Critical thinking, advertising and teaching Media

Advertising is one of the areas that most teachers feel some competence in teaching and if required to teach a media unit, it is often the first thing that comes to mind. The beauty of looking at ads is that they are easy to find and the explicit and implicit messages are readily analyzed.  I often use ads as a way to demonstrate key principles in media analysis such as:  All media have codes and conventions. One of the pleasures in looking at advertising is the sheer variety and creativity that can be found.

I owe the following lesson to Carol Arcus whose lesson can be found on The Association for Media Literacy  website.  Her lesson , which is a 7-day unit, deals with a Guinness beer ad that was never broadcast.  Her students got to manipulate the ad with Mac computers and also created their own ad campaigns.  The goal of her plan was to teach ideas like target audience through deconstruction and construction.  I didn’t use much of her lesson because we don’t have access to Macs but I did love the ad and the possibilities it inspired.  Here’s her lesson.

The background to the Guinness ad is as follows: Guinness created the ad in 1995 but the British tabloids leaked a description of the ad before it was aired on TV.  There was a public outcry against the ad and Guinness made the decision to not air it.  Later, Guinness even denied its existence but the internet obviously negated that.  Here’s the ad:

The ad is now considered a classic and it makes many lists.

What to do with it:

1.  First , there is the whole issue of stereotypical expectations.

We expect the story to be about a man and a woman.   All the images and the song feed into these expectations.  This is a good way to illustrate visual codes and conventions and to explore stereotypes about men, women and gay people.  Analyzing camera angles and the choice of images would be part of this.

2.  The statement at the end ” Not everything in black and white makes sense” is clever and has many interpretations as does the quote in the middle of the ad.  How do these statements relate to the story in the ad? How do they sell beer?

3.  The whole issue of target audience for this ad is fascinating.   A look at some other Guinness ads would make an effective starting point.  Who is Guinness usually targeting in their ads?  Who did they expect to draw in with this one?  Why did they believe they wouldn’t alienate their base initially? We know that ultimately they withdrew it for this reason.  And why did Guinness deny that they had made it?  These questions will create a lot of discussion points for the students that can involve ideas about images of masculinity and the marketing of values.  These require considerable analysis and critical thinking skills.

4.  Another approach to the ad is to look at the narrative structure which is entirely visual.  Turning off the music and watching  the visuals only could create an entirely different interpretation of the narrative.  Carol Arcus’ lesson has the students play with the visuals to create different meanings.  Having the students storyboard the ad will help them to understand how visuals create meaning when they are alone and when they are juxtaposed.

There are many sites on the internet that are devoted to award-winning ads; YouTube has its own channel for them as well.  I encourage you to look at some of the European ads as they are always entertaining, quirky and often quite different from what we see in North America.

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2 Responses to Critical thinking, advertising and teaching Media

  1. pbh says:

    To paraphrase the late (I’m never early either) Gore Vidal, the one thing America brought to the world, and where they excel, is advertising. I am a devotee of The Age of Persuasion, CBC radio, with Terry O’Reilly http://bing.search.sympatico.ca/?q=CBC%20radio%20%20advertising&mkt=en-ca&setLang=en-CA All our cranky little kids who “need” so much more than we oldtimers ever did (although I did cry out for my family to get American cable tv as a teenager) are “under the influence” to consume. It’s one thing to move the economy, yet another thing to have students critically aware of the falsehoods and lifestyles portrayed thereunder as part of their education. Great lessons learned, goodby(e)! How can you ever stop teaching now??? 🙂

  2. carol arcus says:

    I’m having trouble figuring out who you are.. is there a place on your site where you identify yourself? since you quote my lesson plan, I am curious..

    – Carol Arcus

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