How To Analyze Graphic Publicity

This post is a translation of the original, which appeared on Fuel Your Creativity Espanol.

Constantly we see advertising hits in all class of means and formats, it is impossible to escape from this accumulation of persuasive messages whose last intention usually is to sell something to us, but what is the difference between a good announcement and a not so good one? Normally we go from the assumption that a good advert is the one that is effective, solid, the one that sells. Formerly we believed in the mechanism, that a good advertising message would lead automatically to the purchase of the product. Though in the 70’s we started to question this theory since they influence numerous factors of emotional nature, and the decision of their effect lies with the subject, so the full effects are difficult to rationalize. However, it exists as a series of objective aspects that influence in decisive ways in the quality of the graphical commercial message and their acceptance on the part of the public.


Here we want to specifically analyze the case of graphic publicity, although many of the questions that we will ask are valid for other media. It is important to emphasize that our objective is at any moment for us to approach the graphical announcement tying the advertizing aspect with the one of the design, since we have observed that, often, the reasons for which an advertizing design does not work, is because it happens to ignore the essence of the commercial communication. With this we mean that it is not enough to make a good design following all the basic norms of composition, if it does not satisfy the advertising end, it will fail. A good form to see the subject, is to analyze announcements, good and bad (sometimes we learn more from these), to unravel the virtues and the defects, so that we can repeat some and not fall in the other. There are many manuals and articles on the subject, and we will make note of the ideas that through the more excellent theory and experience are similar to our approach to the question.


Basic Aspects

  1. Context: If the announcement does not respond to some essential questions, it will not work. We can summarize them in the five basic questions that must be in all communications: what, who, when, where and how. Before developing or analyzing any advertising message we would have to ensure we are able to respond to these questions. Obviously, it is possible to respond to many of them through the image and the design alone, without saying a word.
  2. Description: Before delving deeper into the full sense of the announcement, we have to allow it to describe itself to us, unravelling each element that composes this part of the message:
    • To describe what we see
    • What type of images it uses: photographs, illustration…
    • Basic principles of the design: Unity, harmony, sequence emphasis, resist and balance.
    • Colors and textures
    • Format
    • Texts and typographies
    • Product and logo
    • Media that it appears in

    All these questions will be easily analyzable for any designer with a little experience. One is not to look for meaning, at this point we only look for a general concept to come out of the composition, the technique and the selected format.

  3. Meaning: After knowing the context and describing the technical aspects, the most complex part comes lies in finding the essence of the announcement, what it tries to pass on to us. For it can help us to consider certain aspects:
    • Who the announcement gets directed at?
    • What idea it tries to pass on and what actually passes on?
    • What are the values that show?
    • How the visual aspect supports the transmission of the message?
    • Is it emotional or is it descriptive?
    • What subliminal aspects hide within?

    Responding to these questions it is possible to arrive at a more or less clear idea of the intentions of the advertiser and the creative equipment, logical will be necessary to consider later if they have achieved the objectives.


Practical case – Analysis of announcement for Seat Alhambra

The announcement of Seat Alhambra TDI appeared in the Spanish newspaper ‘El País’, and is quite interesting from the textual and graphical points of view, which in this case are perfectly unified, harnessing its meaning mutually. In this case the four basic areas with which the publicity works are perfectly interrelated: the concept, text, image and used means to represent it. By concept, I understand the combination of all the elements of an announcement – text, headed and illustrations in a single idea. This is usual of contemporary publicity, to obtain and use all the means at its disposition.


In this announcement the photography plays a transcendental role, not only by the use of the same to represent the car, or by the rest of the photographs that appear, but by the game that settles down with a photographic term as in ‘to focus’ to construct the last meaning of the advertising message. It is evident, that a clear relation with the idea of ‘to focus’ and the unfocused photographs of the family resting on the table. But before developing this idea it is preferable that we concentrate more on the aspects related to the significant one.

It is important to emphasize that the announcement appears in a Sunday supplement of great reach and prestige in the Spanish national scope: ‘El País’ This type of supplement is characteristically geared towards families and is known for being one of the sections most read of Sunday’s newspaper. When an advertiser decides to appear in this type of periodical, they are interested in a coherent relationship between the announced product and the publishing content that exists. In this case, this requirement is fulfilled, because the announcement of a car as the Seat Alhambra is in agreement with the content of ‘El País’, since Seat tries to harness the ideas of sport, nature and family, that normally are apparent aspects of the magazine. At the same time one is a mono-volume whose characteristics and price determine that it goes towards a rich middle-class, that on the other hand is the majority public of this particular one.

The announcement, therefore, is directed to adults with an age over the thirty years, with an economic stability and, at least, one son. We say that it is the price of the vehicle and its characteristics those that at first determine this type of consumer, and that is the departure point of the advertiser. The slogan that directs the concept of the announcement and its visual characteristics is: ‘For families who focus on the sport of life’ that later is something that is clarified in some smaller letters and in the lower part of the page: ‘To obtain sport experiences is simple, you only need to focus the life in another direction’. Later, in even smaller letters we find informative text that indicate such features as the consumption of gasoline and the CO2 emissions. This last detail speaks of an interest in aspects related to the protection of the environment and the ecology, elements that the media has used in numerous occasions to endorse the quality and responsibility of a product. All this is underlined by the natural landscape where the car is. As far as the technical capabilities of the automobile we do not know more through text than it is turbo diesel injection (TDI) and that it has 130 hp. On the other hand, we discovered that instead of speaking of distribution and the points of sale as it happens in other cases, here they direct people to the web page of Seat and a telephone number for further information, the space occupied by this informative text is very small.

In the announcement of Seat Alhambra we see the car from through the frame of a window. This idea of framing is related to the marks of the photographs that are on the table in the foreground, in front of the window. These photographs are unfocused, though we can discern that they are family photos. Looking at the overall composition we find the edge trimmed away mimicking the form of the automobile being shown, as we see in the logo that appears right before ‘’, this way the right side of the announcement is white and appears empty save for the Seat logo in the lower right corner.

The announcement passes on a single idea rather well, each one of the elements that compose it is located perfectly to secure a whole that serves the overall idea that it looks to present for the Seat Alhambra. The elements are compatible to each other and equip the composition with a noticeable harmony: each color, each object and each word are located in the correct place, without adding to the confusion or the ambiguity. The announcement maintains a logical order of reading, perfectly sequenced. The car emphasizes the rest of the composition, although also the unfocused photographs play a fundamental role. We can speak of a certain informal balance with a greater weight of the composition on its right side, however, certain ideas like the stability and control can be gathered from the size and tone of the elements that also may aid in composing the announcement. The movement to focus in the right part and the lower, as we talk before, the photography trims, seems to reiterate the frame concept that dominates all of the announcement.

In the advert for Seat a surprising similarity exists between the structure of the advert and the one of its logo, concerning so subtle an aspect that is really interesting, because it speaks to us, bringing back to mind the unit and formal perfection at the least. Concerning meaning, we must start off with the setting of the Seat Alhambra in the competitive market of the monovolume, where the main marks of the market have other models of quality and similar prices to consider, like Nissan Almera or the Citroen Xsara Picasso, among others. Seat Alhambra must be distinguished in some form its competitors, and this is not done exclusively through the benefits and the price, but essentially by means of the publicity. From all of the concepts of this announcement, directed to ‘For families who focus on the sport of life’ that ‘they focus the life of another direction’, that is to say, the Seat Alhambra is an automobile for people who have another way to see things. This is an effective way to sell the product, loading it with a whole series of connotations that by itself it does not own. The Seat Alhambra is a car for people who enjoy their life and family. Obviously, the people who wish to have this quality of life are not the only ones who identify with the message, but, foreseeably, the people who wish to reach that vital harmony see, in the Seat Alhambra, a way to obtain it.

As writer for Fuel Your Creativity Spanish, Enrique is an experimental web and graphic designer, expert on new technologies and their creative possibilities. He spends most of his time browsing all the content that deserves to be known.


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