Reading Advertisements Study Guide (page 3)
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
Advertisements use many techniques to persuade the reader. In this lesson you'll learn how to identify several advertising approaches. You'll also practice evaluating advertisements for logic, effectiveness, and hidden agendas.
Chances are, you're surrounded by advertising right now. The brand logo on your T-shirt, the label on your juice bottle, and the characters on your folders or notebooks are all sending silent messages. You run into advertising every time you pick up a magazine, turn on the television, or walk down a city street.
It might seem like these advertisements are designed to give you information. But their true purpose is to persuade you to buy their product, order their service, or believe their message. They might tell you the whole truth, or part of the truth, or no truth at all! As a reader and viewer, how can you make sense of advertising?
First, you can learn the tricks and techniques of advertising. Then you'll be more prepared to interpret what you read and hear. Second, you can use the strategies you've already learned for interpreting arguments and persuasive writing. By reading carefully, you'll notice how the writer says things and what effect the advertisement is meant to have on you.
The World of Advertising
Can you name the product that's represented by a gecko? How about a polar bear, or a caveman, or an orange cheetah? Can you sing the jingle from the latest soft drink commercial, or repeat the slogan for a major insurance company? You'd be surprised at how many advertising slogans, mottoes, and jingles you know! Even when you're not paying attention to advertisements, they can affect how you think and act.
Where do advertisements come from? Companies that sell products or services generate the most advertisements. But political groups and politicians running for office also put promotional ads in the newspaper and on television. Religious groups might advertise in a radio commercial or in fliers and books. The military runs advertisements on the Internet and roadside billboards urging people to enlist or learn about its programs. Advertising is so widely used that you probably see more than 100 ads each day. It's important to know how to interpret this type of writing.
Advertisements work just like other types of persuasive writing, except that they might also use pictures or sounds to help convince you. All advertisements have a subject, a main argument, and supporting details. Because they are often very short, they use the fewest possible words to create the most powerful message. Rather than trying to communicate lots of information, advertisements often try to convey an image instead.
Building an Image
To help promote their goods, services, or ideas, advertisers try to build an image for the company. They're hoping that you'll like the image and buy their products. Advertisers have countless ways to build their image. For example, a soda company might use a cute, cuddly bear as a mascot. The bear doesn't make the soda, or drink the soda, or have anything to do with the soda. But if you think the bear is cute, you will probably form a good impression of the company and may buy its products.
Advertisements are often designed to build a persuasive image rather than give you information. A magazine advertisement for a chewing gum might show people doing extreme downhill skiing. The gum doesn't make them ski better or have more fun. But the advertiser is hoping that the next time you think about skiing, you'll remember the chewing gum, too.
The persuasive argument in an advertisement might be logical or emotional. It might appeal to your ethics or your senses. Advertising writers have a whole bag of tricks, and they choose the technique that they think will work best for each product or service they want to sell. Ten of the most common techniques follow.
- Sense Appeal
- Snob Appeal
"Everyone is doing it! Don't be left out!" This advertising approach shows or suggests that lots of people have already decided to use a product or service. If you don't join in, you'll be missing out on the fun, or you'll be stuck outside the group. Look for words that suggest huge popularity or ask you to join a major trend.
Example: Join the revolution! Millions of people have lost weight on the Blast-o-Fat diet, and it can work for you, too! Call today to start your Blast-o-Fat plan now.
"It's the right thing to do." This approach appeals to your sense of right and wrong, justice, or empathy. It suggests that if you are a good person, you will want to use this product or service. Look for words that inspire a strong emotional or ethical response.
Example: Every hour, 400 children die of preventable diseases in the world's poorest nations. For the cost of just one cup of coffee, you can make a difference in the life of a child.
"The ideal can be yours." Superheroes, dramatic romance, wealth, and beautiful people are the staples of this appeal. By showing you something you might want to be, this type of advertising suggests that using the product or service will let you experience the fantasy. For example, if you use Shimmer Shampoo, your hair will be transformed (along with your body and your car). Look for miracle cures and dramatic scenarios that promise the reader something that the product cannot really provide.
Example: Try Minty Fresh gum. Have the confidence to get close to the woman of your dreams.
"Don't be a victim." These appeals play on readers' fears. They might suggest that something is happening that you don't know about. Or they might insist that you need to act right now before the sale is over or the supplies run out. This is a type of emotional appeal. Look for words about time, immediate action, and frightening results.
Example: Do you know where your teenagers are right now? Talk to your kids about drugs—before it's too late.
"If it's funny, you'll remember it." This appeal is one of the most popular in television commercials, and the humor often has nothing to do with the product being sold. But advertisers believe that if something makes you laugh, you'll feel good about it. Look for puns, jokes, funny clothing, or silly scenarios.
Example: Buying car insurance is so simple, a monkey could do it.
"The old-fashioned way." Also called "plain folks," this appeal emphasizes a simple, old-fashioned ideal. Advertisements like these are often aimed at older adults. Look for phrases like "back to nature," "genuine family recipe," or "just like Grandpa used to do it." Also look for back-country slang and rural scenes.
Example: Try Martha's pure, original honey. We've been making tummies happy for more than 80 years.
"You can't resist your senses." This appeal is especially useful for restaurants, grocery stores, perfume designers, clothing lines, music players, and other companies that make products for your senses. How does the product smell? taste? feel? sound? What will it make you feel? Does it look fancy, or sharp, or clever, or cool? Look for descriptive words that cue your senses.
Example: Bite into a sweet, creamy Choco-Pop, with its crunchy chocolate shell and strips of delicious caramel. Your mouth will thank you.
"Only the best for you." Most people like to feel special and unique. This appeal suggests that it knows the perfect choice for you. This is the opposite of the bandwagon appeal; it suggests that you can select something special or unique, to reflect how special—or clever, wealthy, or selective—you are. Look for words that compliment the reader or suggestions that the usual choice is a bad one.
Example: This Mother's Day, don't buy cold, wilting grocery store flowers. Choose PortaFlora, where all the bouquets are cut and arranged by hand. Your mom deserves the very best.
"The facts don't lie." Studies have shown that people are impressed by numbers, graphs, and charts, even if the data doesn't explain anything! Writers include statistics to convince you that lots of science or serious studies have been done on the product or service. But beware; data can be easily skewed or even made up, or the data an advertisement shows you might not have anything to do with the claim it is making. Look for charts, graphs, percentages, results of studies, or phrases like "4 out of 5 experts recommend—"
Example: When you sprinkle FlowerGrow on your garden three times a month, 99% of weeds will be killed on contact, and your flowers will be five times larger and healthier.
"If a famous person likes it, you will too." If you recognize a famous person in the advertisement, it is probably a testimonial. There are celebrity endorsements (when a famous person is shown using a product), and there are expert endorsements (when a doctor, dentist, or other "expert" claims to approve the product). Advertisers expect that you will want to copy the celebrity or listen to the expert's advice. Look for famous people (or characters, like Big Bird) or claims from experts evaluating the product.
Example: As a doctor, I take care of patients all day, but I have to take care of my own body, too. That's why I choose Pain Killer, the only medicine that stops my headaches as soon as they start.
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.
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.
SKILL BUILDING UNTIL NEXT TIME
- 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?
- 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:
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- First Grade Sight Words List
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Grammar Lesson: Complete and Simple Predicates
- Definitions of Social Studies
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- How to Practice Preschool Letter and Name Writing
- Social Cognitive Theory
- Curriculum Definition