Analyzing the Rhetoric of Newspaper Advertisements

Analyzing the Rhetoric of Newspaper Advertisements

Overview: This activity is designed to introduce students to rhetorical analysis. It focuses on the visual rhetoric of advertisements.

Activity title: Analyzing the Rhetoric of Newspaper Advertisements

Author: Chris Kamrath

Course: PWR 1

Activity brief description: Together the class watches three short videos.  Each video makes a similar persuasive appear: convincing the reader to visit, download or subscribe to a specific digital newspaper. The rhetorical strategies employed by each advertisement vary widely. After each video we discuss the specific rhetorical elements that were important and we begin discussing how the ad worked persuasively. In small groups, the students then discuss a fourth video.  They identify rhetorical elements and start to develop a claim about why focusing on these rhetorical elements helps us understand the rhetoric at work.  Through this process students are developing rhetorical insights and the starting points for a rhetorical analysis thesis. This activity often provides material for the discussion of key rhetorical concepts over the next few classes:  I can provide names/concepts for the rhetorical strategies that students identified in this activity.

I use video advertisements because they are short and students can quickly find and discuss the rhetorical appeals.  I also choose videos/advertisements that introduce key questions or issues related to the theme of the class.  My class is on journalism and technology.  These videos introduce issues related to the transition from print to digital, including the social media distribution of news, citizen journalism, digital subscriptions, etc.

Activity length and schedule: Week 1 (Often on the first day of class). This activity works very early in the quarter.  This is designed to introduce the students to the basics of rhetorical analysis, give them the experience of deliberating about how specific rhetorical elements matter, and help them understand how they can make an argument how rhetorical appeals work.

This activity takes 1 hour +/-.  Each video is about 1-2 minutes. We spend roughly 8-10 minutes discussing each.  In small groups we spend 20 minutes discussing the 4th video. Students then whiteboard a list of key rhetorical elements.  Finally, students select the most important elements and create a ‘starting point’ by drafting a claim about how these key rhetorical elements work together persuasively. 

Activity goals:

  • To help students recognize how particular rhetorical elements/choices make texts persuasive.
  • To introduce the process of discovering key rhetorical elements when reading a text.
  • To introduce students to the building blocks for a rhetorical analysis thesis.

Activity details:

See handout.