21 Questions to Ask About Commercials

[author-compact title=”About the Author”] These question are based on ‘Twenty Questions to Consider When Watching a Film’ by Tony Watkins. They are intended to help you think more clearly about these small but significant corners of our media time. Keep in mind that television commercials are vital for keeping the media wheel turning – and our credit cards burning! Commercials are media influence at its best – or worst. Taking the time to analyze a commercial can better equip you to appreciate, understand, and respond more critically to commercials.

It is recommended that you pick one specific TV commercial to analyze. A good tip would be to pick one commercial that can be said to be an important one (because it’s for important brand, made on a big budget, or used on multiple media platforms), and one that has some substance (in time and content). As well as helping you in your own thinking about commercials, these questions can provide a useful framework for group discussions.

Although we have tried to make these questions fit most TV commercials, you may want to skip a few of them if they don’t seem relevant to the commercial you want to analyze.

First response

  1. How did the commercial make you feel? What aspects worked well, and which didn’t (think about elements such as the commercials storyline, the direction, photography, acting, editing, humour, jingle (music) and slogan)?
  2. Did the commercial appear credible to you? How did the commercial make you feel about the product?
  3. To what extent did it fit with your earlier experience (if any) with the product? Did it subvert your experience in some ways?

Structure and context

  1. Describe the central elements of the commercials storyline (start and end, turning point, elements of surprise or conflict).
  2. Does the world in which the commercial takes place work like the real world? If not, what are the differences?
  3. Think about the timing of the commercial (which programs played before and after the commercial). Can you think of any reason why the commercial was placed exactly there? (audience, target group)

Characters

  1. Characters are rarely built over time in commercials, but simply presented to us. Sometimes new to audiences, sometimes they can be public figures (politicians, actors, athletes). How would you describe the main character(s) (in a commercial the main character can sometimes be the product, a crowd, nature, and so on)? How is he/she/it presented for the viewer? Why are the characters presented this way, and how do you think this influences the viewers’ feelings about the product?
  2. How does the main character draw attention to the product?
  3. What choices do the characters make? What motivates them? What are the consequences?

Meaning

  1. Whose point of view does the camera represent?
  2. How is our attention drawn to particular images? How are particular visual elements used as symbols or metaphors?
  3. How does the commercial’s editing contribute in making us want the product?
  4. How does the commercial handle the underlying themes that are not necessarily a part of the commercial’s aim (such as morality, politics, religion, sexuality, happiness, freedom, love, spirituality, identity, etc.)?
  5. Are there religious themes or connections? How is faith treated (if at all)?

Worldviews

  1. What is the view of reality? Is there any place for God or other spiritual dimensions to life? Is impersonal fate used as a substitute for God?
  2. What is the view of humanity? What does the commercial say about the nature of human beings? What does it say about communities and families?
  3. How is the image of God within human beings seen in this commercial? How is human rebellion against God expressed (including things being help up as substitutes for God)?
  4. What is the view of knowledge? How do characters know what is true (experience, logic, intuition or revelation)? How do they make decisions? Where do they find wisdom?
  5. What is the view of morality? What does goodness mean? How do characters make moral decisions? What are the characters’ values, and are these the same as the values the commercial wants you to associate with the product?
  6. What do human beings most need in life? Does the commercial identify any universal problems confronting human beings? What do humans need in order to flourish? What does it see as the point of life? Can the product be said to represent a substitute for God?
  7. What good insights into life are there in the commercial? What does it get wrong? How might it affect viewers?

Photo credit: © Dahon, used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-ND-2.0) licence.

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