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Essay Assignment: The Signs of a Magazine Advertisement, Due March 29
Select a full page advertisement from a popular mass audience magazine (e.g. Time, Newsweek, Glamour, Sports Illustrated) and write an approximately 4 page, double-spaced analysis of the principle signifying practices the advertisement invokes. How does the ad make meaning? What are the in the ad? What are the denotations? the connotations? Does the ad use metaphor? metonomy? What paradigms does the ad invoke and create? Does it use any syntagmatic systems of meaning? Does it involve myths? What cultural code systems does the ad appeal to? How do the patterns of signification in the ad articulate social codes about things such as power, race, class, gender, respect, or authority?
Don't just provide a laundry list of things you notice about the ad. Use the terminology and principles explained in class and in the reading. (Avoid saying things like “the ad gives the viewers meanings,” “the ad tells us,” “the ad implies,” “the advertiser wants the reader to believe,” “the ad makes the reader want x,” or other colloquial language for explaining what’s going on. Use semiotics !) Write your analysis in the form of an essay, in a clear and interesting way. There is no one correct way of explaining the systems of meaning-making in the ad; writing a good analysis involves some imagination as well as accuracy. Keep it short, but spend some time working on it. It will be easy to fill up a page or two with random comments about the ad, but difficult to provide comments that are illuminating, precise, and thorough.
A good way to begin your analysis is to try to reconstruct what happens when you first looked at the ad. What did you notice first? Why did it grab your attention? What did it make you think of? Do you notice anything else after looking at the ad for a while? What happened when you read the written copy -- did it, perhaps, change your understanding of the pictures? Once you've done that, you can often identify cultural codes in the ad by using substitution: what would happen if the ad used a model that was the opposite sex? A different race or age? What if the background were different? Answering questions like these helps develop an understanding of the key signifying elements of the ad and the ways that they relate.
Just about any ad will do, but it's a good idea if you select something you find interesting. It's also good to stay away from ads that have lots of detailed information about the product (e.g. herbicide ads for farmers). Ads for well-known and unimportant products are usually the most interesting, such as ads for beer, liquor, cigarettes, beauty items, soft drinks, sports cars, corporate image ads, etc. Feel free to discuss your analysis with others from the class, as long as your ad is different from theirs.
To get a sense of what these look like, here are examples of good student semiotic analyses here. here. here. and here.
Please include the ad or a photocopy of it with your essay, staple or paper clip your paper, and make sure to use page numbers. The assignment is due in class, March 29.