In reading/analyzing an ad and image, consider the relation of “textual clues” in interpreting the message and purpose of the ad or image, including the values and fantasies it promotes: consider setting, overall situation, and target audience; what people are doing, how they appear, how they are placed in relation to each other and other elements of the ad, including objects; design and layout; use of text, color, and size.
Your task in this topic will be to consider how advertising creates illusions, false hopes, fantasies, and generally misleads us and misrepresents the world in order to persuade us to buy various products. Specifically, you’ll analyze McDonald’s webite and ads, and use various online and offline sources (Adbusters, McSpotlight, articles from the EBSCO databases, Fast Food Nation, Klein’s No Logo and Chiat’s “Illusions Are Forever” ), as well as your own observations and experience, to criticize the McWorld version of reality. If you wish, you may expand the topic to discuss McDonald’s along with similar fast food chains (such as Burger King, Wendy’s), or to discuss Mac along with other websites, such as the Hershey site, that exploit particular values to sell products often antithetical to those values the sites promote.
Read, Observe, Take Notes, Gather Information
Prepare to write the essay by familiarizing yourself with McDonald’s official website (www.mcdonalds.com), Adbusters (www.Adbusters.org/home) and McSpotlight (www.mcspotlight.org). For Adbusters, check “About Us,” at the bottom of the homepage, which provides a brief mission statement as well as information about Adbusters magazine (you may check out issues of the magazine from the “Magazine” link on the home page). How does the organization parody various ad campaigns? Selecting the “Spoof Ads” link from the home page, focus on the “Food” category; compare Adbuster’s mock ads with the “real” ads and promotional material for McDonald’s products (in magazines, online, the company’s website). For McSpotlight, see especially the links to “Issues,” “Company,” “Media” for both text and imagery that mocks and/or is critical of McDonald’s. After examining these websites and taking some notes, visit a McDonald’s and make some of your own observations. Take a notebook with you to record some of your observations and thoughts.
Also, to help prepare for this essay, carefully reread “Illusions Are Forever,” paragraphs 3-5. How do the “worlds” ads sell us (the “mediated” versions of certain values, ideals, beliefs, situations and the imaginary experience of them) differ from our versions of those same worlds as we actually live and experience them? I.e., how does an ad’s reductive version of the “truth” compare to, as Chiat puts it, “our own individual, confusing, messy version of it”? Think about how McDonald’s ads and website simplify particular values, beliefs, cultural norms, situations, and experiences for easy consumption (and to encourage us to consume more). Is this similar to the point made in the article “Girls Rule…, in which the author discusses how some children’s TV shows/networks exploit values, such as “girl power,” for commercial purposes?
The Essay Plan
You must include both personal observations/experiences—first hand evidence from the McD website–and information from secondary sources (see the “secondary source list” for essay #3 under “course documents,”on Bb, and sources as noted below)
According to Chiat (“Illusions Are Forever”), the danger, or “real lie,” of advertising is in the false values or misleading, distorted world view it presents. McDonalds and similar websites are good examples of Chiat’s thesis, attempting to associate the company and products with positive, and often idealistic values that may have little basis in reality. Your introduction should briefly and specifically list the values that McDonald’s and optionally other companies promote through their websites, values such as family (including concern for the welfare of children), togetherness, education, social responsibility, concern for the environment; fresh, healthy food and a healthy lifestyle; racial harmony/diversity, friendliness, youthfulness, cleanliness, order and uniformity, good working conditions and career opportunities, etc. You should indicate which values you intend to discuss, then state your critical thesis: that there is a contradiction, or lack of fit, between the company’s self image—the values and world view it promotes on its website–and its actual products and impact on our culture and the environment, as well as the atmosphere, working conditions and the experience and consequences of actually consuming the product (and, in the case of Mac, the experience of eating at a McDonald’s “restaurant”). Secondary sources: You may want to quote from Klein or Chiat to help set up your thesis, as above
In the first few body paragraphs or your essay, describe and analyze aspects of the website in detail, pointing out how the company(ies) manipulates us by attempting to associate itself and its products with these key values in our society (as listed in your introduction), playing both on our desire for those values and perhaps our fears of losing or not attaining those values (you might focus one paragraph on each value, or group closely related values, such as family and togetherness, into one paragraph). The company’s website will provide clues about how the company presents itself–its self image–and about the values and fantasies it sells consumers. Be sure to include detailed descriptions of the imagery and layout of the homepage and relevant subpages, and include quotes from text used on the site. Secondary sources: Chiat, also refer to Klein’s No Logo, her notion of “concept value added,” as a way to frame this part of the essay; you may also refer to Leo (“Selling of Rebellion,” since Mac and other sites also sell these values)
In subsequent paragraphs, criticize and question these values, emphasizing how, for eg., McDonalds’ version of the world and their place in it —or “McWorld”—detailed in the previous paragraphs is misleading and unrealistic—perhaps even dangerously so—and certainly doesn’t match up to the reality of the company and its products. Provide overviews of mock ads and images from Adbusters and McSpotlight, followed be detailed discussion; refer to and quote from Fast Food Nation and other texts. Point out how the reality of the company, the product, and how, for eg., McDonald’s role in society differs from and/or contradict the values it claims to uphold. You may also point out any contradictions in the values themselves (eg., how can McDonald’s promote both uniformity and diversity?) Emphasize some of the realities of the product and the company (the actual look, taste, nutritional value of the product, compared to the ads; worker relations & workers’ attitudes toward customers, the customer experience, etc.) the ads and website deny. Discuss in detail how, for eg., “McWorld” differs from/contradicts the “real world.” Secondary sources: Chiat, Klein; also Use Adbusters mock ads, information (text and imagery) from McSpotilght, Fast Food Nation, articles from the EBSCO databases and, of course, primary sources–your own observations and analyses of fast food websites–to make your case.
Your conclusion should reemphasize the importance of taking a critical stance toward advertising, as Chiat urges, and the self-presentation of companies on the Internet, and why we should be wary of websites like McDonalds. Secondary sources: you may want to return to Klein and/or Chiat in the final par, and include a brief quote as part of your conclusion to help emphasize your own concluding stance.
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