For your first essay of the semester, you’ll be writing a rhetorical analysis of a television advertisement from this year. The goal of this assignment is to get you thinking critically about three important aspects of rhetoric:
Audience: who is the intended audience for the advertisement? Is it national in scope, e.g. an ad which aired during the Super Bowl a football game that attracts more than diehard football fans. Is it more narrow and tailored in scope, e.g. an advertisement which might air before the beginning of a Masterpiece Mystery show on public television. Who the expected audience is shapes how the advertisement is designed, both in terms of tone and content.
Purpose : what is the purpose of the advertisement? In a general sense, it’s to sell a good or service. But let’s get into specifics: how is the advertisement trying to affect the audience: through humor, nostalgia, shock and awe, visual spectacle, etc.?
Context: what is the larger ecosystem the rhetorical text (the advertisement) occupies? What sociocultural fabric is it part of and how does this affect its appeal. For example, the Nike slogan is “Just Do It.” This makes sense because Nike is an American company, and Americans respond positively to messages which reaffirm individual liberty, agency and passion. This would be a less effective slogan in a place like North Korea or Hitler’s Germany, where every citizen is expected to be an extension of the State, without any real sense of personal ambition or even identity. Additionally: context can also mean a rhetorical text’s relationship to other rhetorical texts. We see this all the time in the world of advertising; an ad will frequently reference a competitor’s. Or, an ad will reference previous advertising for the good or service. Think about advertising campaigns that are self-referential and intricate. In short, rhetorical context is both defined by the larger world the ad inhabits and the other rhetorical texts it exists alongside.
By addressing these aspects of rhetoric, you’ll be able to articulate whether the advertisement is an effective one, or whether it fails as a tool of persuasion. Furthermore, let’s start thinking about the larger implications of how audience, purpose and context shape the ad. How does the ad’s design implicitly reflect the larger world?
An example close to my heart: Taco Bell’s slogan is “Live Más.” This message, rendered in what is colloquially called “Spanglish,” speaks volumes about shifting demographics and the heightened visibility and use of the Spanish language in America.
Other examples: undoubtedly, you’ve encountered ads which reflect the current reality of social distancing and quarantining. These ads can be analyzed for what they say about today’s America, according to you. I can see someone taking the cynical route: corporations are exploiting COVID-19 to market their sympathy and by extension their appeal. Alternatively, I could see someone writing an interesting essay which argues that corporations providing reassuring messages about the importance of social distancing and quarantining helpfully counteract the self-serving messages we’ve received from politicians and political pundits, who have actively resisted the scientific realities of the pandemic. It’s also possible to negotiate between these two sentiments/ideas. I always value nuance!
This essay should 1) analyze and critique the ad as a work of rhetoric (by breaking down audience, purpose and context) and 2) address how the ad reflects contemporary American society (or that of its country of origin). Often there will be overlap between rhetorical and sociocultural analysis, and that’s okay!
SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS FOR ESSAY 1
Essay 1 should be a minimum 1250 words. All pertinent MLA formatting guidelines should be followed. Check here for a comprehensive guide. (Links to an external site.)
Additionally, the essay should include a separate Works Cited Page that includes the television advertisement, i.e. your primary source for Essay 1. I imagine most of you will be using YouTube to find your advertisement. This is the typical format for a YouTube video in a Works Cited Page:
“Official Ram Trucks Super Bowl Ad ‘Farmer.'” YouTube, uploaded by Ram Trucks, 3 February 2013,
As with the above works cited entry, you should be finding a version of the primary source uploaded by the entities responsible for the ad (Ram Trucks) and not a third party. This is our first exercise of this shortened semester in INFORMATION LITERACY, or finding and using appropriate sources in our writing.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR IN READING AND EVALUATING YOUR WORK
Completion, minimum word count is reached, separate works cited page included, general formatting guidelines followed
Scope of the project realized: the three elements of rhetoric (audience, purpose, context) are thoroughly summarized and discussed AND the essay attempts to connect these aspects to the society/culture/nation/nations (in the case of transglobal ads, like from the European Union) from which the rhetorical text originates.
Appropriate diction: don’t use everyday slang or social media abbreviations (lmao, idk, irl, tbh, etc.) but at the same time avoid language that is bombastic and artificially sophisticated (avoid overuse of the thesaurus in your word processor). Write with clarity and concision.
Generally clean writing: everyone misuses commas and confuses “your” vs. “you’re” or “its” vs. “it’s,” but please avoid an overabundance of these usage errors. Proofread your work, slowly and leisurely, meaning give yourself enough time to read through your essay before submitting.