Performing Content Analysis
To Test Hypotheses about Social Ladders

Content analysis is a method of data collection and data analysis that involves categorization and counting and the construction of theories.

In this exercise, you will perform a content analysis of advertisements in a variety of magazines, all of which are available in the PSU Library.

After you select 5 magazines to analyze, you will thumb through recent issues of each magazine to try to come up with some basic categories of advertisemsents, such as ads for cars, cosmetics, alcohol, luxury items, budget food items, baby goods, alternative health care products, high-tech items, etc.  You will then go through one or two issues of each magazine and count how many ads fall into each category.  You will then try to identify trends.  For instance, in a bridal magazine, we might expect to see a number of ads related to wedding dresses, china, linens, travel and cruises, kitchenware, etc.

You'll then want to try to determine the market (readership) for the magazines you are studying.  Jet, for example, is a popular magazine for blacks.  Do the ads in Jet differ markedly from the ads in Wired?  If so, how?  Obviously, the content may differ (Wired should have many more high-tech ads than Jet), but does this differing content seem to suggest something about the place on the "social ladder" of the readership?  More importantly, does the advertising content say something about how consumerism in America is class-based?

Note:  This is worth 75 points.
If you choose to do this one, it is due on May 11, 2000.
Turn it in at the regular class session.

1.  The first step to this exercise is to select five magazines to analyze.  Here is a list of some of the magazines we have in the PSU Library, with a short description of each one:

Asiaweek:  Asian periodical
Black Enterprise:  African-American businesspeople
Ebony:  African-American periodical
Essence:  African-American women periodical
Jet:  African-American periodical
Newsweek:  newsweekly
Time:  newsweekly
Wired:  computers
Vogue:  fashion
Parents Magazine:  parenting
New Yorker:  popular magazine focusing on current issues and events in New York
Business Week:  business periodical
Fortune:  business periodical
Ladies Home Journal:  popular magazine for women
Playboy:  popular magazine for men (sexual content):  "entertainment for men"
Rolling Stone:  popular culture; rock music
Mother Jones/New Mother Jones:  alternative/progressive periodical
Sports Illustrated:  sports periodical
Mademoiselle:  popular magazine for women, emphasis on fashion

From the list above, choose 5 magazines that you think will be fairly diverse in their advertising and other content.  Note:  if there are other magazines you want to consider, please feel free.  Some magazines that may be of interest are not part of PSU's collection, so you'll have to find them elsewhere.  There also may be magazines of interest for this exercise that are at PSU but are not listed above.

2.   Now look up the call numbers of the 5 magazines you have chosen.

3.   Go to the Library and thumb through one or two recent issues of each magazine.  Compile a list of ad categories and a place to keep count of your observations.  For example:

Name of Magazine:   Vanity Fair

Intended Audience(s):  higher income; educated; 30-55 age range; interested in culture, books, and fashion

Advertising Count:
Type of Ad
Number of Occurrences
Automobile:  luxury
Automobile:  family van
Automobile:  sports car
Food and Dining:  Fine dining, expensive products
Food and Dining:  budget products, franchise restaurants
Ethnic cosmetic products:  skin lighteners, hair straighteners
Ethnic foods:  regional, international, Southern
Household products:  parenting items
Household products:  cleaning supplies
Entertainment:  kids' toys
Entertainment:  high-tech items, such as DVD players

4.  Now, based on your observations, write up a descriptive analysis of each magazine that contrasts and compares them with one another based on your content analysis.  Focus especially on the extent to which your observations suggest any trends or theories regarding social strata (social ladders).  Thinking about the way that the PRIZM marketing system targets people's tastes for marketing purposes by ZIP code, do you think your content analysis suggests that American consumerism is class-based?  Your total write-up should be about 3 to 4 double-spaced pages.

Questions?  Write me at