Date of Award

Summer 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Brennen, Bonnie

Second Advisor

Wolburg, Joyce M.

Third Advisor

Menck, Linda E.


This study examined brand messages and anti-brand messages (spoof ads or adbusts) as cultural products that represented opposing ideologies in contemporary society. It sought to understand how people used visual devices in these cultural products to create persuasive messages that would advance their preferred ideologies. Visual ideological messages were analyzed using Kress & Van Leeuwen’s semiotic methods for reading images and Mike Cormack’s method for ideological critique. The study found that creators of anti-brand messages used a number of methods to visually argue their points. Most common was to take the imagery from the original messages and assign an alternate meaning to it with new taglines or via associations with negative symbols. Another common method was to use hyperbole and parody to show the absurdness of the proposition in the original message. Studying spoof ads or ad-busts and comparing brand messages with anti-brand messages is a useful way to unpack how visual rhetoric works – each one illuminates the other – looking at the original big brand campaigns shows us what ideologies are being promoted by big brands, the major producers of our culture. Looking at the ad-busts helps us see how the original visual arguments are made. Looking at both helps us see literally how each side “sees” the issues. Visual representations of people and ideas influence viewer perceptions and thereby influence culture, laws, and policies. As members of a democracy, it is critical that we are able read and write so that we can participate in the shaping of our culture. It is equally critical that we understand how arguments are made in visual texts so that we can offer effective critiques when necessary.