Compare and contrast a recent ad for a “men’s product” with one for a “women’s product” of the same type of item (for example, razors, watches, or shampoos). Can you immediately tell which gender is being targeted, and why? What strategies does each of the companies use to sell the same kind of product, just marketed for the “opposite sex”? How are these strategies similar? How are they different? Why and how are they reaching out to different markets if they are selling nearly identical products? With what “story” does each sell the product?
You will need to describe the two ads that you are analyzing, but do not let this descriptive denotative material overtake your essay. You may start the essay with a description and go on to make an argument about particular details, or you may use descriptive detail throughout your essay as you move through your argument point by point. Either strategy is fine, of course, as long as the description is relevant textual evidence for a claim you are trying to support, not just “space filler.” For either of these topics, do your best to avoid “easy answers” about how the ads appeal to their audiences: instead, dig deeply to see how the ads try to convince you and others that this particular brand, that this particular item, is the best for you (or whomever the ad’s aimed at). A main idea along the lines of “Sex sells” is only brushing the surface and, in fact, has been disproven rather consistently by contemporary research. Among other aspects of the ads, be sure to look at the following: claims/promises/ guarantees made, figurative language used, images presented, connotations and denotations of the words chosen, colors/shapes/sizes/placements/fonts used, and the emotional and intellectual appeals employed by the advertisers. All of these things will help you to make a strong analytical argument about how the ads read semiotically. Don’t forget to review our course readings and the four-part documentary we’ve watched and explore the many articles in Signs of Life that we haven’t had the chance to read in the units about consumption and advertisement. If a particular reading is important to your interpretation, cite it in your essay to lend credibility to your argument, and use MLA citation accordingly (Format it as an article selected from an anthology.). When you use outside research, again, cite accordingly. Whether you quote, paraphrase, or summarize, MLA in-text citation is required! The heart of your essay should make a clear argument about the audience to whom you think the ads are trying to sell products; a strong argument will clearly explain how the elements in the ads work together to have a particular effect on a particular audience. Since this is a semiotic analysis essay, you will need to carefully consider the systems in which the ads are functioning—what magazine or publication, what time period, what social contexts, etc. As always, your essay will need an interesting opening and original title, both of which will help to grab your readers’ attention. Once you’ve got that attention, use it: have a clear and arguable thesis which you back up with textual evidence and detail from the ads. Consider an ad-by-ad organization or a point-by-point organization strategy for this comparison/contrast assignment; certainly, both have their merits.
Be sure to focus on the way that the company tries to sell each product by appealing to their manhood- several figures doing “manly things” in mans hair, and womanhood- comparing beautiful hair to womanhood, how woman must be strong and unbreakable.
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