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Remember three central ideas about advertising:

  • Emotions are the key advertisers use to persuade even the most "educated" audiences to consume products. Advertising by necessity is anti-intellectual, simplifying all subject matter. The advertiser's motto must be: "Why Ask Why? (Drink Bud Dry)." Reasonable, logical, and reflective thinking hinder the emotional and, by extension, the consumptive process.
  • The neurophysiology of the brain determines the power of text, sound, and image-based media messages. Images and music are immediately stored in more ancient parts of the brain which are most directly connected to the central nervous system. Images arouse the strongest emotions, and are more persuasive than sound ("Seeing is believing.") Together, images and music are more powerful than text.
  • Third, advertisers spend millions of dollars to research, write, shoot, test on focus groups, rewrite, reshoot, test market, produce and distribute every scene in an ad. Most individuals cannot spend as much time and energy in deconstruction as an advertising company spend in construction.

With these three principles in mind, follow the steps below to deconstruct the ad.

1. Real Time Images: Identify and describe "real time" visual images, symbols, and simple techniques of persuasion (flattery, humor, fear, hyperbole, the use of power words, distortions of fact and/or lies, repetition, testimonialism, name calling, simplification, appeals to scientific "evidence," nostalgia, or "bandwagonism - "everyone's doing it.")

2. Techno-Effects and Subliminal Images: Identify the techno-events of the ad. Ask: How is the scene framed? What camera angles are used? Where is the viewer positioned? What computerized effects are used? What kind of music is used? How do all of these techniques contribute to the ad's power? Use a VCR or computer's "stop-frame" process to identify subliminal or near subliminal images.

3. Emotions and the Story: Identify the story the ad is trying to tell. What "problems" will the product solve? What are the associations the ad makes with the product? What are the advertisers trying to get you to believe? What messages is the ad trying to send? What emotions does the ad appeal to? What is the "logic" behind the ad?

4. Intended and Unintended Effects: Identify the intended effects of the ad. What are the producers trying to do? What is the target audience for the ad? How do you know? Identify the unintended effects of the ad. Imagine a wide spectrum of responses to the ad (See general principles, #3 above). What other meanings could audiences construct from the ad?

5. Marketing Strategy: Identify the strategy of the ad. Why is this ad running? How long has it been running? What does the corporation running the ad hope it will do for their public relations or product "image?"

(Prepared with help from the New Mexico Media Literacy Project.)


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