Advertisements and Appeals
Select a product whose advertisement can be readily found on television and radio, in magazines,
and other media. Write a 7-10 page essay (2,250 – 3,200 words in length) in which you interpret
the ad campaign based on pre-persuasion, source credibility, message control, and appeal to
emotion as Aronson and Pratkanis describe in their book Age of Propaganda. Avoid supercommon
products that have already been thoroughly examined for their propaganda, like CocaCola
and McDonald’s. (See me if you think you have a surprising new take on one of these
companies or products that deserves expression.) Choose a product for which you have access to
a number of ads that show a number of different appeals and try to analyze the advertisement on
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Sources • You must use and cite Pratkanis and Aronson’s Age of Propaganda and you must draw
from one other source regarding media advertising that you have found on your own.
• You should position the advertisement and product in light of the ideas communicated in
Century of the Self.
• You must also cite the advertisements (see MLA for citation information). Remember to
keep track of your advertisements—where you found them or when you viewed them and
from what channel, website, etc.
• You will need to position this argument in the rational world, and references to your own
opinion and the relativity of your own experiences are not acceptable. You must rely on
the information your community shares—in other words, facts. Do not introduce personal
opinions, beliefs, or tastes.
• Finally, as you will with all papers for this class, you must adhere precisely to the MLA
style manual for research papers.
• Some Internet resources are acceptable like Consumerreports.org, PRWatch.org,
onthemedia.org, etc. But be attentive to scholarship and distinguish between academic
and popular media. Better essays will value academic research over popular media. Still,
you may use information found on the companies’ websites, but be sure to compare this
information to independent studies.
A history of the product may be helpful, but do not sacrifice analysis of the advertisement with
pages of history that can be easily drawn from Internet sites. You may place a brief history of the
product near the front of your essay (perhaps the second paragraph or distributed reasonably
throughout), but essays that merely recount history or explain the product will suffer (these
essays may earn 40% at best). The product history should not detract from, but contribute to, an
analysis of the persuasion strategies characteristic to this advertising campaign.
Control the Issue
Do not mistake the purpose of the essay. Do not directly argue an issue that may lie on the
outskirts of the product. For instance, if you are going to analyze an industry advertisement like
those for the beef industry or those for “clean coal” do not get caught up in arguing that raising
beef destroys the environment or that coal (carbon sequestration) is or is not a reasonable
alternative to petroleum. Although these are important arguments to consider, such a focus lands
off the mark for this essay. Such companies, industries, and products that are part of ongoing
controversies are interesting to examine and represent important issues; they inform the adversity
the ad campaign must overcome. So I encourage you to choose these kinds of advertisements,
but you must be attentive to the primary goals of this essay: application of pre-persuasion, source
credibility, message control, and appeal to emotion to an advertisement promoting a product to a
consumer audience. Better papers will balance the issue with analysis of the ad.
Choosing topics • Do not choose movie advertisements.
• Do not choose products that lack typical media exposure.
• Select products that address controversial issues. For instance, Chevron’s “Human
Energy” campaign is an attempt to depict this massive energy corporation as an average
person, like you and me, concerned with supporting the conservation of existing energy
supplies, funding the development of alternative energy, and securing human rights, an
image that probably runs contrary to most people’s view of Chevron. More than this, the
advertisements attempt discussion of serious issues, in particular the emerging threat of
conflict over energy resources as the developing world begins to rival western rates of
consumption. You might also consider how Monsanto, a century old chemical company
whose unfair business practices, monopolization of seed, poor environmental record
(pollution, development of synthetic hormones and genetically modified seeds), and
historical role in developing DDT and Agent Orange, attempts to re-brand itself.
• This suggestion of controversial topic does not contradict the previous point about
controlling the issue. Be sure you are explaining and analyzing the nature of the
propaganda of these advertisements. Occasionally students will neglect the advertisement
and begin to argue the issue. The controversial nature of the advertisement makes your
essay topic more attractive, lending a sense of urgency and significance to the
propaganda strategies employed, but remember that the primary purpose of this essay is
to apply the principles of propaganda as developed by Pratkanis and Aronson.
Audience • Your audience includes, but is not limited to, the students in this class. You, therefore,
cannot assume those reading your essay are already familiar with the authors, the reading,
the issues, or other material with which this class is acquainted.
• Your audience is a mixed group of college students and academic professionals of mixed
political and religious belief, and varied levels of expertise.
• Some members of your audience may already agree with you, but many may disagree
with you, and others may not have made up their mind about the issue or have never
considered it. Do not assume your audience already thinks what you think, and it is thus
your obligation to address those that happen to disagree with you. Your object is to
change their minds, to persuade them to accept your conclusions.
• Argument will use both expository and argumentative modes of writing: to some extent
you will inform them of the issue and to some extent direct their thought (argument) or
tell them what to think about the facts—what the facts mean.
• They may not be familiar with the authors you are using for support or are responding to,
but they do respect and endorse the academic community as, although not infallible, still
a valuable institution for developing critical ideas and tools to understand reality.
Works Cited and Other Details • All sources must be listed in a Works Cited page, which should appear sequentially
paginated as the last page of your essay, though not contributing to the assigned page
minimum. Produce this page in the same computer document as the rest of your paper.
• Your title should creatively engage the content of the essay.
• Essays that do not engage the required reading for the class in a meaningful way will
receive a failing grade.
• Do not use Wikipedia, or any other encyclopedia, as a source for anything you write for
• Define words according to the discipline of their origin, not by Webster or
• Use 12 point, Times New Roman font. Double space between lines, no more and no less.
Do not increase space between letters or words. Align your text on the left margin. For
further details, see the MLA style for research papers.