Checklist for analyzing print advertisements

from Arthur Asa Berger, Seeing is Believing: An Introduction to Visual Communication, 2nd ed. (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1998), p. 65.

There is a distinction between commercials, which are broadcast on television, radio, and other electronic media, and advertisements, which are found in the various print media, such as magazines, newspapers, billboards, and posters. (On the Internet, the many static advertisements are, I would suggest, best seen as electronically disseminated print advertisements.) The following checklist focuses on print advertisements: Chapter 5 provides a checklist for analyzing television commercials.

The Mood

  1. What is the general ambiance of the advertisement–the mood that is created, the feelings it stimulates?

The Design

  1. What is the basic design of the advertisement? Does it use axial balance, or are the fundamental units arranged in an asymmetrical manner?
  2. What relationship exists between the pictorial aspects of the advertisement and the copy, or written material?
  3. How is spatiality used in the advertisement? Is there lots of white (blank) space, or is the advertisement crowded – full of written and graphic material?
  4. Is there a photograph used in the advertisement? If so, what kind of shot is it? What angle is it taken from? What is the lighting like? How is color used?

The Context and Content

  1. If there are figures in the advertisement (people, animals), what are they like? Consider factors (to the extent that you can) such as facial expressions, hairstyles and hair color, body shape and body language, clothes, age, sex, race, ethnicity, education, occupation, relationships, and so on.
  2. What does the background of the figures suggest? Where is the action taking place, and how does the background relate to this action?
  3. What is gong on in the advertisement, and what significance does this action have? Assuming that the advertisement represents part of a narrative, what can we conclude about what has let to this particular moment in time? That is, what is the plot? Signs and Symbols
  4. What symbols and signs appear in the advertisement? What role do they plan in stimulating positive feelings about or desire for the produce or service being advertised? Language and Typefaces
  5. . How is language used in the advertisement? What linguistic devices provide information or generate some hoped for emotional response? Does the advertisement use metaphor? Metonomy? Repetition? Alliteration? Comparison and contrast? Sexual innuendo? Definitions?
  6. What typefaces are used, and what messages do these typefaces convey?


  1. What are the basic themes in the advertisement? What is the advertisement about? (For example, the plot may involve a man and a woman drinking, and the theme may be jealousy.)
  2. What product or service is being advertised? What role does it play in American society and culture?
  3. What political, economic, social and cultural attitudes are reflected in the advertisement–such as alienation, sexism, conformity, anxiety, stereotyped thinking, generational conflict, obsession, elitism, loneliness, and so on?
  4. What information do you need to make sense of the advertisement? Does it allude to certain beliefs? Is it a reflection of a certain lifestyle? Does it assume information and knowledge on the part of the person looking at the advertisement?

Go back to P & D course base
Go back to Ads as forms of communication

Created by Kathryn Russell
SUNY Cortland - Philosophy
Last modified on 8-13-99