Advertising 101

The Medium and the Message

“Ads are really doing their work when you don’t notice them.”
Marshall McLuhan

Advertising pays the bills that make it possible to publish a newspaper, a magazine or broadcast a radio or television show. Each newspaper ad is carefully constructed, and often part of a multi-media campaign that may include television and radio commercials, billboards and flyers. Even the placement of an advertisement in a newspaper, be it the business or lifestyle pages, is part of a strategic marketing plan.

Advertisements are cleverly crafted to a target audience. More often than not that target audience is sitting in your classroom. And the messages are no longer confined to pitches about toys or breakfast cereals. Marketers have realized that in the modern family, the opinion of children can influence the purchase of everything from cars to toothpaste.

Teachers understand only too well the impact advertising has on students. It takes only one student to buy a product and within days it – be it a set of trading cards, a miniature skateboard or pair of running shoes – is popping up everywhere. In my own Grade 6 classroom, I watched as Converse running shoes became the footwear of choice for girls. All it took was one classroom style-setter to turn up on a Monday in a pair of black high tops. This punk-wannabe made the purchase after checking out clothing styles in a skateboard magazine. By Wednesday, her best friend sported a pink pair. The following week a classmate laced up in green, followed by another student in red, and then grey, until it seemed that just about every girl in the class owned a pair of Converse at $79 a pop.

Of course advertising isn’t always about buy, buy and buy some more. The medium sells not only goods and services, it is used to promote political parties and educate us about important and relevant causes. Take, for example, the deglamourizing of cigarettes and drinking and driving. These powerful public service messages have helped shape public opinion on consumer behaviour.

Whether we agree with the message or not, the power of advertising must not be ignored. We need to provide students with the skills to take apart the message, understand it and recognize it. When we provide them with the skills to do this, we give them the power to be informed consumers.