Critical Thinking Excercise, Part One: Just Do It

An excellent way to exercise your critical thinking skills involves critically analyzing corporate slogans. Company slogans such as Nike’s “Just do it,” Budweiser’s “King of beer” and Fruit Loop’s “Follow your nose!” are ubiquitous in contemporary capitalistic culture. So, as you journey through your day, keep your eyes and ears open to the various business taglines that you will inevitably hear, and pick your favorite for further analysis.

Once you have a slogan, apply your critical thinking skills at every possible moment. Waiting in line, eating lunch, walking around — take advantage of as many open moments as possible, using each one to exercise your critical thinking skills by deconstructing and analyzing your slogan of choice. As you go, contemplate the following theoretical considerations:

What is the literal meaning of the slogan?
Think about the slogan itself, as it is commonly presented within the realm of human society. What is the literal meaning of the slogan? Is it a command? A suggestion? A statement? Think about the literal meaning of each word within the slogan. What is the approximate level of comprehension required to understand or read the message? Is there more than one literal meaning?
What do you know about the slogan?
Have you heard the slogan before? Is the slogan commonly experienced in your environment? Who sponsors the slogan? What do you think it means? How long has the slogan been around? How many people are familiar with the slogan? As you consider the things that you think you know about the slogan, realize that further understanding is available if you are willing to let go of your preconceived ideas concerning the slogan.
What is the context of the slogan?
Where did you hear or see the slogan? What environmental clues are associated with the slogan? Were there images presented with the message? What was the context of the slogan? What about the media used to communicate the slogan? Magazine? Internet? Television? What types of images and sounds are used with the slogan? Is the slogan emphasized by sexual connotations? Did you see the slogan outside of its original context? For example, did you see the Nike slogan displayed on a billboard that was seen in a movie?
What is the interpretive meaning of the slogan?
How do you interpret the slogan? What does it mean to you? What are the different possible interpretations? Will the message work when observed through the commonly applied interpretive filters (sex, power, religion, irony, etc.)? If there are multiple meanings, are they perceived as deliberate? To which groups of people are the various meanings directed?
What are the implications of the slogan?
What are the implications of the slogan if it is a command? A question? A statement? If it is a command, does it compel response? If it is a question, does it require an answer? If a statement, what are the implications? Is the statement assuming anything about you or the audience in general? For example, the slogan “Just do it” implies laziness/apathy/sloth associated with its target audience. Consider the slogan from as many different perspectives as possible (age, sex, religion, etc.) and contemplate the implications.
What is the purpose of the slogan?
What is the slogan trying to accomplish? Is it trying to motivate you? Convince you? Persuade you? How subtle or blatant is its purpose? What techniques does the slogan employ to accomplish its purpose? How important is the purpose? What motivates the purpose? Who benefits when the purpose of the slogan is realized? What are the societal effects of the slogan? What are the cumulative effects of all such slogans? What would happen if everyone was influenced by the slogan? What if nobody was influenced by it?
To whom is the slogan directed?
To whom is the slogan directed? Is it directed at consumers? The wealthy? Middle class? Victims? What methods are employed to reach the target audience? Prosperity? Guilt? Desire? Is the slogan perceived as being directed to individuals or larger groups of people? For example, the amazingly deft slogan “follow your nose!” seems directed at the individual, while the slogan “king of beer” works well targeted at the general public.
Who is the perceived author of the slogan?
Who do you think created the slogan? Is it obvious? Is the slogan transparent? Does the slogan seem like something you would say in the course of everyday discourse? Does it employ slang or other colloquialisms? How authoritative does the speaker of the slogan seem to be? Are we talking motivational coach, best friend, or rule of law? What do you think the author was trying to achieve by writing the slogan? How many people do you think it took to create the slogan?
How unique is the slogan?
Are there other, similar slogans? Is the slogan utterly unique, or are there a million similar slogans? Is the slogan creative? If so, how? What elements make the slogan unique? What elements make the slogan cliche? How many words are there in the slogan? Why that number? Would the slogan work if it weren’t like every other slogan in the world today? Is the slogan memorable? If so, why? Was there sound (music, song, etc.) associated with message? What about visual cues? Images? Video?
What are the various components of the slogan?
Now break the slogan apart grammatically, syntactically, and denotatively. Meditate on each word and sequence of words. Look at various word sequences through different perceptive lenses. What are the “non-spoken” or hidden interpretations of the message? Consider alternate meanings by emphasizing different words of the slogan. Try annunciating the phrase in different dialects, languages, etc. Change the punctuation of the message. Say it backwards. Write it down, rearrange it, wash, rinse, repeat.

Thinking critically about everyday experiences is a great way to see past the illusion and break out of mundane routines. Far too often, people coast through their day on autopilot, soaking up environmental noise without question. Focusing your mind on a single, common subject such as a business slogan serves as an excellent way to develop your critical thinking skills. It requires patience, persistence, determination, and many other key skills that will benefit from such practice. Further, beyond the practical benefits, you may just find yourself understanding your subject on a deeper, more profound level.