Advertising is a deeply pervasive part of all lives lived in consumerist economies. The average individual in Western society is bombarded with several hundred adverts per day -- billboards, TV commercials, film trailers and product placement in films, Internet ads, radio blurbs, newspaper and magazine ads, and more. Advertising both is a kind or popular culture, and it is a major way that we learn about and learn how to interpret other kinds of popular culture. Film trailers, for instance, not only seek to sell their cinematic product, but they also hope to shape the way we think about the movie. Advertising is a major mode of socialization, telling us how to think and feel (what's hip, what's sexy, what's normal), and what problems we need to worry about (lack of the latest e-gadget, insufficiently white teeth, mammary magnitude, etc.).

Advertising is as old as commercial popular culture, and viewing older ads can tell us a great deal about past eras and our own. One thing revealed by studying older ads is the ways in which aesthetic styles change over time. Fro example, it is clear once avant garde techniques become domesticated over time such that some shocking bit of 1930 surrealism is now seamlessly accepted into an ad for a mainstream cleaning product or automobile. Or note how, on the one hand most advertising has become less verbal and more visual free association, while on the other hand the rise of the mute button has led to an increasing amount of written language in TV ads.

The links below include some famous historical and recent ad campaigns, archives of historic advertisements, ad industry sites, ad parody sites (which often teach much about ad manipulation techniques), articles and site analyzing ads, and more.

Featured Site

  • Adbusters. Smart, funny media analysis group aiming to bring real “truth in advertising.” Includes parodies of advertisements, and offers various ways to become a media activist.

General Sites

  • Bills itself as the most extensive collection of contemporary and historical print ads online.
  • Ad Land A database archiving great and not so great ad campaigns.
  • Ad Respect, formerly Commercial Closet. Site on LGBTQ advertising.
  • Advertising Age magazine. A useful resource for looking inside the advertising industry.
  • Advertising Bibliographies.
  • GLAAD. A watchdog organization against LGBTQ discrimination. Includes articles and protests on a variety of topics including LGBTQ imagery in ads. You will have to do a search to find the info needed.
  • Media Awareness Network. Excellent teaching resource on media literacy of all kinds, including advertising.

Online Articles

Advertising and Kids

Selected Ads For Further Study (with a few ad parodies to ease the task)

Historical Ads


[Few topics on popular culture can be adequately researched on the web alone.These reading suggestions are designed as beginning points for further offline study.]

Ewen, Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen. Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.
Incisive look at how advertising and related consumer-oriented messages have shaped US culture and consumer consciousness.
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Classic study of how advertising techniques have shaped the American electoral process.
Jhally, Sut. The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
Strong study of how advertising texts shape racial, gender, and class beliefs and create a “consumer” consciousness.
Lears, T.J. Jackson. Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of American Advertising. New York: Basic Books, 1994.
Richly detailed study of the rise of American advertising in the context of later 19th and early 20th century American culture.
Schudson, Michael. Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion. New York: Basic Books, 1984.
Careful sociological study of the impact of advertising on US. culture.
Williamson, Judith. Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Boyars, 1978.
The classic text on how advertisements address and create their audiences.