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Learn All Year Long

Learn All Year Long

Learn All Year Long

Kids and teens should read and write even when they are out of school. Why is this so important?

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You Want Me to Buy What? Exploring Ads


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You Want Me to Buy What? Exploring Ads

Grades 6 – 8
Activity Time One to two hours
Publisher International Literacy Association

What You Need

Here’s What To Do

More Ideas To Try



What You Need

  • TV

  • Two magazines (preferably these will be geared toward different audiences, such as Teen Vogue and Sports Illustrated)

  • Let’s Take a Look at Ads

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Here’s What To Do

  1. Ask: What is the purpose of advertising? Discuss that advertising is a business and that most ads exist solely to make money. Ads not only help sell a particular product, they are also the way TV networks, magazines, Internet sites, and other media companies pay their bills.

    You might also want to ask if the teen can think of any exception to this rule. One example might be public service announcements, which help raise awareness or educate the public about a certain issue, such as smoking or child abuse.

  2. Discuss the obvious kinds of advertising: TV and radio commercials; magazine, newspaper, or billboard ads; and Internet, email, and text ads.

  3. Now discuss the not-so-obvious kinds. Here are a few examples:

    • Cross-promotion. When you find a sample of hand cream inside a box of soap or have to sit through movie trailers before your DVD starts, this is cross-promotion: using one product to introduce another.

    • Product placement. When a TV or movie character drinks a certain brand of soda or a golf player wears a shirt with a particular logo, it is no accident. Companies pay for their products’ appearances in places where they will be seen.

    • Naming rights. Have you ever seen a game or concert at a sports arena named after a bank? Or watched a halftime report “sponsored by” a phone company? In both cases, companies have bought this name association.

    There’s even something called “scent marketing” or “scentvertising.” Ask the teen if he or she has ever noticed that some stores seem to smell the same every time you visit. That’s because they’re actually pumping scented air through their ventilation systems. Why? Because research has shown that the human sense of smell is very powerful; it is the one most attached to our memories and can even put us in the mood to buy.

  4. Next, discuss some specific techniques advertisers use to get us to buy their products. For example, most ads don’t just give us the facts but try to appeal to our senses and emotions. Here are some examples of how they do that and the “hidden messages” they want us to take away:

    • Celebrity (Don’t you wish you could be as cool as this famous person?)

    • Humor (If this ad made you laugh, you’ll probably remember it at the cash register.)

    • Insecurity (Buy this product, and you’ll be just as beautiful, smart, fit, and happy as our model.)

    • Fear (If you don’t buy this product, something bad could happen.)

    • Testimonials (Just look at all the people in this infomercial who say this product works!)

    • Statistics (Aren’t you impressed by all these numbers and percentages?)

    • Sensory appeal (Can’t you just smell, touch, or taste our product?)

  5. At this point, it might be fun to visit the PBS Kids Don’t Buy It website. Check out the Advertising Tricks tab for an eye-opening look at advertisers’ tricks of the trade (for example, how they really get that burger to look so big and juicy).

  6. Now ask the teen to choose to investigate either TV or magazine print ads.

    For TV ads, have the teen write down all of the commercials he or she sees in a half-hour show. For added perspective, he or she might even do this twice: once for a half-hour show in the morning and once for a half-hour show at night. How many ads were there in each? Out of the 30 minutes, approximately how many minutes were spent on commercials?

    If the teen chooses print ads, have him or her look through at least two different types of magazines—preferably two that might appeal to different audiences (for example, Teen Vogue and Sports Illustrated, or Teen People and Newsweek). How many ad pages are there compared to the total number of pages in each magazine?

  7. Discuss the concept of “audience.” For example, are the ads you see during an evening sitcom the same ones you’d see during a morning cartoon? Are the ads that appear in Sports Illustrated the same ones that appear in Teen Vogue? Why or why not?

  8. Have the child choose one ad, either print or TV, and fill out the Let’s Take a Look at Ads sheet. Then take it a step further by either discussing or writing answers to the following questions: What marketing techniques (humor, celebrity, statistics, etc) are being used in the ad? What is the hidden message? And finally, does the ad make you want to buy the product? Why or why not?

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More Ideas To Try

  • Companies spend a lot of money for brand recognition. See if it’s paying off. The next time you’re at the mall, go on a logo hunt. Have the child make a list of all the logos he or she instantly recognizes.

  • Create a spoof of an ad using just the facts! For example, just how many calories and fat grams are in that mouth-watering bacon double cheeseburger?

  • Research the cost of advertising. What does an ad in your local newspaper cost? How about a 30-second ad on primetime TV? What does a Super Bowl ad cost?

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Think critically


To think both logically and creatively about a topic using different kinds of information. When people think critically, they not only attend to new words and ideas, but they also connect these words and ideas with the things they already know.

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