Advertisements and Media Literacy

As we’ve been addressing media literacy throughout this quarter, I’ve often found myself relating it to advertisements. Though there are many other ways in which to be media literate, advertisements seem to be an easy and common avenue to pursue with students.

The goals for media literacy as outlined by Renee Hobbs are to understand that:

  1. Media is constructed
  2. Media is produced with economic, social, political, historical, and aesthetic contexts
  3. The reader and media interact to produce meaning
  4. Media has it’s own language – a symbolic communication of meaning
  5. Media representations play a role in our understanding of social reality

When looking at these key understandings behind media literacy, it’s easy to see why I may focus on advertisements within my classroom. Advertisements are always around students and this seems like an important reason to prioritize understanding and critically analyzing advertisements at a young age.

A good portion of the readings this week focused on the impact that online advertisements can have on children. As it turns out, advertisements do impact subconscious behavior! Who would’ve thought? The part that is most shocking to me (yet entirely understandable at the same time) is that parents don’t seem to care or be aware of the effects of online advertisements.

This study on the impact of online marketing on children’s behavior pointed out that many parents automatically assume that their children are annoyed or disinterested when it comes to digital advertising. However, I believe that this is only a projection of what we feel as adults. Adults seem entirely apathetic about the amount of advertisements that clog our world daily. We see ads when we are on social media, when we play games, when we read the news, and every time we open a new app on our phone. Yet we’ve become incredibly skilled at tuning these ads out. We still remember a time when we would open an internet browser and be spammed by obnoxious or even pornographic pop-up advertisements. Since today’s ads are generally more subtle, we apathetically call it a win and ignore them. The children of today don’t have those types of skills and strategies that we’ve spent years building!

Children are often metaphorically likened to sponges. They absorb everything. If we know that to be true, why don’t we worry more about advertisements impacting them? 

I recently gave my students a list of ten common slogans and asked them to identify the brands that coined the terms. Not only could the students name 80% of the brands, but they were able to sing the jingles! I don’t just mean that they could hum them or say the words. I mean that I counted down from three and the students sang in perfect unison the Kay Jewelers song (“every kiss begins with Kay”) as in-tune as if they were a trained choir. The students and I realized at that moment exactly how ingrained these ads are in all of our minds. Yet, students don’t have the skills to avoid susceptibility to these ads. Our job is to teach them strategies to identify when propaganda is attempting to sway them or impact their behavior and teach them strategies to avoid succumbing to the targeting.


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