CUNY COMPosition & Rhetoric Community

Rhetorical Reading of a Superbowl Ad or Student Movie

Sean Molloy (24 Aug. 2014)

Overview: Students read Lara Bolin Carroll’s 2010 “Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis”  and use the rhetorical concepts explained there to analyze the rhetoric in Super Bowl ads or student movies.  One good alternate reading is Stuart Hirschberg’s “The Rhetoric of Advertising.”

Tip From Past Classroom Uses: I often do this class exercise more than once across the semester.  In my version, we read Carroll and then discuss the she raises and explains, including:  1) What is the context?/rhetorical situation (48). 2)  Lloyd Bitzer’s exigence/problem/purpose, (48) intended/unintended audience and their ability to address the problem (49) and constraints (49).  3) Writer and purpose (50).  4) Logos (52-53) pathos (53-54) and ethos (54). 5) Other elements to consider, like visual elements, ethical approaches and sufficient information (55).  Then, we use some of those lenses to review a Super Bowl commercial or a student movie essay.  I start always by asking: “what elements did they use?” as a way to encourage a careful reading and to get students thinking about the elements they can add to their movies.

Variations: There are almost endless possible variations of this assignment.  Carroll notes that it can be useful to examine the rhetoric in commercials, ads, facebook, political cartoons, wikipedia entries, scholarly articles, bar graphs, op-eds, youtube videos and more. (46-47, 56). I use student movies, Super Bowl commercials and scenes from the Lincoln movie.  Here are some sample student movies.

One of my favorite commercials are this pair of Budweiser ads from the 2013 Super Bowl:


“Brotherhood” uses visual storytelling, emotional appeals and  implied arguments so subtle that it is easy to miss that it is a beer commercial at all.  The gender role and intended audience issues are interesting.  The color scheme directly invokes  the product and and other powerful associations as well.  

This 2014 movie essay, “How Long Can I Love My Country If It Doesn’t Love Me Back?”  by Martyna Chrzanowska is at

Chrzanowska builds her implied arguments about immigration policy and social injustice by combining only four elements: a few text cards, her mother’s edited voiceover narration, a piano soundtrack, and a slide show of family photos– many taken at national landmarks in Washington D.C.

Scaffolding: I use this assignment to review concepts in rhetoric and to build toward student’s creation of their own movie essays.  But I think Carroll’s article is also a good way to introduce all many threshold concepts of rhetoric.

Works Cited

Carroll, Laura Bolin. “Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps toward Rhetorical Analysis.” Writing Spaces: Readings On Writing, Volume One. Eds, Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky. Parlour Press, 2010. 45-58. Web. 21 Jan. 2014.

Hirschberg, Stuart. “The Rhetoric of Advertising.” The Essential Strategies of Argument. 291-297. _____:Longman 1996. Print.