Exploring Values and Meaning in Advertising

 In Additional Qualifications, Carol Arcus, Lessons and Ideas, Secondary

Exploring Values and Meaning in Advertising

A 3-Week Unit for Grade 9 (Academic) by Carol Arcus and Rita D’Angelo

In each of grades 9 and 10, the overall expectations focus on identifying elements, audiences, and production practices of media forms and creating media works from a variety of media forms, purposes and audiences.  Looking at the specific expectations, we are encouraged to examine a variety of forms (read genres) for describing media techniques, as well as the intended audiences.                                                                     

In Grade Nine, in the section on creating media works, students are required to adapt literature to other media forms and to create media works for different purposes and different audiences. The difference between academic and applied levels is not too apparent; the applied students tend to do less critical thinking about the media.  Furthermore, the task of adapting literature to other media is a safe, unthreatening activity and not likely to lead to any kind of challenging, critical media literacy.  The good news, however, is that everything seems so vague that experienced media teachers can write their own ticket and help their less knowledgeable colleagues see beyond the great wall of the almighty MET expectations.

The following unit is an example of a way you can integrate media into your Grade Nine (Academic) programme.  This works well as a culminating activity;  however, individual lessons in this unit easily stand alone as well.

The Grade 9 English (Academic) Media Strand requires students to “use knowledge of the elements, intended audiences, and production practices of a variety of media forms to analyze specific media works.”  They must also use their “knowledge of a variety of media forms, purposes and audiences to create media works and describe their intended effect.”  This extended unit covers most of the specific expectations which fall under these overall expectations: identifying explicit and implicit messages; examining and explaining their own and their peers’ reactions to media works;  and creating works for different purposes and different audiences.

Students will be provided with opportunities to participate in purposeful experiences which will focus on questions of ideology and strategy in advertising, using four fundamental questions: what is being sold, and with what message?;  how is this message constructed?;  for whom is this message intended?; how does this message both reflect and affect us?  Students will be guided through a series of activities which will allow them to explore their own and their society’s values.  So, the questions become:  what are these values?  how are they represented?  who are they intended for?  are they our values? (and why or why not?)  The unit moves from working with both the promotion of commercial products and the promotion of social causes and lifestyles, through active student representation of issues of their own choosing.


CHUNK ONE – Ads for Commercial Products (2 days)

Examine the language of advertising, through the viewing and discussing of the following resources:

– various print ads:  give students used magazines and have them choose a variety of ads  (e.g.:  beauty products, ‘designer’ water, jeans, etc.)
– television – using Scanning Television 1  (see Resources, below), watch a variety of commercial advertisements for Nike, Vauxhall, Benetton clothing, Cole, Levis, Radio Shack
– read Doublespeak , by William Lutz, from  Popular Culture (The Issues Collection on the language of advertising (see Resources, below)

Raise the following questions for general discussion:

1. What is the message?  [i.e.:  is it a lifestyle, an attitude, a set of values, etc.] 2. How is this message constructed through codes and conventions?  What visual and aural elements combine to produce this meaning?  [TV:  how do camera work, colour, editing, pacing, dialogue, lighting, sound, special effects, etc. affect meaning?;  PRINT:  how do photographic techniques and other elements of still photography affect meaning?  Is there language which connotes a subtext? are there recognizable actors used?  are there recognizable stereotypes of gender, race, etc?] 3. For whom is the message intended?  [does the content seem to reflect an intended audience? – describe the profile of the audience in terms of gender, age, socio-economic status ;  where is the ad found/placed, and why?] 4. How does the message reflect and affect us?  [Do the values in the ad correspond with the values of the students? ?  If some do not, explain why not. How might individual and cultural differences influence interpretation?  Does the ad affect/change perceptions, attitudes, and values?  How?  How might advertising shape our perception of ourselves and of our world?]

Students deconstruct one TV (or one print) ad, using a designed worksheet.  (see pp 181 – 185  of the Media Literacy Resource Guide  for specific questions as a guideline).  Also see the Scanning Television Teacher Guide.

CHUNK TWO – Ads for Causes and Lifestyles  (5 days)

1. Students read the Russell-Einstein Manifesto  by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein:
– discuss message, values;  identify rhetorical devices.
– Internet address for Manifesto: http://www.pugwash.org/about/manifesto.htm
– students identify some of their local social, cultural, political issues. In groups, select a cause associated with a local issue, and write a Manifesto.
– present and discuss.

2. Examine print and TV ads which promote causes/lifestyles:
– use Scanning Television  (anti-smoking, anti-racism, “Rock the Vote”, substance abuse, mental illness, anti- car pollution, visible minorities, alternative lifestyle intolerance ads). See the Scanning Television  Teacher Guide for guided discussion questions and activities.
– find print ads in used magazines, which promote awareness of social causes such as saving the rainforest, recycling, not drinking and driving, etc.

Using four basic questions about the media – what?  how?  for whom?  with what effects? – examine implicit and explicit messages.  See pp 172-96  of the Media Literacy Resource Guide  for specific questions and activities.

3. Draw comparisons between ads for commercial products and ads for causes/lifestyles.
Discuss: 1)   strategies
2)   ideology

How are the ads constructed to send different messages for different purposes and audiences?

4. In groups, students construct a print ad.  Display these ads throughout the school.  Suggestions for content:  a product created by the Entrepreneurial Studies Course in the Business Department of the school;  a local issue  (keeping the cafeteria clean;  recycling;  a performance by the Drama, Music, or Dance Departments;  anti-smoking;  an upcoming dance; anti-racism, etc.)

CHUNK THREE – Major Production Activity  (5 days)

Students will construct a media product.  This will be a 30-second PSA for a cause relevant to their peers and their school. The teacher can arrange for this to be shown on a cafeteria television, if applicable.

1. In groups, brainstorm and discuss issues, causes, lifestyles relevant to the school community.  Examples:
– health and fitness
– staying in school
– anti-smoking
– responsible driving
– anti-racism
– promotion of a club, such as Amnesty International, or of a school sport.

Each group will choose one.

2. Groups will gather and analyze information about target audience (school community) in order to construct their message.  [Use of various data gathering instruments used in other disciplines]

3. Training session for camera, safety, editing skills.**

4. Group creates a production plan based on the models in Video in Focus  (see Resource list)

5. Group executes plan.
Each group submits a rationale, outlining and explaining construction decisions: purpose, choice of content, editing, camera angles and other strategies, narrative, definition of target audience (and connecting target audience to production decisions), etc.  They should be prepared to present this rationale orally, and take questions from both teacher and peers after class viewing.

6. Class viewing (“Film Festival”) of each group’s ad.
Discussion of messages, codes and conventions used.

7. Show videos on cafeteria TV (if applicable); gather and evaluate audience response  (compare responses;  account for differences in audience response;  evaluate construction decisions and production process in terms of audience response.)
**  Note:  if video resources are scarce, this activity may be adapted.  Students may produce a series of captioned, photographic stills which represent key images in the ad.  Or they may storyboard the production.  The rationale  should still remain an integral part of the activity.

Media Literacy Resource Guide , Intermediate and Senior Divisions, 1989 .  Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1989.

Popular Culture  (The Issues Collection).  Worsnop, Chris.  McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., 1994.

Scanning Television:  Videos for Media Literacy in Class. Andersen, Neil and Pungente, John. Harcourt Brace Canada, Toronto, 1997. Set of 4 video cassettes plus Teacher Guide.

Scanning Television Part Two. Andersen, Neil. Tyner, Kathleen.  Pungente, John. Harcourt Brace Canada, Toronto, 2003. Set of 4 video cassettes, or 2 DVD’s plus Teacher Guide.

Video in Focus, A Guide to Viewing and Producing Video.  Hone, Rick and Flynn, Liz.  Globe Modern Curriculum Press, 1992.  pp. 120 – 181

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