Assignment Sheet—Essay #2: Evaluation of a Presidential Campaign Ad

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Assignment Sheet—Essay #2:

Evaluation of a Presidential Campaign Ad
“If American citizens are to have a clear understanding of conditions and what to do about them, they must be able to recognize propaganda, to analyze it, and to appraise it. They must be able to discover whether it is propaganda in line with their own interests and the interests of our civilization or whether it is propaganda that may distort our views and threaten to undermine our civilization.”
--Phil Taylor “The Fine Art of Propaganda”


At The Living Room Candidate website, pick a Presidential Campaign Ad to analyze and evaluate, using research to fact check in the process if possible (this might not be possible with older ads, but with newer ones, we have, and to help you easily check the facts). In your paper you will need to state your overall evaluation of the ad (thesis), describe this ad very clearly, explain what it suggests and how it manages to suggest this, identify any non-rational appeals (such as fear, nurturing, sarcasm, ridicule) and forms of propaganda it uses (see 7 types of Propaganda in Phil Taylor’s “The Fine Art of Propaganda” (Google Search for it with those exact terms) and evaluate both the ad’s effectiveness and its truthfulness or validity as a way of appealing to voters (thesis should judge the ad by these two criteria).

In other words, you may think the visual is very persuasive (effective), but not a particularly good reason to vote for the candidate (valid) or you may think that it isn’t as persuasive as it could be, but that it’s very true and provides valid reasons for the course of action it proposes. For example, you might find an ad very appealing if it really appeals to your emotions or makes you want to jump on a bandwagon (follow the crowd), but you realize that these are bad reasons to vote for the candidate and therefore write a paper where you explain why it is so persuasive, but also why it doesn’t really present a good reason to vote for the candidate. Or perhaps it will be neither persuasive nor valid or both persuasive and valid. Again, your thesis will make a statement about the ad from these two perspectives (persuasiveness and validity or truthfulness).

For models, see the sample student essays at my website, particularly “Elusive Credibility” which models how to use research to evaluate statements made. For your Works Cited, list the Phil Taylor essay, the section of CTRW which deals with emotional appeals if you use it, and the ad you evaluate from The Living Room Candidate.

You must actively use (quote and paraphrase from) Phil Taylor’s “The Fine Art of Propaganda” and you may want to also quote from “Nonrational Appeals” (CTRW 99-103) or Ch. 4 “Visual Rhetoric: Images as Arguments” (CTRW 137-173). If you identify one of the visual or non-rational appeals it will be useful to quote from CTRW to explain the appeal. You may also want to use the commentary at the website The Living Room Candidate or check the facts at the cites listed above (,,, particularly for recent ads (from Clinton on?)


1. To effectively describe a visual using specific details so that your readers can “see it” clearly.

2. To explain to your readers, clearly, methods advertisers use to persuade in the ad so that they can think critically about the validity of the message instead of being swayed merely by emotional or irrational appeals.

3. To persuade your readers that your evaluation of the ad is reasonable.

4. To improve your ability to choose, integrate, and explain quotes in your writing.

5. To synthesize texts, other media and your own experience to draw reasonable inferences and understand how the ideas in these sources relate to and reflect on one another.

A Checklist:

1. Make sure your name, my name, English 1A-(and your section number) and the date, are at the top left hand corner of your essay (final version): To save space I have single spaced it, but it should be double spaced on your Final draft:

Sam Student

Instructor Isabel Sperry

English 1A

12 May 2014

2. Give your essay an appropriate title. Do not underline or put quotation marks around this title, but do capitalize first letters of all important words (short prepositions or articles not at the opening of the title do not need to be capitalized).
3. Don’t say “I believe” or “I think” or “in my opinion” in your essay. Readers should be aware that essays focus on arguing for the validity of opinions by supporting them with facts and reasoning, so it is redundant to say these are your opinions.
4. The first time you mention a reading, formally introduce the author’s/authors’ whole name and the title of the work. For CTRW a sample signal phrase might be: “In Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau describe fear appeal as ”....” (101). Put quotation marks around titles of short works, “The Fine Art of Propaganda” but underline or put in italics titles of long works divided into chapters or parts such as Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing. Thereafter, refer to the author/s by last name. Barnet and Bedau argue…

Each ad at The Living Room Candidate has a title. When you put your cursor over the ad, the title will appear at top. You should put this title in quotation marks since it is a short film. For example, Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign ad “Journey” describes...

5. The Living Room Candidate has a great feature that will be very useful to you when you quote from the ad. At the bottom of the ad viewing screen there is a button marked “transcript” and if you click on that, the words from the ad will be printed to the right of the screen. You can cut and paste these words right into your paper when quoting from the ad itself. Make sure to reformat the text in your paper so that it matches your own chosen font and font size. (Use 12 pt font size).
6. Underline your thesis (in the rough) and provide an introductory paragraph or two (at least some introduction and description of both your ad and the readings will usually be handy here; body paragraphs wherein you make claims (example claim: the ad effectively uses the plain folks appeal to persuade us that Bill Clinton is a regular guy and cares about regular people) and provide evidence (example evidence: It opens with him saying “I was born in a little town called Hope, Arkansas” which suggests that he has small town roots…), explanation and reasoning to support the thesis; and a conclusion. Topic sentences for this paper, may sometimes take the form of claims about the appeals being used: “The train of celebrities in “Yes We Can” creates a bandwagon appeal because...”
7. Use the present tense to discuss what writers say. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau say in Chapter 4, “Visual Rhetoric: Images as Arguments” that…or Hilary Clinton’s Campaign Ad, “It’s 3 a.m. at the White House” suggests… Phil Taylor defines the plain folks propaganda appeal….
8. Organize your body paragraphs effectively. Before you evaluate the ad that you analyze, you need to describe it or the scene in question in a fair amount of detail. You may wish to describe the first scene in a Presidential advertisement video and analyze it by itself before describing the others or you may wish to describe the whole ad and then briefly remind readers of the part of the video you refer to as you analyze it. Or you may organize your essay around the appeals used in the ad, but make sure that your readers have a fairly clear idea of what the ad looks and sounds like. Your organization depends on which system works best to achieve your goals of being clear and efficient with your words. Make sure that much of your essay is devoted to analysis. At least 1/2 – 3/4 of the essay should be analysis and evaluation, which means you will spend much of the essay discussing the impact the ad has on viewers and whether this impact is in line with your “own interests and the interests of our civilization” or not. In order to determine this, you may want to do some additional research about the candidate.

Use the handout “Cinematic Terms” (also posted at my website) to find the language to describe visual effects used in the ad.
A note about introductions. Your introduction should include your thesis, but sometimes you want to work up to that. A good place for it is often late in the introductory paragraph, perhaps even the last sentence of the introduction, because once you have stated it, the reader wants to start hearing you support it with arguments. You can also include a vivid pre-introductory example, perhaps describing a historical account of propaganda that had a negative influence on society. Or for this paper a brief description of the ad or even a vivid and thorough description might make sense. If you wait too long to start analyzing, though, your readers may be confused about what you are doing in your paper. It depends how long it takes to describe your ad. If you use a lengthy description all in one piece it is better to state your thesis beforehand so that readers understand as they are reading this that you are describing it so that you can evaluate it and they already know your opinion of it.
A note about conclusions. Your readers may have different needs depending on how you have proceeded in your paper. If you think your readers may need a recap of your main claims because the paper was long or complicated, that is one way to conclude, a kind of birds eye view. “Okay, here it all is now. Isn’t it convincing?” Sometimes this seems mechanical and unnecessary, however, so be careful that you ask a peer reviewer to give you feedback on that if you choose that method.

A “Big Picture” or “So What” conclusion is often effective. Don’t make new claims that need supporting, but do analyze why what you’ve revealed in your essay is interesting or important. You might want to discuss whether the advertisement appeals to our best values or whether it misleads us by pushing our buttons. You may talk about the effect such ads have had on the presidential campaign as a whole, how Americans are perceiving this candidate, etc and whether you think it’s an accurate perception or not. Use “The Fine Art of Propaganda” and the chapters from CTRW to find the words to describe what the visual is doing.


Wed. April 30 Meet in 6402 Due: Final Draft of Essay 1

Fri. May 2 Meet in room 6402 1. Have read and annotated Phil Taylor’s online essay “The Fine Art of Propaganda”. Google Search: Phil Taylor’s “The Fine Art of Propaganda” and open the word document that appears at the top of the list. It’s 12 pages long, so don’t wait until the last minute to read it.
Mon. May 5 Have done the Ad Analysis Practice on “Ad Analysis Documents” posted at my Foothill website. Be prepared to turn this in. 2. Have picked your 3 ad choices from The Living Room Candidate website for Essay 2 to ok with me. (10 a.m. class meet in room 6402)

Wed. May 7 1. Write a thoroughly detailed description of your ad and finish prewriting for your essay. See the handout Cinematic Terms at “Ad Analysis Documents” posted at my Foothill website. 2. Bring CTRW—this is important as you will be reading and annotating in it during class while I meet with students to discuss their paper plans. This reading will prepare you to write the paper and also for the Midterm.

Fri. May 9 1. Due: Rough Draft of Essay 2
Mon. May 12 1. Due: Final Draft of Essay 2

1. Bring The Autobiography of Malcolm X and CTRW

Wed. May 14 Have read and annotated X Forward – 40 (to end of Ch 2).

Fri. May 16 Have read and annotated X (Ch. 3 and 4; 41-72)
Mon. May 19 1. Have read and annotated Ch. 6 “Developing an Argument of Your Own” (226-255) and Ch. 9 “A Logician’s View” (CTRW 349-383).). 2. Have read online Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet”:


and Martin Luther King. Jr.’s “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom”:

3. In class Midterm—bring a blue book or green book to class (small booklet in which to write an in-class essay). Open book, open note Midterm-no fully written paragraphs permitted.

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