Academics, Middle School

Students Analyze Advertising Strategies

For two months in the spring, 8th grade students study media and advertising, learning how to recognize various ad techniques designed to catch their attention. As part of the unit, students create sets of ads for fictional products, using diverse advertising techniques that appeal to different markets.

"We want students to emerge from this unit being critical consumers of media," says Humanities teacher Jeff Blair. "We want them to see that much of the content fed to us has been constructed and laden with messages, and often times those messages contain effects we aren't aware of."

Students study the evolution of the media and watch episodes of the Frontline documentary series on advertising, "The Merchants of Cool." The documentary asks the question: does the media reflect who we are, or does it shape us?

Says Jeff: "Are we stuck in a feedback loop? The overall goal of this study is to have the students embrace that question and search for the answer."

Students also read Aldous Huxley's classic novel illustrating psychological conditioning, Brave New World. The reading introduces students to the concept of media as a product that is marketed and/or consumed.

Working either in groups or solo, students make three different ads per person for a make-believe product. The products can be lifelike, such as a money management service that focuses on sustainable farming, or from the imagination, such as a lipstick that instantly changes your mood when applied. The students present the advertisements to their classmates, describe the various methods used, and reveal the target audience.

"It was interesting to assess ads and talk about why they do or don't work," says 8th grader Nathan M. "Now, I feel like I can look at an advertisement and see the techniques they use to hook us."