Prof. Jenna Spevack | COMD3504_D061 | SPRING 2024 | Thurs 2:30pm

Assignment: Research Essay – Stereotype in Advertising

Image of a 1950's white housewife looking at the camera holding a bottle of catsup.
1953 Alcoa Aluminum advertisement

Overview: Stereotype in Media

Stereotypes: are widely circulated oversimplifications of people and groups; a preconceived idea of what a person is like, based on a range of different factors. These factors can involve culture, religion, race, sexual orientation, age, gender, appearance.

The use of stereotype has a long history in advertising media, marketing, visual communications, and popular culture. Research about media stereotypes has historically looked at traditional media such as television and films but has expanded recently to examine other types of media content such as video games and social media. Emerging research aims to address biases in AI and algorithms too.

For this essay, select a 19th or 20th-century advertisement (before the year 2000) that uses ethnic, religious, racial, gender, or other stereotype to sell a product and demonstrate how that media reinforced (or challenged) societal biases of the time.

Using rhetorical analysis, examine the signs used and the meaning conveyed by the image and text in the advertisement. Consider the effectiveness of the advertisers’ attempts to persuade and influence the audience at the time and consider how today’s audience might respond.

The advertisement you choose should use photographic or illustrative imagery and text. Use the resources provided in the Week 6 Agenda and the Resources below.

Research Questions

These are some questions that you’ll want to address in your essay. You can use them to write your own research questions.

  • How does the use of stereotype in media intentionally or unintentionally reinforce societal biases?
  • What are the coded signs in your chosen advertisement and how are they working together to persuade the viewer and/or communicate meaning?
  • How might today’s global audience respond to your chosen advertisement?


You are writing this essay for possible submission to the City Tech Writer an undergraduate journal for writing and research, or other design discourse publications, like Eye on Design. Assume that your reader has little background in design theory. Be sure to clarify the theories and concepts as you present your analysis.


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.

Using your reading response to Roland Barthes’ 1977 essay, “Rhetoric of the Image,” as a guide, critically examine and deconstruct your chosen historical advertising image using Barthes’ approach. You should employ Barthes’s logic and terminology to deconstruct the advertisement. Include references to Saussure, Peirce, and Hall’s theories. It will also be helpful to review the supporting materials and videos provided over the last few weeks, before researching and writing your essay.

Your introduction should present the main research question in your own words: How does the use of stereotype in media reinforce (or challenge) societal biases?

Provide evidence to support your claim(s). 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 thesis/questions. What are the coded signs in your chosen advertisement and how are they working together to persuade the viewer and/or communicate meaning?

  • Identify the linguistic message(s).
  • Identify the non-coded iconic messages. 
  • Identify the coded iconic messages.
  • Identify the denotative and connotative aspects.
  • 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.  How might today’s global audience respond to your chosen advertisement?

  • 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 this advertisement or similar advertisements had on society and if they served any other purpose besides the sale of a product.
  • Is your personal reading of the ad dominant, oppositional, or negotiated? Why?
  • Address how this advertisement would be received today.

In your conclusion, summarize the main research question and you might consider practical solutions employed today to address media stereotypes.

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



Showcase the topic using a compelling title.

Introduction / Thesis

  • Use an intentional strategy to get the reader’s attention
  • Clearly define your thesis and your motive for presenting this essay; why someone might want or need to read an essay on this topic?
  • Thesis = argument + evidence (claim 1 + claim 2 + claim 3 + …)
  • The thesis should govern the whole essay
  • In the last sentence of the introduction, clearly state your position or exposition on the topic


Provide evidence to support your claim(s). Follow a logical order with transitions between claims. Use analysis to connect your evidence to your thesis; go beyond
observing or summarizing: break it down, interpret, and comment on the data. Include cited images of the work you are referencing and any other relevant illustrations. Cite any facts using parenthetical

  • Claim 1 – prove thesis
  • Claim 2 – prove thesis
  • Claim 3 – prove thesis


Refer back to your introduction and clearly restate your thesis.

Citations & Works Cited Page

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

Using The Citation Tool
  • Use the Google Docs Citation tool > set to MLA to add citation sources to your essay. (See Adding in-text citation at 0:50 in the video for details.)
  • When you are finished, add a Bibliography / 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

  • First Draft Version is due Week 7
  • Published version is due Week 8


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

  • Use Google Docs to write and organize your final draft and then copy, paste, and reformat your essay for publication in a post.
  • Use the MLA style to format your essay. See MLA example paper here.
  • Cite all materials researched for historical context, any related writings, and image sources using parentheses.
  • Include images with citations of the work you are referencing and any other relevant illustrations.
  • Use Grammarly, Google Spell/Grammar Check, or similar to review your essay for grammatical and spelling errors before submitting.

Submitting Your Essay

  1. Create an OpenLab Post. (Help > Creating a Post)
  2. Paste your essay into the body of the post and prepare it for publishing. You will need to make adjustments. Make sure your paragraphs and citations are formatted properly. Add any additional headings (h2, h3), lists, or blockquotes, as needed. You may need to upload your images to the Media Library and relink them, as well.
  3. At the bottom of your post, add a heading called Drafts and include a link to your Google Doc draft(s).
    • Use text to indicate the link to your draft essay (ie: Research Essay Draft).
    • 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 essay.

Image and Research Resources

NOTE: Some of these images are disturbing. Please proceed with caution.


  1. Adrika Hoque

    From Maharaja to Mascot

  2. Avar He Zapata

    Stereotypes in Early Advertising (Aunt Jemima rag dolls). It’s a work in progress.

  3. Jonathan


  4. Miranda N.

    At last! Lovable Legacy, on the 1951 bra campaign that features an eclipse!

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