Analyzing Appeals in Advertisements

Advertisements offer effective examples that show how language and visuals can manipulate us and may be the most pervasive “arguments” in our culture. As you analyze the appeals in the advertisements below, consider the power of the advertising industry as described in the online article “Madison Avenue Continues as Advertising’s Economic Center.” Pay attention to the numbers in the article as you read.

As of October 14, 2010,
. . . advertising expenditures overall account for $5.8 trillion of the $29.6 trillion in total U.S. economic output, nearly 20 percent of the country’s economic activity . . . . The ad expenditures support 19.8 million of the nation’s 133.4 million jobs, about 15 percent. . . . Each million dollars of ad spending results in the creation of 69 American jobs.

These staggering numbers explain why everyone in our society is constantly confronted by ads.

Another article discusses the effects of advertising on students:

An 1890s advertising poster shows a woman in fancy clothes (vaguely influenced by 16th- and 17th-century styles) drinking Coke. The card on the table says "Home Office, The Coca-Cola Co. Atlanta, Ga. Branches: Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Dallas". There are cross-shaped color registration marks near the bottom-center and top-center (which presumably would have been removed for a production print run). Someone has crudely written on it at lower left (with a fountain pen that was apparently leaking), "Our Favorite" [sic].

Source: Vintage Coca-Cola advertisement, Wikimedia Commons

Unless students understand how to read and analyze the language of the symbols and images bombarding them, their identities will be shaped unconsciously. And because advertising’s portraits reflect essentially insecure identities, the images promoted point the way to more, rather than less, emotional emptiness. Advertising’s images of human relationships and sexuality make playing the game of measuring up to Madison Avenue downright crippling. (Moog, Carol, “Ad Images and the Stunting of Sexuality,” 1994)

The close examination of ads can make us conscious of their purpose and whether or not they work on us. (Note: Generally, the more text there is, the greater the appeal to logic. The less text there is, the greater the appeal to emotion.)

Advertisement #1

This ad contrasts with the previous one because it is in black and white, is a photo rather than a drawing, and uses much more text. It appeals to logic rather than emotion as the Marge Simpson ad does.

Source: Geico advertisement, New York Times

Click to see larger version. Courtesy of the New York Times.

First, analyze the image and the text of the ad. You do not need to write down the answers.

  1. Describe the photo. How is the gecko different from how you see him in the television commercials?
  2. How much text is there in relation to the previous ad?
  3. What is humorous in the large font next to the gecko?
  4. What are some of the main points of the paragraph in smaller font?
  5. How does the ad circle back to the beginning?

Second, draw inferences from the ad.

  1. Why did the ad creators choose the image of the gecko? Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    It’s a recognized cultural icon.

  2. Why did they change his appearance? Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    To look more intelligent, even professorial.

  3. Who is the intended audience? Check Your Understanding

    People who need to purchase car insurance.

  4. What effect do you think the ad has on this audience? Why? Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    Amusement. Because having a lizard say anything at all is funny, and to make it “intelligent” is even more so.

  5. Based on the amount of text in the ad, is the major appeal to logic or to emotion? Check Your Understanding


  6. Where is there a blatant appeal? Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    Save hundreds of dollars—appeal to the pocketbook.

  7. Is there a fallacy or fallacies? Explain. Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    Yes. Non sequitur—it does not follow that, just because Geico is associated with Warren Buffet, the company will sell you a money-saving policy.


Advertisement #2

First, watch the video of the commercial closely. Then watch it once more, and consider these questions about the content:

  1. Describe the person in the commercial.
  2. Describe the setting.
  3. Describe what happens.
  4. How much of the ad is verbal?

Source: Toyota Loch Ness Monster Funny Commercial, CarCommercialsTV, YouTube

Next, draw inferences from the commercial.

  1. What is the purpose of the commercial? Check Your Understanding

    To sell the Toyota Vios.

  2. Who is the audience? Check Your Understanding

    Young car buyers.

  3. What makes the ad effective? Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    The surprising ending with an aquatic monster grabbing the jogger and setting the car back up as a trap for the next curious person—lunch!

  4. Explain what the major appeal is in the ad. Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    It’s emotional because there’s no dialogue. There are just a few words at the end of the commercial—and the monster’s use of the car as a lure is a delightful twist. We don’t expect it.

  5. Why does this ad combine monsters and cars? Check Your Understanding

    Sample Response:

    Aquatic monsters are myths. Even if they did exist, they wouldn’t use cars this way. The advertisers probably know that a viewer of this commercial would not buy the car based on what happens. But the viewer will definitely remember it!