The Papers: Analyzing a Persuasive Argument

Where's the Beef?

According to the Neilsen group, the body that measures television viewing, by the end of a high school student's education they will have spent over 18,000 hours watching television.  By contrast, the same student will have spent a mere 10,800 hours in school.  Those twelve years are arguably the most impressionable in a young person's life; in this same time a person will be bombarded with some 3,000 advertisements per day ("The Merchants of Cool"). These ads, both obvious and hidden, during those 18,000 hours must have some real, measurable effects. 

And that's just the measurement of TV watching.  This does not include radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines, internet pop-ups, google and gmail ads, flyers, pre-show ads for films, movie trailers, t-shirts, telemarketers, etc.  Ads are everywhere, and their persuasive skills are unmatched. 

For this paper you are to find an advertisement and analyze its argument.  While you are not restricted in the form of advertisement, your choice should be complex enough so as to have something to analyze.  You may find that political ads and fast food commercials are equally dissectible, whereas a local auto dealer commercial may lack serious rhetorical motivations.  Consider the following questions:

For this paper you are to find an advertisement and analyze its argument. 

What is the ad explicitly selling?  Implicitly? To whom?

Is there a specific setting, location or time, utilized?

Are there slogans, mascots, or recognizable people in the ad? What effect do they have?

Is the ad part of an overall campaign?  Does this affect your advertisement?

Who is the audience?  Is it different than the demographic aimed at by the company?

What rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) are present?

Are there logical fallacies present?  Are they convincing despite themselves?

Would the advertisement work in another form of media?

It is a major goal of this assignment for you to analyze the language and images of an advertisement in order to understand how these elements are used to put forth an implicit argument.  You will likely need some background information to provide a context for your analysis--this could be for either your ad or a techniques it utilizes.  A secondary goal of this assignment is to introduce you to the research process; research will only increase your understanding of your ad and its aims. 

For further help, check out the following links:

Watch clips from Terry Gilliam's Nike commercials

Review sample assignment sheets