English R1A

Reading and Composition: Reading Ads: They'll Tell You What You Want, What You Really Really Want

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Fall 2016 Ehrlinspiel, Hannah Kathryn
MWF 12-1 50 Barrows

Book List

Barthes, Roland: Mythologies

Other Readings and Media

All other readings will be in the course reader, available at Metro Publishing on Bancroft.


Think of something that you want right now, at this very moment. Now tell me why you want it. Are you sure? Do you really want it, or do you want to want it? Or does someone else want you to want it? How do you know that your desire is your own, that it originates from within and is not imposed from without? When ads surround us—and especially as we enter into the online era of personalized, bespoke marketing—it can be difficult for contemporary existence not to feel pre-packaged, technicolored, high-glossed, unreal. Are we doomed to be dupes, to buy into Kinfolk’s whitewashed minimalism or GQ’s cool-guy kitsch? What type of marketing captures you, and why?

Our efforts in this class will be two-fold. During the first half of the semester, we will endeavor to be more critical consumers by applying the literary skill of close-reading to less traditionally “literary” texts: ads in a number of media. We all know that sex sells, but what other (perhaps more subtle) tricks and tactics do companies use to catch our interest? What associations might a color scheme conjure? How can an image trigger identification? And what kind of identification? When shopping for soup, for instance, do you prefer the old-school nostalgia of a can of Campbell’s or the new-age wholesomeness of Amy’s Organic? From typefaces to taglines, we will pay close attention to the detail in order to see how design determines desire. We will also attempt to understand how ads not only cater to but also create consumers. Who is included in—and excluded from—the “target audience”? In the second half of the semester, we will focus on resistances to advertising’s pervasiveness, discussing the creative types of “antiviruses” available to combat this viral marketing.  

Through careful attention to the way ads seduce and produce us, we will engage in and with the practices of close reading, argumentative analysis, persuasive writing, and critical thinking—skills that will enable you, in turn, to persuade your reader into “buying” the products of this class: the dazzling arguments of your written work.

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