by Marsha Rakestraw

a person standing in Times Square looking up at advertisementsMany of us think that we’re not that influenced by ads.

We’ve developed our brand loyalty over the years due to in-depth research, careful study, and solid choices of the best types of products that meet our needs, right? Um, yeah, sure.

Try these two little quizzes.

The first one doesn’t even show you the logo; it just describes it in a couple of words. Can you name the company the logo belongs to? (Note: answers are at the very bottom.)

A. Swoosh
B. Dripping coffee cup
C. Multicolored peacock
D. Golden arches
E. Big red spoon
F. Fruit with a bite taken out
G. Mountain with stars circling the peak
H. Little blue or white bird with an open beak and wings open behind her
I. Silhouette rabbit’s head with a bowtie
J. Red roof with the name of the company below

What about these taglines. How many can you name? Some of these are decades old. (Answers are at the very bottom.)

1. The happiest place on earth.
2. Must see TV.
3. I’m lovin’ it.
4. Think different.
5. Taste the rainbow.
6. So easy, even a caveman could do it.
7. What’s in your wallet?
8. Just do it.
9. Can you hear me now?
10. Eat fresh.

How many of these companies could you identify? How many of these companies do you actually purchase products or services from?

Even if you had trouble with some of these, I’m sure there are plenty of logos and taglines you could list.

How many of us can list a whole slew of TV characters or company logos or taglines, but can’t name what continent Syria or Yemen are on, or who the U.S. Secretary of State is, for example?

Marketing and advertising are ubiquitous in our lives, and we’re much more susceptible  to their messages than we realize.

Our culture inundates us with marketing and advertising every day; almost everywhere we look, someone is telling us we won’t be happy or successful or sexy or worthy unless we buy what they have to offer.

Not only do we often neglect to pay attention to advertising’s impact on us and our habits, but we also often don’t consider the hidden messages, suffering, oppression, and exploitation that are inherent in many ads and their products and services.

The activity Analyzing Advertising (grades 5 and up) helps students explore the pervasiveness of ads in their lives and analyze what ads are trying to sell … and trying to hide.

Here’s how it works:

Students in groups (or you can do this as a whole class) choose an age-appropriate ad and ask these questions:

a) What product or service is being advertised?
b) What deep need or desire is the ad promising to fulfill? (i.e., Does the ad appeal to your desire to have love, happiness, wealth, beauty, friendship, security, etc.?)
c) Who is the intended audience? What might their response to the ad be?
d) Who is excluded by the ad? (i.e., what classes, races, body types, genders, species, values, etc.)?
e) What suffering, exploitation, or destruction is hidden from view? (i.e., what suffering to people or animals does the production of the product or the generation of the service lead to and/or what destruction to the environment does the product or service cause?)
f) What product/service might do more good and less harm?

Here’s an example that I’ve used in presentations when I’ve introduced this activity.

Here’s the ad. Below are the questions and some sample, incomplete responses. (In case you can’t read the ad text, it says: “Need to lose a little weight before your wedding?”

a) What product or service is the ad selling?

Slim Fast

b) What deep need or desire is the ad appealing to? (i.e., does the ad appeal to your desire to have love, happiness, wealth, beauty, friendship, security, etc.?)

Acceptance, to be loved, to feel good about self, to be thin and fit, to be happy, to get a man.

c) Who is the intended audience, and what might their reaction be?

Women, especially brides-to-be, especially brides-to-be with body image issues. It might also be (to a lesser degree) for men who have certain expectations about women’s body types. Their reaction might be to worry about how they look and whether they need to be “thinner” or “prettier” (as conventionally defined).

d) Who is excluded by the ad? (i.e., what classes, races, body types, etc.)?

Men; people of color; people who are gay or transgender; people without a lot of money. People of different body types.

e) What suffering, exploitation, or destruction is hidden from view? (In other words, what suffering to people or animals does the production of the product or the generation of the service lead to and/or what destruction to the environment does the product or service cause?)

Examples:

Three primary ingredients in the product are:

  • milk = hides the suffering of dairy cows and veal calves, as well as the environmental impact of raising cattle; hides the discomfort of those who are lactose intolerant
  • sugar = hides the habitat destruction inherent with sugar plantations, as well as the frequent worker mistreatment
  • cocoa = hides the connection of chocolate to slave labor/child labor
  • aluminum can = hides the destruction of the environment that comes with bauxite mining, as well as the toxins from the chemicals/dyes used to make the can’s label
  • Unilever = the product is made by Unilever; Unilever also owns Dove (see information about the impacts of palm oil), as well as Axe body spray (well-know for its sexist commercials).

f) What product or service might do more good and less harm.

In this case, eschewing weight loss products and embracing acceptance of self.

Download the complete activity.

Download the activity in Spanish.

 

Answers to 1st quiz:

A. Nike
B. Maxwell House
C. NBC
D. McDonald’s
E. Betty Crocker
F. Apple
G. Paramount
H. Twitter
I. Playboy
J. Pizza Hut

Answers to 2nd quiz:

1. Disney
2. NBC
3. McDonald’s
4. Apple
5. Skittles
6. Geico
7. Capital One
8. Nike
9. Verizon
10. Subway

 

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash