"In order to comprehend the impact of all this advertising, on society we must learn how to see through advertisements, for they are not just messages about goods and services but social and cultural texts about ourselves". Root (1997) has pointed out:
As long as you are unable to decode the significance of ordinary things, and as long as you take the signs of your culture at face can free yourself from that sign and perhaps find a new way of looking at the world. You will control the signs of your culture rather than having them control you. (p. 18)
In order to understand how to read advertisements critically we must begin to incorporate "popular culture as a serious object of politics and analysis" (Morley, 1992, p. 48). While all culture is worthy of investigation, popular culture is often devalorized as "sub-literature or paraliterature" (Eckhouse, 1999, p. 120). However, in critically reading even something as seemingly mundane as an advertisement we can begin to see "the political, social and cultural forms of subordination that create inequities among different groups as they live out their lives" (Giroux cited in Frith & McLuhan, 1997, p. 7). This type of critical pedagogy enables us to view aspects of popular culture within broader social, cultural, and political considerations. In the case of advertising, which has historically been linked to marketing and sales, it allows us to discover the broader social and cultural implications of these seemingly simple messages.
The benefits of critically examining the whole advertising message, not just the surface or sales message, is that it helps to sharpen one's critical sensibilities. As Clark et al. (1994) points out this can "counteract the noncritical response so often conditioned by the mass media" (p. 31).
The conventional way that marketers define advertising is to describe it as messages that "impart information about products which consumers use to make brand choices" (Beverley, 1999, p. 95). The limitation of this definition is that it falls short of giving us the whole picture. Advertising does much more than impart product information, it tells us what products signify and mean. It does this by marrying aspects of the product to aspects of the culture. Embedded in advertising's messages about goods and services are the cultural roles and cultural values that define our everyday life (Stern, 2001, p. 83). The products we consume express who we are, they are cultural signifiers. The kind of watch we wear, the brand of sporty shoes, or the kind of car we have give others a lot of information about us. Advertising not only tells us about the products we consume it also tells us what those products signify in our culture: People 'read' advertising as a cultural text, and advertisers who understand this meaning-based model can create more powerful and intriguing campaigns (Beverley, 1999, p. 99).
One way to begin to understand "how" an advertisement means (Stern, 2001, p. 87) is to learn how to deconstruct them. Deconstruction, a critical theory of European origin proposes the real significance of texts not in their explicit meaning, nor even in their implied meaning but in their unintentional meanings, or as one author states, "in the slips, evasions and false analogies that betray the text's ideology" (McConnell cited in Power & Scott 2004, p. 52). In