Visual World Assignment #1: Perception: Visual and Verbal Messages

When confronted by an advertisement for Ax Body Spray, some would say, “That’s sexist and inappropriate!” while others might respond, “It isn’t!  You’re reading too much into it!” Those in the latter camp are probably more likely to be the ad’s “target audience,” the people the company hopes will buy their product. Because we interpret visual and verbal messages based on our own backgrounds and perspectives, we can each find different messages in the same advertisement. Your task in this assignment is to analyze the visual and verbal messages conveyed by a print advertisement of your choosing and to identify conflicting interpretations from different audiences, including the “target audience.”

The assignment will proceed in stages: first, you will write a short essay describing the advertisement’s visual messages; next, you will write a second short essay describing it’s verbal messages; and finally, you will blend the two short essays into a single integrated essay that identifies conflicting interpretations of the ad.

Audience: General public

Format: Visual analysis: 600 words (2 pages), Verbal analysis: 600 words (2 pages), Integrated Essay: 1000 words (3-4 pages)

Advice: Choosing an advertisement rich with messages is critical and more ambiguous advertisements might work better than those that are obvious or overly explicit. The best integrated essays will combine detailed description of the advertisement’s visual and verbal messages with analysis of the ad’s messages in light of various audiences, including but not limited to the “target audience.”


Type: Analyze a single primary source to support an arguable thesis

Rationale: The purpose of this assignment is to give students practice interpreting visual and verbal messages and composing detailed descriptions. In the integrated essay, students will begin considering the relationships between messages, visual and verbal rhetoric, and considerations of audience. Students should be asked to contribute old copies of magazines to a library from which the class could select advertisements for analysis.

Pre-Draft Activities:

  1. Discussion and annotation of background texts on advertisements such as Berger, Sontag, Ramamurthy;
  2. In-class writing and discussion of print advertisements;
  3. Visual analysis: In-class & homework writing describing messages that the visual aspects of the advertisement convey;
  4. Verbal analysis: In-class & homework writing describing the messages that the verbal aspects of the advertisement convey;
  5. In-class writing and peer review focused on developing a coherent structure for analysis of the visual and verbal messages of the advertisement;

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