Rhetorical Context: National Values

Materials: Slideshow of contemporary U.S. advertisements for analysis. YouTube video of Japanese advertisements. You may also want to provide students with the handout “Questions to Ask When Conducting a Rhetorical Analysis.”

Objective: Students make connections between what an audience values and the rhetorical strategies rhetors use to appeal to them.  

Whole class discussion: Think of the national myths we’ve discussed and what they suggest about American values. Individualism, racism, sexism, technical chauvinism, and heteronormativity are all strong American values.  

Go through the slideshow of contemporary U.S. advertisements. What values does each advertisement appeal to and how do you know? Who is their target audience? What assumptions undergird them?   

Next, watch a compilation of Japanese advertisements from YouTube. What do these advertisements suggest about Japanese culture? How would you change them to make them appeal to a U.S. audience?

Your students will likely surmise that the Japanese value characteristics like sweetness, vulnerability, and childlike innocence. This is nearly the opposite of the values showcased by many ads in the U.S., which tend to prize toughness, independence, and masculinity. The Japanese also value fantasy, as reflected in their appetite for animation and manga. Japanese advertisements also often mention national holidays, in part because Japan is a more homogenous society in which holidays are more universally celebrated.  

You may ask students to find an advertisement from another country or culture with which they are familiar and to do a presentation in which they explain how the country’s or culture’s values are reflected by the advertisement’s rhetorical choices.