Advertising Content Analysis

Advertising content analysis looks at why effective advertisements work. This is done by dissecting the emotional appeal of advertisements or the methods advertisements use to appeal to the subrational side of the target audience. While people are confronted by hundreds or thousands of advertisements each day, only a few of these attract the attention of their intended audiences. Expert Jib Fowles says that the small number of advertisements that do succeed do so through "something primary and primitive, an emotional appeal, that in effect is the thin edge of the wedge, trying to find its way into a mind."

Fowles drew on earlier research by psychologist Henry A. Murray to describe 15 emotional appeals used by advertisers to wedge messages deep into the human mind. According to Fowles, advertisers try to circumvent the skeptical, careful, logical side of the consumer. Instead, the marketer aims for the side of the consumer that has unfulfilled desires tucked safely away from sight. Fowles believes that the consumer should be mindful of this approach to protect against responding to such emotional appeals.

Marshal McLuhan wrote about the way advertisements worm their way into the psyche. The late philosopher wrote about this phenomenon in Understanding Media. The section of this tome that deals with advertising begins, "The continuous pressure is to create ads more and more in the image of audience motives and desires."

The advertiser attempts to give form to desires buried deep within the psyche and tries to imagine the state of being for which, in their heart of hearts, individuals yearn. Advertising tries to gain an immediate grip on consumers. Like a tug of an emotional shirt sleeve, an effective ad slows people down for just enough time to slip in one or two words about the product.

A good example of how this works is expressed by what happens when we see, for fleeting seconds, a photo of a lone rancher at his work: The word Marlboro comes to mind with swift immediacy. The advertiser has succeeded. He has reached into the psyche to find a subject of emotional appeal to use as a wedge to drive the product name home. The rancher calls to mind the consumer's buried urges and yearnings. This is what McLuhan referred to as "continuous pressure."

According to Fowles, advertisements appeal through the following 15 emotional appeals:

1. Need for sex

2. Need for affiliation

3. Need to nurture

4. Need for guidance

5. Need to aggress

6. Need to achieve

7. Need to dominate

8. Need for prominence

9. Need for attention

10. Need for autonomy

11. Need to escape

12. Need to feel safe

13. Need for aesthetic sensations

14. Need to satisfy curiosity

15. Bodily needs such as drink, food and sleep

Most of us assume that Fowles' first emotional appeal, the need for sex, is the most prevalent appeal found in advertising. However, a content analysis carried by Mass Advertising under the heading of "Social Forecast" found that only 2 percent of all advertisements cater to the sex drive. Advertisers shy away from using sex since the message tends to overshadow the product information. Another reason that sex is used less often as an advertising appeal than is commonly thought is because marketers fear offending the target audience with too blatant a sexual message. A third reason is that a sexual message is more effective with male audiences. Sex may draw male customers, but at the same time, a large consumer element is ignored.

The need for affiliation message is driven home through ads such as the one for Wind Song perfume, in which a couple exudes a sense of intimate association by touching. People like to think they are autonomous and independent, but most people, deep down, prefer to have a partner. Nobody likes to be alone. Of course, there are other types of affiliation besides romantic coupledom. Advertisements that show two friends chatting, guys sitting at a bar, college parties, family or office gatherings all appeal to the need for affiliation.

The need to nurture is used in the Oscar Mayer weiner commercials. The narrator has a childish voice that appeals to the need to comfort, protect, console, support, help, feed, heal and nurse. Anything cute will elicit this very human response, such as a furry white kitten wearing a bell on a pink ribbon around its neck.

All the 15 emotional appeals are used in one form or another in the various advertisements people see each day. The wise advertiser draws on these primitive human needs to create a consumer base for new products. The wise consumer remains wary of being hooked into buying products on the basis of emotional appeal of the advertising as opposed to a true need for the product represented through this appeal.

Advertising Content Analysis: Selected full-text books and articles

Advertising to Children on TV: Content, Impact, and Regulation By Barrie Gunter; Caroline Oates; Mark Blades Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Analyzing Media Messages: Using Quantitative Content Analysis in Research By Daniel Riffe; Stephen Lacy; Frederick G. Fico Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Journalistic Responsibility and Political Advertising: A Content Analysis of Coverage by State and Local Media By Kaid, Lynda Lee; McKINNEY, Mitchell S.; Tedesco, John C.; Gaddie, Kim Communication Studies, Vol. 50, No. 4, Winter 1999
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
New Perspectives on Political Advertising By Lynda Lee Kaid; Dan Nimmo; Keith R. Sanders Southern Illinois University Press, 1986
Representations of Race in Television Commercials: A Content Analysis of Prime-Time Advertising By Mastro, Dana E.; Stern, Susannah R Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 47, No. 4, December 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Handbook of Communication and Aging Research By Jon F. Nussbaum; Justine Coupland Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004 (2nd edition)
Advertising, Alcohol Consumption, and Abuse: A Worldwide Survey By Joseph C. Fisher Greenwood Press, 1993
Librarian's tip: Discussion of advertising content analysis begins on p. 28
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