In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Advertising and Promotion

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Journals
  • Anthologies
  • Early Advertising Criticism
  • Histories
  • Activism and Resistance
  • Audiences
  • Environment
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Queer Theory and LGBTQ Representation
  • Hypercommercialism
  • Non-North American, International, and Global Contexts
  • Political Economy and Industry Analysis
  • Promotional Culture
  • Media Promotion
  • Semiotics of Ads/Ads as Texts
  • Television

Cinema and Media Studies Advertising and Promotion
Matthew P. McAllister, Alexandra Nutter, Yasemin Beykont, Sydney L. Forde
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0002


Advertising is unique in its status as both a major textual genre and a revenue source for media systems. As a textual genre, it is arguably the most dominant in our culture: for every hour of primetime commercial television viewed, approximately twenty minutes of that viewing involves exposure to advertising, television program announcements or promotions, and public service announcements. Advertising is used to market traditional branded products, but the selling and branding logic of advertising can also be applied to other cultural and social endeavors, including politics, religion, and media entities (e.g., Disney). Advertising’s textual dimensions are designed to enhance the cultural value of brands, and, as such, it encompasses elements of verbal and visual semiotic technique, culturally constructed desire, demographic division, and sociocultural status and hierarchy. As a selling mechanism in corporate capitalism, the commodity orientation of advertising is worthy of note in and of itself, but the associated symbolic characteristics of advertising—representations of gender, race, the good life—are also of great significance as part of the cultural context in which they exist. As an economic system that funds modern media, advertising has a tremendous influence on the form of that media, as well as on the messages in media content and the very economic logic of media—what it is that commercial media sells and to whom. Digital and social media have an intimate and complicated relationship with advertising and promotion, including the transformative nature of the political economy of digital advertising and resulting implications for societal polarization and surveillance. New forms of advertising and promotion expand the intrusiveness of advertising messages while also masking their marketing nature. As a topic of study, advertising’s role in academia is appropriately interdisciplinary. From a practitioner viewpoint, scholarship in departments of marketing and advertising/public relations approach the study of advertising and promotion as a professional activity, and they therefore assume the basic premises and goals of advertising. This research, then, is often designed to increase advertising’s effectiveness or to explore individualist or self-regulatory perspectives such as practitioner ethics. Such scholarship is not included in this article; see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Communication article Advertising for that body of work. Also not included here is related scholarship in consumer culture studies, work that often focus on non–advertising and promotional elements, such as the symbolic meaning of products, packaging, and shopping. This bibliography instead emphasizes the study of advertising in the liberal arts and humanities, a body of qualitative scholarship that engages it as an ideological and power-laden activity and as a serious form of—or influence on—culture. This scholarship could be labeled as “advertising criticism,” “critical advertising studies,” or “commercial and promotional culture.” Its influences are broad and include Marxism, feminism, semiotics, political economy, environmentalism, and other approaches derived from critical theory and cultural studies.


This section highlights general treatments of critical arguments about advertising, and many of these works are appropriate for use in advanced undergraduate or graduate courses, including Berger 2015 and Leiss, et al. 2018. Early overviews include Dyer 1982 and Schudson 1984. Fowles 1996 compares ads to popular culture, and Cronin 2004 looks at beliefs about advertising. Kelso 2019 interrogates several aspects of US advertising as a cultural and economic force. MacRury 2009 and Hardy, et al. 2018 focus on the British context. These books examine advertising broadly conceived, including both its textual and its economic nature, as part of a larger sphere of marketing activities, and as historically constituted.

  • Berger, Arthur Asa. Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture: Advertising’s Impact on American Character and Society. 5th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

    Designed as a basic textbook introduction to advertising and society issues, this book examines such issues as how to interpret symbols in both print and television advertising, sexuality in advertising, political advertising, and the role of marketing research in constructing advertising. Includes an analysis of the 1984 Apple Macintosh Super Bowl commercial.

  • Cronin, Anne M. Advertising Myths: The Strange Half-Lives of Images and Commodities. London: Routledge, 2004.

    Taking a Foucauldian perspective, the book focuses on the circulation of discursively constituted beliefs within and about advertising, using historical and textual analysis and interviews with advertising practitioners. The emphasis is on the advertising work, promotional discourse, and criticism of “dangerous consumption” products, specifically alcohol and tobacco.

  • Dyer, Gillian. Advertising as Communication. London: Methuen, 1982.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203328132

    Arguably one of the first non-applied-based overviews of advertising designed for the classroom, the book begins with a history of advertising and promotion and later addresses its rhetorical and semiotic qualities and its possible effects.

  • Fowles, Jib. Advertising and Popular Culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1996.

    Fowles explores how the worlds of advertising and popular culture are merging together. He argues that this blurring is not necessarily destructive, and foregrounds the interpretative power of advertisement audiences/viewers/readers to keep advertising’s potential to manipulate in check. Chapter 8, “Deciphering Advertisements,” usefully lists the many potential elements for interpreting an advertisement.

  • Hardy, Jonathan, Helen Powell, and Iain MacRury. The Advertising Handbook. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2018.

    Although the title of this book implies a practitioner orientation, the book strongly embraces critical perspectives, with chapters written by the editors as well as other critical scholars such as Joseph Turow. Topics include issues of the nature of the advertising agency in the digital era, branded content, and global advertising.

  • Kelso, Tony. The Social Impact of Advertising: Confessions of an (Ex-)Advertising Man. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.

    Accessibly written, this book by former ad-creative-turned-professor Kelso offers some of the basics of advertising but with a critical orientation. Advertising is engaged through the general lens of the institution’s ideological nature, and more specific chapters focus on gender, race, children, and the environment.

  • Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, Jacqueline Botterill, and Kyle Asquith. Social Communication in Advertising. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2018.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315106021

    The first edition of this book, originally published in 1986, was a comprehensive and critical examination of advertising, covering industry trends and the historical development of advertising. The fourth edition adds significant updated material, including about digital advertising.

  • MacRury, Iain. Advertising. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Designed to survey advertising as a creative practice, rhetorical text, and part of its audience’s everyday life, this book integrates many of the most recent trends in advertising and promotion. It includes several illustrations, most from UK print advertising, as well as an extensive bibliography, applying a cultural studies perspective.

  • Schudson, Michael. Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society. New York: Basic, 1984.

    Argues that advertising’s power is typically overstated by advertising critics, hence the claim of advertising’s “dubious impact.” Likely the book’s biggest legacy is Schudson’s idea that advertising is a form of “capitalist realism” that presents ideal versions of the good life, a Cold War analogy to official Soviet “socialist realism.”

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