Ad Analysis

Assignment Purpose

These short essays show that you’re able to consult primary sources to understand food-related ads from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and analyze them according to our readings and discussions.

Honestly, the main goal is to have some fun looking at food ads (or articles if you find any) that illustrate the issues we’ve been talking about. What I’m looking for in my evaluation of your reports (and don’t forget to consult the rubric in Learn) is that you can explain why the ads say what they do given what we’ve covered in the course thus far.

Your Job

Research, describe, and analyze some food ads.

Two main sources are easy to navigate and have a lot of food stuff:

  • Ladies’ Home Journal. You should look through at least two or three different issues. Once you click the link to the issue, you can do a full-text search to find food-related stuff. You can easily see from the text-preview in the left column what might be worth reading in more detail.

  • Go to the Chronicling America Advanced Search Page, and search for food related words in newspapers some state (your choice!) for some range of years between 1890 and 1910 (the period we’ve been talking about most recently). You can choose the range of years: a narrower range means more similar ads; a broader range means more diverse ads. Choose what seems more interesting to you. You need to select a state from the list on the left, and manually enter a date range.

Browse through your search results by clicking on the page thumbnails; you’ll notice your search terms are highlighted in red. Be sure to scan the whole page for relevant ads and content, not just stuff that’s highlighted—you’ll find a lot of interesting material that you didn’t directly search for! Search terms are a great way to get started, but just surveying the ads in the paper can be very

For either source

There is no specific way you need to find ads. You can just browse around or search. There is not any specific set of words phrases you should search for—that’s entirely up to you. One option is to choose broader terms like food, canned, pure, nutrition, extract, soda, natural, scientific, and so on, but PLEASE don’t limit yourself to these! You can also search for specific brands or foods (Heinz, Campbell’s, peas, wheat, milk) as a way of getting started.

Remember that food ads tend to be grouped together, so take some time to look at what you can find around what appears next to your search results—and also just by scrolling through your sources. Not everything is going to appear from the full-text search.

It doesn’t take long to find a lot of ads, however you’re doing it, and the more you look at, the more fun and easier it will be to write an interesting report. However you proceed, you should keep browsing until you notice some kind of pattern or general feature that seems worth commenting on.

As far as the writing goes, pretend you are going to discuss your findings with, say, a classroom full of students who have also looked at similar ads from similar newspapers. That’s the audience you should have in mind while writing.

Short Essays

Write a ~600-word report on what you found and how the ads (esp their imagery and language) relate to course readings and discussions. DO NOT simply describe what a few different ads or articles say. Rather, ANALYZE how the ads tell us something interesting about the intersection of food, technology, and society.

Questions to Address

Keep in mind that maybe not all of these will be relevant to your ads/articles):

  • What common imagery/language/themes run through the ads you saw?
  • How can you explain why the ads say what they do based on what we’ve studied in the course so far?
  • What sensibilities are the ads appealing to?
  • How cohesive are the ads? Do they use similar techniques?
  • Who does the audience seem to be (think about social status, race/ethnicity)?

Tips for success

  • Describe your methodology. The first thing you should do is describe how you went about surveying food ads. Random scrolling? targeted searching? A combination? What were the terms you used to search for articles? Feel free to describe this in a separate statement at the beginning of your report. Example:
    • SEARCH: “pure food” (all words) between 1900 and 1910.
    • SEARCH: “canned fresh fruit” (any words) between 1890 and 1900.
  • Have a specific point to make. Don’t just describe the ads. (One ad said this; another ad said this; etc). Better to say something like: The ads with terms X, Y, and Z commonly appealed to “science” as a way of establishing trust. Look for general themes and explain how they relate to the readings.
  • Use choice quotations. But long quotations! Usually short phrases convey the gist of why a longer phrase is interesting. Don’t feel obligated to use complete sentences, but don’t take phrases out of context.
  • Cite your ads. When you directly reference or quote an ad, use a parenthetical citation to indicate exactly where you saw the ad, including the name of the paper, date, and page number.
    • One ad from Carnation promised to offer “the finest nature in a can” (Albuquerque Journal, 09/13/1906, p.3).
  • Be selective. You can’t fit everything worth saying into your essay. Choose carefully what points about your ads that you think are most significant. That’s part of what you’re being graded on. HINT: Let our readings and discussions be your guide for what to include!
  • Revise, revise, revise. Once you have a complete draft of everything you want to say, you are about 50% done. Set it aside (and budget time for this!), then come back and economize your prose. Remove simple sentences that force you to be unnecessarily verbose.
    1 (initial idea): There was a cat. The cat was black and it chased a mouse, which was eating cheese.
    2 (revised prose): The black cat chased the cheese-eating mouse.

Revisions are hard! But they are the only way to make your writing shine.


It is always worthwhile to talk about these things in class; don’t hesitate to ask. Email is OK, too, especially for quick questions.