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Understanding Historical American Ads (20th Century): Analyzing Ads

This LibGuide will help you find ads printed in the United States, navigate through Advertisement databases, and, finally, analyze the ads that you found.

Analyzing Ads

So you've found an ad, and now you need to analyze it. This page will help you start the analysis process. On the left-hand side, I have picked out an ad that you can practice on. The first image is an unmarked version of the ad, while the second image in the slide shows important aspects that I found that spurred some questions. On the right-hand side, you will see different questions and concerns to consider while looking at an ad.


The Girl Women Envy and Men Admire Ad from Ad*Access
edited version of The Girl Women Envy and Men Admire Ad from Ad*Access

Suggestions and Questions to Consider


  • Read through the entire ad. Then reread it.
  • If you're able to see the full spread, note the articles and ads placed by the specific ad you're examining. When editors are deciding the magazine/newspaper layout, they are methodical choices made about the placement of ads. 

Questions to consider:

  • When was it published?
  • Who is it aimed at?
  • What magazine/newspaper did it appear in?
  • What is the product they are selling?
  • What was happening historically at that time?
  • How much did it cost to run the ad?
  • Are there images? What are the images of?
  • Is it in color? Were ads being printed in color at the time?
  • Was there any vocabulary that jumped out at you?
  • What was the title? What are they trying to convey with it?
  • What articles were placed around the ad?
  • What was the first thing that caught your eye?
  • Was there something in the ad that made you want to keep reading?

If you want to read some helpful articles about analyzing historical ads, please refer to the following ad or contact me.

How to Analyze an Advertisement by Arthur Asa Berger / Center for Media Literacy


Palmolive Soap. “The Girl Women Envy and Men Admire.” Forecast, 1922,