Analyzing an Advertisement useful for Freshman English Assignment or Thesis

A very typical assignment in first year English classes is to analyze an advertisement. Here is some help with writing and developing a thesis statement for such an assignment. With minor adaptations, it should be useful to anyone trying to write a thesis.

Look at the ad and figure out the obvious, what it is trying to sell and some of the surface techniques that it uses to do so.

Don’t jump on those surface observations and use them yet. Your thesis should dig a little bit. Be patient. The ad sells deodorant. Big deal. Keep looking.

In your thesis, tell why the ad is significant. How does it affect the audience beyond selling a product?

Let’s say that the company that publishes it is selling deodorant. Your thesis would not be “company A is trying to sell deodorant.” That is too obvious. A thesis should be more interesting than that. Offer your audience a little bit more than what they will see for themselves at the first glance.

Now let’s imagine that the company shows a smelly, awkward looking man on the left side, wearing glasses, with pencils in his shirt pocket and a calculator on his belt, in out-of-date clothing, standing alone. On the right side is a man in cool jeans with his hand on his hip, smelling oh so nice, with a friendly smile and a pretty woman touching his shoulder playfully. You might say, “the company implies that by buying this product, you won’t be a geek.” That is a better thesis, but go further. Why is that important?

Let’s see, the smelly guy looks smart, he has the pocket protector, the glasses that symbolize intelligence, the funny look, the calculator. The ad seems to imply that intelligence is foolish. You wind up alone. But is that right? Should we be stressing that to anyone, let alone our kids? Maybe a revised thesis would say, “To sell its product the advertising executives are willing to imply that intelligence is not a value to be cherished.”

Look at the ad some more. The guy on the right has it all, coolness, nice clothing, a relationship with an attractive person, but as you look more closely, you notice the setting. They are on a campus. Everyone in the background has a book. Mr. Cool doesn’t have one. He’s the only one without one. That’s further evidence that smart isn’t cool. For that matter, neither does the woman. She’s dropped her books on the ground to pay attention to Mr. Cool. What’s going on here? Isn’t that a stereotype about intelligence and college and women, that they go to college just to find a husband? Of course it is. You keep looking and thinking. What about that calculator. What does it imply? Well, it symbolizes mathematics and sciences. Those, too, are put on the uncool side of the equation.

You can make your thesis even more specific: “In a country where citizens make up only 20 percent of math and science graduate students, it is irresponsible to advertise that those subjects are uncool and unlikely to find one a mate; brand X does just that, and in doing so spreads anti-intellectual values.” Wow. Maybe you had to do some quick research to find that statistic, but it helps. It helps to tie the ad to the broader culture, to what is happening in our community.

Ok, now how do you proceed from here? Well, if you want to be very, very systematic, you can write five statements based on what you see in the ad that support that thesis. These five sentences will serve as topic sentences for paragraphs in the body of your essay. Once you have the topic sentences, all you have to do is to develop a paragraph for each, write a good conclusion, and you have an essay. That is a very structured approach that works. Use if you are a bit lost or if you want to just systematically get the job done.

Let’s try it for our deodorant ad. Here are five statements, and remember, they all have to relate somehow to the thesis.

Thesis: In a country where citizens make up only 20 percent of math and science graduate students, it is irresponsible to advertise that those subjects are uncool and unlikely to find one a mate; brand X does just that, and in doing so spreads anti-intellectual values.

1. The ad makes math look uncool.

2. The ad makes science look uncool.

3. The ad unfairly stereotypes women.

4. Few people value math and science as it is.

5. The ad shouldn’t do those things because we need them.

Those a pretty simple statements, but they can work. Hmn, what about number three? How does that fit the thesis? Well, on the surface, it does not. Maybe we can rewrite it to fit the thesis, or we can rewrite the thesis to include it. For example, if we make reference to the number of women math and science majors in the thesis, suddenly number three fits. Or, we can change three to say, “The ad shows the cool woman disdaining math and science.” That fits the thesis better.

Note that topic sentences four and five don’t make direct reference to the ad. You might not even mention it in those paragraphs. It is OK to discuss thing outside of the ad that somehow relate to it.

This is the bare bones approach. You create a thesis and five topic sentences to support the thesis, and then you develop paragraphs for each topic sentence. Take care to revise the thesis so it does not skim the surface; revise the topic sentences to fit perfectly with the thesis.

Craft a separate introduction and a separate conclusion.