Tag Archives: advertising

Advertising and Persuasion

24 Nov

The newest ad for Goldie Blox has been making quite a splash with the way it transformed the decidedly misogynistic Beastie Boys song, “Girls” into a tribute to girl power.

The commercial got me thinking about how advertisers attempt to persuade us to buy their product.  Usually it’s by convincing us to think a certain way.  For years, Barbie has been sharing a message that girls aspire to be beautiful, have accessories, and a boyfriend with a cool convertible.  Goldie Blox is trying to change the message, with a pretty clear “sayonara” kick to the old stereotype about girls only playing with dolls.

When we talk about visual literacy, being savvy viewers of advertising is one of the things I think of.  Educated consumers should be able to pick apart an advertisement, analyze what the company is claiming, and then decide if they agree.  For example, in the Goldie Blox commercial, there’s a clear pitch that girls want to be builders, innovators, and inventors.  But there’s a subtler message too–they want to do it while still being girls.  The colors of the product are pink, yellow, and purple.  Goldie Blox comes with a cute female heroine and a book about how she has to engineer different systems to save the day.  When I watch the commercial, I think it’s about girl power, but also about the fact that science, engineering, and math can be feminine.

Originally, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast the version of “girls” in the video with the original, but after looking up the lyrics in the original, I changed my mind.  Maybe better to save that analysis for the adults in the room :).

You can also look at different ads in a similar theme.  You can use one of the earlier ads for goldiblocks to again look at how they are dismantling the traditional stereotype of girls toys:

Or you can compare and contrast it with a typical barbie commercial.  Here’s the original commercial from 1959:

Notice the emphasis on “beauty,” “slim,” and the close up on the barbie dressed for her wedding when the song says, “I want to grow up exactly like you.”  Not exactly the same message is it?

Or this 2013 commercial starring Hilary Duff.  The motto is “be who you want to be,” which in Barbie world means pick the colored highlights and outfit you want.

Commercials like these are an engaging way for students to look at how people can use images and words to appeal and send a message.  I might use these to launch a reading unit on persuasion, and then mix and match in some print ads and billboard slogans before moving into some full textual pieces.

The Not-So-Surprising Similarity Between Propaganda, Advertising, and Statistics

23 Apr

Look up propaganda and one of the first definitions you’ll find is this:



1. Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

This came up because I was teaching my students about propaganda used during WWII to increase patriotism, both through appeals to pride, such as the following:

photo 3

and appeals to fear, such as:

photo 4


I wanted the class to really understand how propaganda was a government’s attempt to influence the way people think, often in ways that might not be in their best interest, or in ways we don’t consider morally right.  But for fourth graders, this is a tough pill to swallow. They understood the injustice of the second posters, but propaganda is still a pretty big concept.  So I linked it to advertising.

Students readily understand that Hershey’s really wants to sell chocolate bars, and that the way they slant information tries to convince the consumer to think a way that’s not in his or her best interest.  Case in point: the  “Snickers stops the hunger” campaign.  Umm, yes.  If by, “stops the hunger,” you mean because you have an extra 50lbs of “snickers gut” hanging from your belt, then yes, yes it does.  Advertising isn’t propaganda because it doesn’t have a political base, but I’m letting that slide for now.

The class’s assignment was as follows.  Design a “propaganda” poster that convinces the reader that a particular fruit or vegetable was disgusting and dangerous.

photo 2


The most interesting thing about this assignment?  How many students struggled to come up with a fruit or vegetable they didn’t like.  Apparently I have a class full of children who adore brussels sprouts and broccoli.

The ins and outs of how to convince people that their fruit or vegetable was yucky was the interesting part.  We looked at a bunch of propaganda posters and advertisements, and realized that arguments were generally built on one of four platforms:

1) A compelling picture.  Cruel Japanese soldiers with a red background, a triumphant American soldier with a flag waving in the background, or a brown and moldy piece of fruit.  Something to draw your eye and make you feel a strong emotion.

2) The The false comparison.  This is where the “a mushy banana will lead to a mushy brain” comes in.  Propaganda and advertisers routinely make connections that aren’t real.

3) Impressive statistics.  “9 out of 10 dentists prefer Colgate.”  According to whom?  Kids used bar graphs, pie charts, and stats to explain why their vegetables were the worst.

4) Appeal to an expert.  My favorite on this one is Airborne’s, “Developed by a teacher!”  campaign.  Many of my students went the doctor route, such as, “Doctors warn that too much watermelon can be deadly!”  A surprising number also went with the political expert–Barack Obama is an anti-fruit spokesman on many of these posters.

Here are a few of the final products:

photo 2

photo 1

photo 1

The class had a lot of fun, and I think they not only learned some persuasive techniques of their own, but hopefully to have a more discerning eye when they look at advertisements or see their local news.

For those of you interested, it also addresses common core standards 4.3 and 4.6, which concern explaining ideas in a historical text and comparing different accounts of the same information, including point of view and focus.



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