Reading Advertisements Study Guide (page 3)

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Being a Critical Reader

In general, people who write advertisements are hoping that you won't read or listen too closely. They're hoping that you won't question the information they're giving you. It can be a challenge to start evaluating advertisements because we see hundreds of them each day. But you can use your active reading skills to see how advertisements work. And with a bit of practice, you'll be able to spot misleading information, weak arguments, and hidden agendas.

Check the Logic

Any persuasive argument should build evidence to support an opinion. But the argument in an advertisement might have gaps in its logic. It might also present lots of unsupported conclusions. The fantasy appeal is especially guilty of this. If you have your hair cut at Nolan's Salon, will the most popular boy in school really ask you to the prom? Advertisements might seem to present a cause and effect relationship, but there isn't always a logical link between them. As you read, look carefully at the causes and effects that the advertisement promises.

Too Good to Be True

You've probably heard the saying, "You can't get something for nothing," or "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." These sayings are popular in our culture because we need the reminder! Advertisements often promise things that sound like an amazing opportunity. For example, "Call in the next five minutes, and we'll send you ten issues of the magazine for free!" But after you call, you'll discover that the free issues are in exchange for signing up for a paid membership. You can avoid these pitfalls by reading closely. Always read the fine print, and look for the catch.

Hidden Agendas

As you learned in the lesson about implied main ideas and themes, a writer might bury the true message. In advertisements you might notice hidden agendas, too. For example, you might see a preview for the latest Superman movie, which will only be sold on Blu-ray discs. The advertisement seems to promote a movie, but is also subtly promoting another product, the Blu-ray disc player.


Propaganda is a special type of advertising that only shows one side of an issue. Instead of selling you a product or service, propaganda wants to sell you an idea. Governments and political parties, especially controversial ones like the Nazi Party, can use propaganda to convince people of their ideas. Even documentaries and news reports can be propaganda if they have very unbalanced coverage of an issue.

To spot propaganda, be critical and skeptical:
  • What idea does the writer want me to believe?
  • Has the writer shown both sides of the issue?
  • Did the writer ignore other important points?
  • What might be a valid objection or opposing perspective?

Propaganda is a dangerous type of advertising because ideas are more powerful and more important than dish soap or video games. If you read actively and critically, you won't be fooled by propaganda.


Advertisements are a special type of persuasive writing. They are meant to sell you a product, a service, or an idea. By reading actively, you can spot the techniques behind the ad's argument. You can also evaluate the message to decide whether it is straightforward or misleading, logical or illogical. Now you know how to spot hidden agendas and propaganda, which makes you a smarter consumer.


  1. Find two advertisements from different sources today (television, magazines, Internet, radio, billboard). Read or listen to each one carefully. What kind of appeal does each advertisement use? Is there a hidden agenda? Is the argument logical? Does it sound too good to be true?
  2. Use a book or the Internet to look at some examples of propaganda. These might be pictures, videos, or text. What idea does the propaganda promote? What kind of arguments are used to persuade you? Are you convinced by the propaganda?

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Reading Advertisements Practice Exercises

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