Advertising executives and marketing experts more than likely hope that we remain oblivious to the underlying messages that ads contain and that we perceive their work purely from entertainment and consumerist perspectives rather than for the purpose of critical assessment.

But to critically examine the techniques and appeals advertisers use to lure us into supporting certain products, services, claims, or even individuals is an opportunity to hone our analytical skills—skills that enable us to be informed readers of texts and knowledgeable consumers of persuasion. To begin, let’s consider specific words and phrases that can be used in ad analysis:

  • Nostalgia: Advertisements for Coca-Cola, summer vacation destinations, or even political candidates can stir up sentiments or memories of “the good old days.” In a commercial, for example, the use of black and white film and/or flashbacks—illustrated by clothes, music, and/or historical events—can invite a specific audience to reflect on the past and evoke a sense of nostalgia.
  • Merchants of “cool”: According to PBS, merchants of “cool” are “creators and sellers of popular culture who have made teenagers the hottest consumer demographic in America.”[1]  Such merchants may include Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Hot Topic, and Aéropostale. Each relies on the tween and teen markets to keep its empire in business and markets its definition of “cool” as the coolest when it comes to youth culture.
  • The myth of the “ideal you”: Today, in many cases, advertisers still sell their products in a way that invites us to be the “best” versions of ourselves. Cultural stereotypes substantiate this idea of the “best” self, which exists only in the shared imagination of the advertiser and audience.

So when approaching advertisements, remember that ads are often trying to “sell” more than just a product. In fact, a recent 1800 Tequila advertisement has capitalized on this very idea:

[1] “Synopsis.” Frontline. WBGH Educational Foundation, 2012. Web. 2 February 2012. See <>