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Introducing Rhetorical Analysis with Contemporary Advertisements

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Image Credit: 

Mozart, Mike. "Smellcome to Manhood." JeepersMedia. Flickr. 2 Oct 2014. Web. <>.

Brief Assignment Overview: 

The aim of this lesson is to provide students with an accessible and engaging introduction to rhetorical analysis. Students will view four brief texts—three thirty-second videos and one print advertisement—and try to identify the audience, the speaker, and the argument contained in each.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 
  • Introduce rhetorical analysis to students
  • Offer a broad illustration of the scope of rhetoric and rhetorical analysis
  • Familiarize students with initial components of rhetorical analysis (audience, speaker, argument)
  • Help students feel comfortable offering their own analyses
Media Requirements: 
Required Materials: 
  • Media console with overhead projector
  • Class computer with internet connection
  • Preferable, but not essential: personal computers for brief individual research activity.
Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

This lesson is intended to provide a light, engaging, and accessible introduction to rhetorical analysis. Students will survey several contemporary advertisements that vary in a number of ways yet share some broad themes. The order of the texts is intended to subtly help the students progress from basic to more nuanced analyses.

The first moments of this class are open to suit the needs of the instructor. If this is the first day that students will be performing rhetorical analysis, it may be helpful to provide a brief overview of what is to come. 

To begin the analytical portion of the class, play the first text—an Old Spice commercial from the 2010 "Smell Like a Man, Man" campaign. The commercial is both fun and funny, thus students should respond well to it. Moreover, its fast pace and quirky tone will likely get students laughing, which will hopefully loosen them up for analysis.

Once you have played the video, ask the following questions:

  • Who is the speaker?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the situation?
  • What is the argument?

What does the text want you to feel?

What does the text want you to believe?

What does the text want you to do?

  • How is the text making that argument? 

Be sure to draw out detailed responses from the students. Play the video again, as needed. One reason this ad is great for an initial analysis is because it has two different speakers (i.e., the spokesman and the company), two different audiences (i.e., implicit and explicit), and plenty of components that students can draw on to support their answers to the argument questions.

Next, play the second and third videos. Each of these are 2008 advertisements from the Corn Refiner Association's "Sweet Surprise" campaign about high fructose corn syrup. Ask students the same series of questions, and encourage them to pay even closer attention to the details that help create this argument. 

Once you feel that your students have adequately analyzed the argument in these two texts, have students go to the website featured at the end of the videos. If students don't have computers, do this together as a class. By this point, hopefully students will have mentioned that the text wants you to go to this website, so this can be a way of getting them to further test the text. Once there, have students try to identify any bias on the website and ask them to list specific examples. This is meant to encourage students to closely examine sources and to consider how word choice and other stylistic choices shape an argument.

If time permits, have students look at one more text—a 2014 print ad from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. In the ad, one woman remarks about new public transportation changes and another woman responds, "Can't we just talk about shoes?" There are several broad parallels between this text and the former texts, so students should feel comfortable by now analyzing this form of visual rhetoric.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Given the brevity of both these texts and the follow-up questions, it would be a good idea to thoroughly familiarize yourself with each text before presenting them to the class. With this being an introduction to rhetorical analysis, students may feel shy about offering responses, so being prepared with many different ways to prompt their analyses can be helpful.

Instructions For Students: 

For the group analysis portion of the class:

Answer the following the questions. Cite evidence to support your response.

  • Who is the speaker?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the situation?
  • What is the argument?

What does the text want you to feel?

What does the text want you to believe?

What does the text want you to do?

  • How is the text making that argument? 

For the individual research portion of the class:

Evaluation Suggestions: 

There is no evaluative component to this activity.

Course Description: 

This lesson plan was designed for "Rhetoric and Writing", an introductory course.

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