How to Analyze an Advertisement

This guide will show you how to analyze an advertisement by explaining in detail how ads work. While advertising as a field includes a lot of subtlety, it basically all boils down to appealing to people. Whenever a product is being advertised it is an appeal to people. People are rarely clear-minded logicians, but rather are emotional and subject to be swayed with various different appeals to emotion.

One of the best ways to analyze advertisements is too look for common advertising devices used to sell products. Here are a few of the more common ones with explanations for why they work.

Fear and Insecurities

One very successful tactic advertisers use is that they create the fear and then offer the solution, all in one. Take the following Rexona billboard advertisement which digs into women’s fears of romantic failure:

Rexona Romantic Ad

The implication of this advertisement is that if you do not buy Rexona deodorant, you will stink and this will cause you to lose Mr. Right. A ridiculous notion, but the underlying formula is remarkably successful. Create a problem that digs into people’s fears and then offer the solution through whatever product is being advertised.


Sexuality is a fantastic place to start when analyzing an advertisement, as so many ads use sex in very specific ways to sell products. Take for example a perfume advertisement, which will tend to portray women as sexually empowered by a product. The woman will walk into the room with confidence and all the men will turn their heads. This is a very, very common approach to appealing to women with beauty, cosmetic and fashion products. Take for example the following advertisement for Gucci, showing a man absolutely infatuated with a woman as a result of the use of the perfume:

Gucci Perfume Ad

Advertisements targetted at men are not so different, though it is more common for the acquisition of women to be associated with a product in far less subtle ways. Take for example these ads for the online game Civony/Evony:

Evony Ads

Hilariously enough these advertisements are for a strategy game that has little to no risque content. A bait-and-switch it seems.

However, while the above advertisements are overt, there are far more subtle uses of sexuality in ads via symbolism. The use of a flower, for example a rose, can be sexual. Take for example this advertisement for Q-Tips taken from an older magazine:


Rose’s are very strongly associated with female genitalia, no doubt the cause of their use in romance. This advertisement very clearly shows a Q-Tip, a penetrative object, approaching the rose and touching its outer edges. A very clever advertisement.

Anther technique is to use images that seem sexual but on closer inspection are not. Take for example the following advertisement for Lynx Deodorant which seems to show the lower portion of a female:

Lynx Arm Pit Ad

However, the camera zooms out to reveal it is in fact an armpit of a male:

Lynx Arm Ad

This must be one of the most effective G-rated advertisements ever, by essentially showing what seems to be a naked form yet turns out to be just a shirtless male.

Sexuality is a very, very effective way to advertise a product, whether that advertisement is overt and implies that a certain perfume will lead to sexual conquest or discrete as the Q-tip and rose example demonstrates.


Humans are social animals, so appealing to their social tendencies makes sense. Instead of advertising the product by itself, advertisers sell a situation that is usually social and fun. Alcohol companies specifically exploit this, their advertisements never showing someone drinking at home alone but rather at the bar or out fishing. In each advertisement the alcohol will be a device to encourage socialization, with the people involved enjoying time with friends. Take for example the following screen capture from an advertisement for XXXX beer:

XXXX Beer Ad

By associating the beer with friendship, the advertisement makes the implication that spending money on XXXX beer will acquire friendship. This is of course an absurd premise when analyzed logically, but recall that people are not logical but emotional and how it works can then be understood.


Humor causes the person viewing the advertisement to associate the product with happiness, which is a fantastic start. If the product is associated with pleasureable feelings then it is more likely to be bought. Simple as that. It also works as a good method of getting people’s attentions as visual comedy is most often based around photos that do not look quite right. Take for example the following weight loss advertisement:

Funny Weight Loss Ad

This advertisement has a triple effect. The first effect is that it gains the viewers attention by offering a strange image. The second is that the image is pretty funny, causing that pleasurable feeling to be associated with the product. The final affect is that it lightens an issue people take very seriously. It is a fantastic all round advertisement that also appeals to a common desire women have to slim down for their wedding.


The idea behind associating the product with a celebrity of some kind is that if a person buys the product they will in some way be more like that celebrity or at the very least associated with them in some way. Take for example the following perfume advertisement associating the Lancome Tresor Midnight perfume brand with Emma Watson:

Emma Watson Perfume Ad

The idea here is that if you wish to be like her in some way, you will buy that perfume. This appeals to people’s desires to be like their celebrity idols.


Nationalism is another device that advertisers use to great effect. The idea is to associate the product with the nation it is being sold in, thus appealing to nationalistic sentiment in the hopes of people purchasing it. Take for example the following advertisement which is for the Dick Smith range of foods:

Dick Smith Ad

The implication of this advertisement is that  using this product supports Australia, so if you do not use it you are not supporting Australia.


Rexona Ad -

Gucci Guilty Ad –

Civony/Evony Ads –

Beer Ad -

Emma Watson Ad -

Dick Smith Ad -

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