How to read any advert
a checklist of the different techniques by which ads construct meaning

A) Reading the image: what’s in the picture?

What can you tell about the age, sex, class, race of the different people shown in the ad from:
Clothing/facial expression/the direction of their eyes—who or what they are looking at?
Body language—the way they are posed, grouped or what they are doing/ their relationship to one another in the frame

What other objects are featured prominently in the ad and what do they suggest?

Where is the ad set?
Where is it supposed to be—and how do you know?
What can you see in the background and what does it suggest?

What’s the product?
What kind of product is being sold?
Where in the frame is the product placed
What can you tell about it from other elements in the ad?

B) Technical codes: how was it constructed?

What visual techniques does it involve?
Drawing, animation, still or moving photography, or just graphics?
Why have these elements been used?
Is it black & white or colour? - how has colour been used and what effect does it create?

How has the ad been lit?
What effect does the lighting create?

Use of the camera in print ads
Where was the camera placed to take the photograph?
What kind of shot has been used and what effect does this create?

Use of the camera on TV commercials

What variety of shot and camera movement do you notice and what effect does it create?

Composition and framing
What is your eye drawn to within the frame and why?
Has the image been cropped and, if so, what might be happening outside the frame?

Has the image been edited or treated?
Has anything been left out or removed and if so, why?
In a TV ad, how have the shots been edited together—neat cuts, mixing from one to the next, or fading in and out of each other? What effect does this create?
Pace and style—how many shots, how quickly or slowly do they follow on from one another? What effect is created by the speed of the editing?

Are all the elements in the image in focus? If not, why not?

Do you notice any other photographic effects used to reproduce the image, e.g. filtering video film, increasing the contrasts, airbrushing out bits of the picture, over or under-exposing it, enlarging it, etc.? If so, what effect do they create?

How does the image fit in with the overall design of the ad?
Where is it in relation to the text?
How much space does it take up?

C) The text of the advert

Brand name of the product
What does it suggest

How does it work? How does it anchor or relate to the images?

Copy in print ads
What does it say about the product?
How does it relate to the images?
What kind of language does it use and who is it talking to?
Does it remind you of any other ad or another media genre? Is there any intertextuality?

Soundtrack in radio or TV commercials
What different sources of sound do you hear on the soundtrack, e.g. voice-over, music, sound FX, dialogue?
What kind of music is used and who might it appeal to? What atmosphere or mood does the music convey?
What sorts of voice over are used—male or female? RP or dialect? Formal or informal register? What tone or mood does the voice convey?

Typography & graphics
What different fonts are used?
Why were they chosen?
What other design elements have been used to illustrate or explain?

D) The genre of the ad

What kind of ad is this? What else does it remind you of?

Does it have a story and, if so, what kind of story?

Who is it talking to? The audience for the ad

Who is the ad aimed at? How can you tell:
From the choice of images
From the product
From the text/soundtrack?

Where might the ad be seen?
If print:
What sort of publication, aimed at which readers?
Where might you buy the publication?
Who else might see it?
Whereabouts in the publication might the ad be printed—inside cover—middle pages—back cover, classified section, etc. Why?

If TV or radio
When and where would it be scheduled?
Alongside which programmes?
At what time of day?
On which day of the week?
In which geographical areas?

How was it made, by whom? The industry behind the ad?

Who was it made for?
What can you tell about the producers of the product itself?

Why was it made?
Can you tell anything about the thinking behind the ad?

Is it part of a larger campaign?
How does it relate to different ads for the same product?
Ads for the same product in different media?
Ads for other products made by the same company?
Other ads made by other people?

What does it represent? The message of the ad

What overall messages does the advert give?

What roles, models or stereotypes are represented in the ad?

What ideologies, lifestyles or desires does the ad seem to suggest?

What values are associated with the product?

© V Pope 2003