Contextual Analysis Example Essay

Rough Draft Due: via email Monday, October 15 by 11:59 pm
Writer’s Workshop: Tuesday, October 16
Final Essay Due: via email Thursday, October 18 before class
Advertisement: hard copy Thursday, October 18 in class 
Have you ever been flipping through a magazine, and, all of a sudden, a particular advertisement makes you stop in your tracks? It flags you down, draws you in, and before you know it, you’re in your car on the way to store because “Ohmygosh! How have I managed to live without this thing for so long? I’ve gotta have it now!” Okay, maybe you didn’t react quite so dramatically, but you have to admit: the advertisement spoke to you and made you want to at least try the product. Now, have you ever thought about why this phenomenon occurs? How do advertisers just seem to know what will appeal to a particular audience? 
In order to create a successful marketing campaign, companies engage in a detailed analysis of the context surrounding their target audience. This analysis consists of comprehensive examinations into how contextual factors—historical, social, cultural—will affect a rhetorical response in the company’s audience. In other words, companies take into account the cultural assumptions and social situations relating to an audience at a specific point in time in order to persuade people to buy their products. 
For this project, you’ll be taking on the role of a freelance advertising designer whose just been hired by a company to create an ad for one of its products. Before the company agrees to use your ad, the Board of Directors not only wants to see your design but also wants a write-up explaining what contextual factors influenced your rhetorical strategies, and how effective you believe your strategies will be in responding to those factors. Thus, your job is twofold:
  1. To create an advertisement for your product that is tailored to a specific magazine’s audience (worth 50 points);
  2. To compose a 3 page contextual analysis in which you consider how your rhetorical appeals or strategies are working to persuade the audience and how these devices have been shaped by cultural, social, and/or historical contexts (worth 125 points).
Therefore, in order to do this assignment successfully, you must not only understand the particular dynamics of your target audience in order to successfully pitch your product but also understand how cultural, historical, and social factors contribute to the rhetorical choices you made. 
Choose one of the following pairings for this assignment:  
  1. Pillow Pet Dream Lites for Maxim
  2. The Potty Patch for Cosmo
  3. Shake Weight forGame Informer
  4. Life Alert forESPN Magazine
  5. Snuggies for National Geographic
  6. Flex Seal for Shape
Before you start thinking about designing your ad, you’ll need to conduct research on the reader demographics of the magazine: Who reads it? How old are they? Are they married? Do they have kids? How much money do they make? What level of education do they have? For each magazine choice, I have provided a link to a webpage that will provide you with answers to all of these questions. As you read this information, take detailed notes about the magazine’s audience. 
Once you have a clear idea about the audience, the next step of your job is to tap into the cultural assumptions and social situations surrounding the magazine’s target audience: What are our cultural attitudes toward this audience? How do members of this audience typically act? What are their likes and dislikes? What are the social situations that members of this audience currently find themselves in? What are some of the social issues affecting this audience? For information about situational factors, you’ll want to do some research to familiarize yourself with current events and how these events might be impacting the magazine’s target audience. There may be a particular issue relating to the audience that you could appeal to when you design your ad. 
When it comes to designing your advertisement, you want to take into consideration all of the information you have gathered about your audience and then work to construct a visual argument that uses appeals to pathos, ethos, and/or logos in order to successfully sell the product. Then, in your analysis essay, you’ll explain why you made the choices you did and how your choices were influenced by contextual factors. I want to provide a note of caution: Many of you will find yourselves getting caught up in the design stage of your advertisement, but this is not the most important part of this project. Rather, your 3 page analysis in which you discuss the role that context played in your choices of rhetorical strategies is the primary goal of this assignment. I’m interested in seeing you explain how you’ve come to understand the ways that rhetoric is shaped by the context surrounding it.
You have the freedom to design your advertisement any way you want. Your only limitation is that you’ll need to work within the dimensional confines of an 8 x 11-inch sheet of paper, which you can position either horizontally or vertically. Try to be as innovative as possible. You can draw the ad by hand, use technology to create it, or both. If you decide to craft your ad by hand, you can use crayons, colored-pencils, or markers. You can use cut-outs of images from magazines or the internet or from pictures you’ve taken yourself. If you choose to design your ad using a computer, you can use different kinds, sizes, and colors of fonts. You can copy-and-paste images from the web, or insert your own pictures.
  • Note: If you use images from magazines or from the web, I want you to keep track of the sites you get them from. You’ll need to cite these as sources in your Works Cited page (Don’t worry. This is relatively easy, and we’ll talk about how to do it in class).
Here are some steps to help you design your ad:
Step 1: Identify Audience and Message [1]
Answer these questions before you start:
  • Who are you targeting with your ad?
  • What do you what them to think, feel, or do when they see it?
  • What value are you offering?
  • Why should people choose your product?
Step 2: Write the Headline
  • The most effective, attention-grabbing headlines promise benefits.
  • Benefits are good things that will happen, or problems that will be solved, when people choose your product/service.
  • Mention any Unique Selling Point(s) (USPs).
  • No USPs? Just express the value your product offers as clearly as possible.
  • Don’t try to get attention from everyone. Focus on appealing to the interests of your target audience.
  • Don’t be afraid to be simple and direct.
  • Keep the headline promise: say how the product delivers benefits.
  • Keep words, sentences, paragraphs short.
  • Use words you’d use when speaking with a person face-to-face. No jargon.
  • Use concrete and sensory language, not abstract concepts.
  • Less is more. Identify key messages and cut the rest.
  • Consider returning to the headline theme at the end.
  • Explain what customers need to know. Make the next step (i.e. buying the product/service) easy.
Step 4: Create the Design
  • The design should guide the reader visually from headline through text and on to a call to action.
  • Make sure text is clear, large, and legible.
  • Think about where and how the design will be seen (i.e. in a printed magazine surrounded by themed articles and among other advertisements) and consider it in this context.
  • Give equal priority to words and images/graphics.
  • Be creative.
  • Good advertisement imagery reinforces the message of your headline (i.e. benefits), or adds meaning that couldn’t otherwise be expressed.
  • Bad advertising imagery has no reason to be there and adds nothing to the message. Don’t use images for their own sake.
After you’ve created your advertisement, you’ll need to explain yourself to the company’s Board of Directors. They want to know about the contextual factors that influenced your rhetorical choices. In your analysis, you’ll need to consider how the rhetorical appeals and strategies you employed are working to persuade the audience and how these devices have been shaped by cultural, social, and/or historical contexts. Why did you choose to appeal to your audience in the ways that you did and how did context play a role in your rhetorical choices? More simply: Why is your advertisement the way it is?
Your thesis statement for this analysis might go something like this: “Contextual factors A, B, and C led me to use rhetorical strategies X, Y,…” Or, to put the emphasis on the reception of your ad in context: “The audience should interpret the message of the text in such-and-such a way due to contextual factors A and B.”
Helpful Hint: Your initial instinct may be to want to argue that you said something or used a particular image because of this or that contextual factor: “I focused on my product’s affordability and its potential to make the lives of my target audience easier and less stressful because the country is in the middle of an economic crisis.” True enough. HOWEVER, you should ignore that first instinct for this type of analysis essay. Instead, your focus should be on the conclusion you’ve drawn about why and how you used a particular design principle of visual rhetoric; why and how you combined verbal and visual elements; and your judgment about the likely effectiveness of your advertisement: “By appealing to my target audience’s desire to get more stuff for less money and by claiming that it’s something that will make life better, I can effectively persuade them to buy the product, despite the hardships they may be suffering from the current failing economy.” In other words, your focus should be on how you constructed the visual argument (the form of the message), rather than on only what was said (the content).
  • Advertisements must be designed on standard 8 x 11-inch paper.
  • Your name must be in the upper right-hand corner of the page.
  • You will turn in your advertisement to me in class onThursday, October 18.
  • Essays must 2-3 full pages, typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font, with 1 inch margins on each side.
  • Essays must be saved as Microsoft Word documents (i.e. “doc” or “docx”).
  • Your document should be titled with your last name and the assignment number (e.g. Smith_Essay 2).
  • Rough drafts must be submitted to me via email by 11:59 pm onMonday, October 15.
  • Final drafts must be submitted to me via email before class starts onThursday, October 18.
  • Title the email with your name, your section number, and the assignment number (e.g. John Smith English 101-008 Essay 1).
  • Don’t forget to attach the file.

[1] From ABC Copywriting’s Five Slide Guide to Writing and Designing in Advertisement. 2009. Web.

Using Contextual Analysis to evaluate texts

A contextual analysis is simply an analysis of a text (in whatever medium, including multi-media) that helps us to assess that text within the context of its historical and cultural setting, but also in terms of its textuality – or the qualities that characterize the text as a text. A contextual analysis combines features of formal analysis with features of “cultural archeology, ” or the systematic study of social, political, economic, philosophical, religious, and aesthetic conditions that were (or can be assumed to have been) in place at the time and place when the text was created. While this may sound complicated, it is in reality deceptively simple: it means “situating” the text within the milieu of its times and assessing the roles of author, readers (intended and actual), and “commentators” (critics, both professional and otherwise) in the reception of the text.

A contextual analysis can proceed along many lines, depending upon how complex one wishes to make the analysis. But it generally includes several key questions:

1. What does the text reveal about itself as a text?

– Describe (or characterize) the language ( the words, or vocabulary) and the rhetoric (how the words are arranged in order to achieve some purpose). These are the primary components of style.

2. What does the text tell us about its apparent intended audience(s)?

– What sort of reader does the author seem to have envisioned, as demonstrated by the text’s language and rhetoric?
– What sort of qualifications does the text appear to require of its intended reader(s)? How can we tell?
– What sort of readers appear to be excluded from the text’s intended audiences? How can we tell?
– Is there, perhaps, more than one intended audience?

3. What seems to have been the author’s intention? Why did the author write this text? And why did the author write this text in this particular way, as opposed to other ways in which the text might have been written?

– Remember that any text is the result of deliberate decisions by the author. The author has chosen to write (or paint, or whatever) with these particular words and has therefore chosen not to use other words that she or he might have used. So we need to consider:
   – what the author said (the words that have been selected);
   – what the author did not say (the words that were not selected); and
   – how the author said it (as opposed to other ways it might or could have been said).

4. What is the occasion for this text? That is, is it written in response to:

– some particular, specific contemporary incident or event?
– some more “general” observation by the author about human affairs and/or experiences?
– some definable set of cultural circumstances?

5. Is the text intended as some sort of call to – or for – action?

– If so, by whom? And why?
– And also if so, what action(s) does the author want the reader(s) to take?

6. Is the text intended rather as some sort of call to – or for – reflection or consideration rather than direct action?

– If so, what does the author seem to wish the reader to think about and to conclude or decide?
– Why does the author wish the readers to do this? What is to be gained, and by whom?

7. Can we identify any non-textual circumstances that affected the creation and reception of the text?

– Such circumstances include historical or political events, economic factors, cultural practices, and intellectual or aesthtic issues, as well as the particular circumstances of the author's own life.


Stephen C. Behrendt – Spring 2008

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