Dissect an Ad

Welcome to Dissect-An-Ad, an exercise developed by the Center for Media Literacy, to get you the voter (or voter-to-be) thinking critically about 1996 Presidential election campaign ads.

Campaign advertising follows the same rules as regular advertising. Whether selling a can of soda or a Presidential candidate, advertising seeks to move a target audience to action. In a TV campaign commercial, the goal is to get the viewer to vote for one candidate and not for the other.

We invite you to engage in the following exercise to help you become skilled at analyzing and evaluating political campaign advertising. Challenge your critical thinking skills on the campaign TV commercials seen in P.O.V's broadcast of Taking on the Kennedys.

View the ads »

Keep In Mind

Briefly consider the following questions as you watch the campaign commercials from TAKING ON THE KENNEDYS. You may want to view the commercials more than once. The questions will help you get 'behind the scenes' of campaign commercials to expose their real message and reveal the ways they 'sell the candidate' to voters. Feel free to 'clip and save' these questions to have handy as the upcoming election season approaches.

Who is the target audience?

  • Women, men, young voters, baby boomers, elderly, etc.?

What is the political ad trying to 'sell'?

  • Sells a Message? eg. tough/soft on crime, cut/raise taxes, strong/weak defense, clean up the mess in Washington, better health insurance.
  • Sells a Candidate? eg. has experience, creates new ideas, tells the truth, tells lies, is a loving family member, etc.)

How does the political ad sell the message?

  • Notice production elements: sound effects, music, camera angles and movement, black and white or in color, special effects, graphics
  • Name the emotional appeal: fear, anger, mystery, confidence, patriotism, loyalty,trust, distrust, optimism
  • Is the ad negative ('the other guy is bad') or positive ('look at how good I am') ? Is negative advertising necessarily a bad thing?

What facts are being used in the ads? Who's providing the facts and where did they get them?

Is the political advertising effective? Did it get the message across? Will voters vote for the candidate? Are you convinced?

Does the political ad provide useful information to voters? Could you define the candidates' platforms/positions/parties from their ads?

View the ads »