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ATI College – Santa Ana Analyzing an Ad Essay

We all know that advertisers try to manipulate us into buying the products they advertise. But some ads seem to do this in more interesting and subtle ways than others. There’s not much subtlety in draping a buxom blonde across the hood of a Corvette, but why does McDonald’s use a sleeping baby in a Volkswagen to sell hamburgers? Why does Levi’s use “Braddock, PA” as the setting for the latest installment of their “Go Forth” campaign? Why—and how—does Google make our spines tingle with its “Search On” ad? What kinds of values and needs do advertisers appeal to in order to sell their products? And what does it say about us—as individuals, as consumers, and as a society—that these ads often work?

For this essay, analyze either a print or a TV ad, thoughtfully discussing the needs, desires, and values to which the ad appeals. What, besides the product itself, is the ad selling? How does it manage to make these associations?

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In our last discussion forum we looked at and analyzed some print and TV ads, pointing out specific elements of each ad and asking the key questions of critical analysis: how and why? Why did the creators of the ad decide to sell the product the way they did and how, specifically, do the ads manage to achieve their desired effect?

For this essay, you’ll use this method to generate your own critical analysis.

Step 1: Find an ad of your own. Ads are everywhere, obviously, but (Links to an external site.) is a quality site.

Step 2: Pick an ad you’d like to analyze and use the pre-writing worksheet to brainstorm ideas. You won’t turn this in this worksheet, but it may serve as an initial test to see whether the ad you’ve chosen will provide enough material for you to generate an essay on it.

Step 3: Look over the documents in this week’s module: the suggested essay structure, the grading rubric, and the student essay model.

Step 4: Devise a working thesis that states the message of the ad, suggests why the advertiser has crafted this message, and highlights some of the details that answer how the ad works (if it’s a print ad, analyze color schemes, types of models used, text and graphic composition; if it’s a TV ad, you can also look at the music, lighting, editing, voice-over, etc.).

Step 5: Post a link to your ad, along with your working thesis。

Step 6: Once you’ve develop a clear thesis, write a draft of your essay. Include specific features of the ad as evidence to illustrate your points and substantiate your thesis. Don’t be afraid to revise your thesis if the specific features you analyze don’t quite illustrate your points the way you’d anticipated. Writing helps us refine and clarify analytical thinking, but we also need the cognitive flexibility (and time) to get this refined thinking onto the page.

Length: ~1,000 words

Suggested Essay Structure – Analyzing an Ad


Assume the reader of this essay has seen your ad, so you don’t need to give a paragraph-long shot-by-shot description. Summarize key points about the ad (target demographic, basic style/plot) but set us up for critique and analysis, not mere description. See the Student Essay Model for a great example of what I’m looking for.

Thesis Statement – You might try something along these lines:

“The ad is designed to create ___ association with ____ product to achieve ___ result… To do this it uses X, Y, and Z” (with X, Y, and Z representing a particular element of the ad, i.e. editing, music, actors, camera movement—whatever best applies to your ad).

Body Paragraphs:

Each must have a Topic Sentence (“P”) that serves as a mini thesis statement for that paragraph – one main idea per paragraph.

Each paragraph can address one of the elements mentioned in the thesis (i.e. paragraph 1 = element x, paragraph 2 = y, etc.)

Follow the P.I.E structure.


Re-state your thesis (but don’t use the exact wording you used earlier).

Add a twist/big-picture idea–what does this ad say about us as a culture/society?

Once you’re satisfied with your overall structure, evaluate the tone of your essay. Is your diction and syntax sufficiently formal for an analytical essay? You should maintain your own voice, but it shouldn’t come off as too casual.

Pre-Writing Worksheet – Analyzing an Ad

The following questions are designed to help you generate ideas for your essay. You do not need to submit your answers anywhere, but following these steps may help you brainstorm your way to a solid thesis:

1) Look closely at the ad. What catches your eye? Are there things in the ad that aren’t directly related to the product being sold?

2) Who is the target audience for the ad?

3) What is the ad trying to sell, aside from the product itself? (Look back to question #1.) What is the implied message? What desires (wealth, sex, love, family/community) might the ad be tapping in to? Why has the advertiser chosen to connect this product with those desires?

4) Now that you’ve answered the “why?” you’ve got a “working thesis” (you’ve made an initial claim). Next, you’ve got to ask “how?” List the specific elementsof the ad that support your thesis. (You might consider, for example: What actors/models are used–are they celebrities, anonymous beautiful people, or average Joes/Sues? Does the ad’s color scheme, or lighting, have a particular effect? If it’s a TV ad, does the pace of the editing make your heart race? Is the music/audio effective? How do the ad’s creators tell a story?)

5) Answering the above questions (and expanding on them) should provide you with sufficient material to write a critical analysis of your ad. But you’ll want to add a “bigger picture” statement as a closer. Consider, then, the following questions: What does the ad say about the values of its target audience? How might you turn your specific analysis of this ad into a more general analysis of our culture as a whole?

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