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2.2 Characters, context and audiences - All students

Context is a critical factor in the design of advertisements. The two diagrams below show how different audiences and contexts shape advertisements. In this image provided by the Centre of Road Safety, the characters created and the implied addressee for each text appear to have similar values so that the target of the advertisement is likely to identify with the message delivered.

View the driveway safety advertisement, They’re Counting on You, and then read the diagram above carefully.
Working with a partner, discuss and explain:

  • the assumptions about the attitudes and values of the implied reader for this advertisement
  • whether you think these assumptions about the implied reader are accurate
  • whether the advertisement may become out-of-date because of these assumptions
  • the degree to which particular contexts influence the reading of the text.

Examine the Centre for Road Safety’s advertisement The road is no place for excuses. Carefully read the diagram below and discuss with a partner the questions that are asked.

  • What is the impact of the various speakers’ uses of the expression ‘yeah, but…’?
  • Note down some key points about the relationship between the dialogue and the visual images. Consider the interplay of the ordinariness of the dialogue of the speakers, the visual expressions of the characters and the amplification in these frames:

  • What reasons are offered to support the central argument in the advertisement?
  • Who do you see as the intended audience(s)? What attitudes and values are implied in these audiences?
  • What aspects of context might influence audience response to this text?
  • How does the advertisement establish the idea that human beings need to reconsider the risks they take?


Stories in films and advertisements are told to us through what we see and what we hear. While the visuals tend to dominate, dialogue, even when banal or everyday, offers the composer a chance to nuance characters and theme. Well-written dialogue can be measured in its ability to:

  • create character
  • reinforce conflict
  • create sub-text
  • provide maximum information quickly including strengthening a sense of the context.

Subtext is a particularly interesting facet of dialogue. It defines what the characters are really feeling and thinking, that is, the feelings and thoughts that underlie their dialogue. This subtext, developed through action, story and succinctness, reflects particular perspectives and values. In this way dialogue may be used to represent a particular theme.

  • Read the transcript of the advertisement: The road is no place for excuses.
  • Using the student worksheet The road is no place for excuses, write down the underlying thoughts and feelings suggested in the actions, interior monologues, dialogue and visual elements such as facial expressions and text frames.

There are separate worksheets for Advanced and Standard students:

In pairs discuss:

  • what the conflict in the stories is hinting at
  • the effects of the third person point of view on your response
  • whether the characters in the advertisement are vehicles for irony
  • how the use of the conjunction ‘but’ qualifies the meaning of the colloquial ‘yeah’
  • what assumptions are made about people who drive on country roads
  • what particular values and perspectives are being promoted through the advertisement
  • other examples of idiomatic language in the dialogue and explain the values and perspectives that are interrogated through these
  • whether dialogue or visuals are more effective vehicles for carrying subtext.

Watch the video Sam’s Story on the Transport for NSW YouTube channel. Whilst the message in this advertisement resonates with the message in The road is no place for excuses, the story is told very differently. The road is no place for excuses is told in the present, highlighting the flawed decision-making of the drivers whereas Sam’s Story is told with the benefit of hindsight, retrospectively focussing on the long-term consequences of the protagonist’s decision. This is a moving tale, told poignantly to the camera against a backdrop of rural roads and Sam’s domestic and working life on the farm. It simultaneously highlights his understated determination to live a productive life and the tragedy that has resulted from not wearing a seatbelt. This is evident in the advertisement’s subtext.

Review your answers responding to the particular values and perspectives promoted in The road is no place for excuses prior to discussing your responses to these questions:

  • What effect does Sam’s direct address to the camera have on your response?
  • How does point of view influence your personal response to the characters in both advertisements?
  • How does the point of view create a sense of realism?
  • What values and perspectives are promoted in Sam’s Story?
  • What is the role of subtext in this advertisement? How does it compare to The road is no place for excuses?

Last update: 24th January 2019