaller document (like a photograph or an advertisement), and copyright allows, the introduction or first page is a good place to integrate it into your page.
  4. Give a basic run down of the rhetorical situation surrounding the document: the author, the audience, the purpose, the context, etc.

Thesis Statements and Focus

Many authors struggle with thesis statements or controlling ideas in regards to rhetorical analysis essays. There may be a temptation to think that merely announcing the text as a rhetorical analysis is purpose enough. However, especially depending on your essay’s length, your reader may need a more direct and clear statement of your intentions. Below are a few examples.

1. Clearly narrow the focus of what your essay will cover. Ask yourself if one or two design aspects of the document is interesting and complex enough to warrant a full analytical treatment.

The website for Amazon.com provides an excellent example of alignment and proximity to assist its visitors in navigating a potentially large and confusing amount of information.

2. Since visual documents often seek to move people towards a certain action (buying a product, attending an event, expressing a sentiment), an essay may analyze the rhetorical techniques used to accomplish this purpose. The thesis statement should reflect this goal.

The call-out flyer for the Purdue Rowing Team uses a mixture of dynamic imagery and tantalizing promises to create interest in potential, new members.

3. Rhetorical analysis can also easily lead to making original arguments. Performing the analysis may lead you to an argument; or vice versa, you may start with an argument and search for proof that supports it.

A close analysis of the female body images in the July 2007 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine reveals contradictions between the articles’ calls for self-esteem and the advertisements’ unrealistic, beauty demands.

These are merely suggestions. The best measure for what your focus and thesis statement should be the document itself and the demands of your writing situation. Remember that the main thrust of your thesis statement should be on how the document creates meaning and accomplishes its purposes. The OWl has additional information on writing thesis statements.

Analysis Order (Body Paragraphs)

Depending on the genre and size of the document under analysis, there are a number of logical ways to organize your body paragraphs. Below are a few possible options. Which ever you choose, the goal of your body paragraphs is to present parts of the document, give an extended analysis of how that part functions, and suggest how the part ties into a larger point (your thesis statement or goal).


This is the most straight-forward approach, but it can also be effective if done for a reason (as opposed to not being able to think of another way). For example, if you are analyzing a photo essay on the web or in a booklet, a chronological treatment allows you to present your insights in the same order that a viewer of the document experiences those images. It is likely that the images have been put in that order and juxtaposed for a reason, so this line of analysis can be easily integrated into the essay.

Be careful using chronological ordering when dealing with a document that contains a narrative (i.e. a television show or music video). Focusing on the chronological could easily lead you to plot summary which is not the point of a rhetorical analysis.


A spatial ordering covers the parts of a document in the order the eye is likely to scan them. This is different than chronological order, for that is dictated by pages or screens where spatial order concerns order amongst a single page or plane. There are no unwavering guidelines for this, but you can use the following general guidelines.

  • Left to right and top to down is still the normal reading and scanning pattern for English-speaking countries.
  • The eye will naturally look for centers. This may be the technical center of the page or the center of the largest item on the page.
  • Lines are often used to provide directions and paths for the eye to follow.
  • Research has shown that on web pages, the eye tends to linger in the top left quadrant before moving left to right. Only after spending a considerable amount of time on the top, visible portion of the page will they then scroll down.

Persuasive Appeals

The classic, rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, and ethos. These concepts roughly correspond to the logic, emotion, and character of the document’s attempt to persuade. You can find more information on these concepts elsewhere on the OWL. Once you understand these devices, you could potentially order your essay by analyzing the document’s use of logos, ethos, and pathos in different sections.


The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis essay may not operate too differently from the conclusion of any other kind of essay. Still, many writers struggle with what a conclusion should or should not do. You can find tips elsewhere on the OWL on writing conclusions. In short, however, you should restate your main ideas and explain why they are important; restate your thesis; and outline further research or work you believe should be completed to further your efforts.

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