1953 Alcoa Aluminum advertisement


Racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes have a long history in advertising media, marketing, and visual communications. 

Select a historical 19th or 20th-century print or TV advertisement that uses obvious and/or documented racial, ethnic, or gender stereotypes to sell a product and demonstrate how mainstream media intentionally or unintentionally reinforces societal biases. Using rhetorical analysis, examine the meaning of the image and text. Consider the effectiveness of the advertisers’ attempts to persuade and influence the audience at the time and consider how today’s audience might respond.

NOTE: The advertisement must use photographic or illustrative imagery and must include text. Use the resources provided in Week 10 Agenda > Stereotype in Advertising Media


You will be writing a deep analysis of your chosen image-based advertisement using critical perspectives from the theorists we’ve looked at recently: Saussure, Peirce, Barthes, and Hall.

Expanding on your reading response to Roland Barthes’ 1977 essay, “Rhetoric of the Image,” critically examine and deconstruct your chosen historical advertising image using Barthes’ approach. You will be expected to employ Barthes’s logic and terminology to deconstruct the advertisement. Include references to Saussure, Peirce, and Hall’s theories covered in the previous weekly Agendas. It will also be helpful to review the supporting materials and videos provided in the Reading Response Guidelines for the Rhetoric of the Image reading, specifically the post “Decoding Images and Image Rhetoric — Explained by Lesley Lanir.


You are writing this paper for possible submission to the City Tech Writer, an undergraduate journal for writing and research. Assume that your reader has no background in design theory and is not familiar with the theories and concepts you are presenting. Be sure to explain the theories and concepts as you present your analysis.


Your introduction should present the main research question in your own words: “How do racial, ethnic, and/or gender stereotypes affect the meaning and reception of 19th and 20th-century advertisements at the time and today, and in what ways did advertisers intentionally or unintentionally reinforce societal biases?

Using Barthes’ rhetorical analysis and close-reading approach, start by contextualizing the advertisement (date, product, country of origin, advertising company/designer, intended audience). Describe the advertisement in as much detail as possible, examining the characteristics of the objects, models/characters, environment, layout, typography, the interaction of picture elements, image quality, and composition of the entire ad. Try to identify all of the signs at work, including the signifiers and the signified.

Using Barthes’, Saussure’s, and Peirce’s semiotic terms, make your best attempt to articulate the meaning of the image and text used in the advertisement. Always refer to the overarching question: How do racial, ethnic, and/or gender stereotypes affect the meaning?

  • Identify the linguistic message(s).
  • Identify the non-coded iconic messages. 
  • Identify the coded iconic messages.
  • Identify the denotative and connotative aspects.
  • Explain if the signs are icons, indexes, or symbols.
  • Consider the cultural codes being conveyed in the advertisement.
  • Identify if polysemic signs, myths, or naturalization can be observed.

Using Stuart Hall’s theories about reception and representation, consider the effectiveness of the advertisers’ rhetoric and attempts to persuade and influence the audience at the time.  In what ways did advertisers intentionally or unintentionally reinforce societal biases?

  • Identify the original dominant/preferred reading.
  • Explain how the designers of this advertisement tried to ‘fix’ a meaning using stereotypes.
  • Identify who the intended audience was during the period when this advertisement was circulated and why they would identify with it. 
  • Consider what impact has this advertisement or similar advertisements had on society and if they served any other purpose besides the sale of a product.

In your conclusion, sum up your answer to the main research question and address how this advertisement would be received today. Is your personal reading of the ad dominant, oppositional, or negotiated? Why?

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Citations & Works Cited Page

IMPORTANT: Add MLA-style citations throughout your paper for every fact, visual reference, or quotation that you reference in your paper.

Using The Citation Tool
  • Use the Google Docs Citation tool > set to MLA to add citation sources to your paper. (See Adding in-text citation at 0:50 in the video for details.)
  • When you are finished, add a Works Cited page at the end of your document. This can be done with one click using the Insert Work Cited button. (See Inserting a bibliography at 1:16 in the video for details.)

Due Date

The finished paper is due on [DATE]


Your paper will be submitted as a 750-1000 word typewritten paper, double-spaced 12 pt. Times New Roman.

  • Use Google Docs to write and organize your final draft.
  • Use the MLA style to format your paper. See MLA example paper here.
  • Cite all materials researched for historical context, any related writings, and image sources.
  • Include images of the work you are referencing and any other relevant illustrations.
  • Use Grammarly or similar to review your paper for grammatical and spelling errors before submitting.

Submitting Your Paper

  1. Create an OpenLab Post.
    • TITLE: Research Paper 2 – Your Initials
    • CATEGORY: Research Papers
    • TAG: Research Paper 2
    • TAG: Your Name
  2. Add the title of your paper as a heading.
  3. Write a brief introduction to your paper.
  4. Use text to indicate the link to your paper (ie: Research Paper), select your text, and make it a link to your Google doc. (Do not paste the entire Google Doc link in the post)
  5. Make sure the Google Doc link is set to “Anyone with the link” and Commenter is selected. This will allow others to comment on your paper.