Michael O'Malley, Associate Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University
Any ad you see has been through an extremely elaborate production process. Initially conceived by one person or a team or people, it has been assembled by a variety of experts—artists, graphic designers, typographers; copy writers and editors, printers, all of whom contribute to the team's efforts. Ads are expensive to produce, and expensive to run, so there is nothing "accidental" in an ad—it is never "just a picture." There is too much money at stake for that attitude.
The first point in looking at ads is to look very closely—pay attention to all the details. Scholars call this technique close analysis. We will apply these techniques in this assignment. The ad below is from 1923. Click on various sections of the ad to see more detail and get a sense of how a historian might consider this image.
After looking closely at the image, read these conclusions made by a historian. These conclusions may not be right, or there may be other ways to see this image. You may see something else in the ad. There is no single "right" conclusion, only plausible arguments, supported with examples.It's not at all unusual for ads to have ambiguous meanings--to be unclear, or vague, or confusing. An ambiguous image, with a subtle, unsettling, mixed message, will hold your attention, and engage your mind, more readily than a straightforward image. Your job, in this exercise, is to produce a clear argument about the ad and what it telsl us about society.
Updated | April 2004