Chapter 6: 21st-century media and issues
6.3.4 Understanding advertising literacy (research essay)
English 102, November 2020
In today’s society it has become an everyday thing to see commercials and advertisements because of all the technological advancements that have been made throughout the past few years. Speaking from personal experience, I see some sort of advertisement that is trying to persuade me to buy something almost every single day. I think almost everyone else can also agree that they see advertisements around them as well on a daily basis. Whether it is a sponsored ad on some sort of social media, such as Instagram, or it is a billboard that you see driving on the highway, businesses are constantly trying to persuade people to buy their products. Therefore, media literacy is in everyday activities even if someone does not realize it. This goes to show how important it is for people to have knowledge and understanding of what businesses are trying to persuade people to do with these advertisements. It is crucial for people to understand how advertisers communicate with the public. A specific question that has been researched and analyzed by social scientists is how do advertisers use persuasive techniques within advertisements to communicate with the public.
Speaking from personal experience of having to make a poster that advertised a show, I can relate to the advertiser and understand what needs to be incorporated into an advertisement in order to connect with the public. In high school I was in an AP Studio Art class. One of the directors from the Cincinnati School of Rock, who was friends with my high school art teacher, was interested in my work and wanted me to design a poster for one of their upcoming performances. The design of the poster had to be 80s themed, so I had to keep in mind that for the lettering of the writing had to be some sort of 80s looking font. I decided to draw the design for the poster and then transferred it onto the computer. When doing this I drew the design on paper with colored pencils and micron pens. Then I used a scanner to scan the picture and put it on the computer, where I changed the coloring, size, and placement of the design. I then had to think about how I was going to incorporate the writing on the poster. I hadn’t realized how many aspects of the writing that had to be taken into consideration when making the poster. I had to think about what type of font to use, the size of the letters, the placement of the information that needed to be on the poster, and of course what the poster needed to say. It was a very lengthy process of trial and error.
I had not realized how much literacy was involved in art and design and making something as simple as a poster. Once the design had been finished, I had to send it into the Cincinnati School of Rock so that they could print off multiple copies to hang up for their show. Seeing the finished product made me feel so accomplished. Surprisingly, most of my time making the poster was spent figuring out little details with the writing on it. This made me realize how many advertisements in the real world had to be made by taking literacy into account. Along with this, visuals in the media have to be made by designers that had to go through a similar process to what I did. The use of literacy is much more common in everyday life than I realized.
Many advertisements in the real world use strong persuasive techniques, and without media literacy someone walking through the city might get taken advantage of by an ad’s techniques. Someone might think that they are buying something that will be useful, but in reality, they might have just bought it because they liked how it looked. This is because of the visual appeal that the advertisement had for the viewer. For example, when walking through the city, people see advertisements that were made by designers that have literacy on them that try to persuade viewers to buy their products. Unknowingly, peoples’ everyday things involved in their lives have literacy. The advertisements are communicate with the viewer to do something or buy something. Along with this speaking from personal experience, I have bought a product purely based off of the advertisement. Scrolling through Instagram I see advertisements for things such as skin products and clothing. Recently I saw an advertisement for Curology and bought it based on the advertisement. They advertised it to be this amazing product that would help get rid of acne. Because of the advertisement and its visual appeal that it had for me, it caused me to be persuaded to buy it. These types of advertisements are everywhere and use different visuals and literacy to catch consumers’ attention. The art and design of these advertisements is communicating with the public.
Personally, I do not usually think about what goes behind the scenes of making an advertisement when I see one. However, after writing about literacy and exploring how it is involved in communication between businesses and the public, I have realized that it exists in almost everything. Along with this because I can relate to the designers that have to design the advertisements with my personal experience, I can see how much that I have to think about when making them. Even with the design of commercials and what they say in them uses literacy. There are words incorporated into the visual design and the meaning they are trying to present. Most of the time there are always words within an advertisement because they have to get their point across to whoever is looking at it. Another reason why media literacy is so important is because people can have more knowledge about what an advertisement is trying to sell them. With this knowledge people will not be taken advantage of by companies that try and sell their product, even if it is not actually how it appears in the advertisement. Overall, I have realized that literacy is a big part of the world and how it functions in everyday activities.
Because of the vast ever-changing world, businesses in the economy are constantly trying to make a profit and connect with the public by using commercials. There have been multiple studies that have been researched on how people are affected by commercials. Along with this it is important for people to understand the techniques that are used in commercials. One of them is targeting youth. Because of the fact that kids are still so innocent, and they have not developed critical thinking skills, yet it is easier for advertisers to persuade younger kids. They lack the knowledge to think for themselves and form their own opinions because of constant outside sources, trying to get them to think a certain way. A media literate person is able to recognize the purpose of the commercial that is being shown and the message that is addressed.
They are also able to tell what specific group the ad is trying to target and how the values in the advertisement are able to influence the viewer. Recognizing that children see many commercials on television in a day is important when understanding how they are also influenced by these advertisements that they see on a daily basis. Because advertisements are played so often children are shown to be able to recognize brand names and logos. This is what advertisers want to happen. This idea is shown through certain studies done on children to demonstrate their attitudes and thinking skills to have to do with commercials. For example, in a specific research study, that is discussed in the article “Teaching Media Literacy Skills About Commercials: A Comparative Analysis of Media Literacy Instruction,”, written by Christina Love, eighth grade kids’ attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge about commercials were studied (Love,3). Those who were taught media-related terms and did the activities that helped them be aware of certain things within media literacy were in the end able to recognize when commercials use selling techniques, target their specific audience, and use social values along with stereotypes (Love,4). Along with this as kids start to gain knowledge of advertising literacy, they are able to pick up on the techniques used by advertisers such as emotional appeal which causes them to have a connection with the advertisement (Love 13). Along with these adolescents lack interpretations of commercials, unlike adults. One of them being “conceptual advertising literacy,” which is how someone’s knowledge develops throughout their life due to the more experiences that they have (Hoek, Rozendaal, van Schie & Moniek 3). Adults have had many more experiences than a younger child has just because they are older and have had more opportunities in their life. Overall, children lack critical thinking skills to acknowledge how an advertisement is affecting them and the way that they feel or think about a certain thing.
Another technique used by advertisers that aim at younger kids is the overplaying of their commercials. With repetition of showing a certain product or advertisement, kids specifically are able to remember that commercial later on in their life due to long term memory and the constant exposure to it at such a young age. Because advertisements are played so often children are shown to be able to recognize brand names and logos. This is what advertisers want to happen. Their goal is to overplay these advertisements repeatedly so that they can be easily memorized by the viewers (Love 15). Their hope of overplaying these advertisements is so that they can later remember them in their adult lives. All commercials are constructed very carefully and are played repeatedly so that they can be easily remembered and are able to target a specific audience (Love 16). Advertisers keep this technique in mind and is very common in the advertising industry. Along with this there are other ways that advertisers connect with the public that people should be aware of and have the knowledge about advertising literacy.
Another part of commercials that advertisers incorporate into the advertisements is indirect advertising. This is very common within targeting the teen population and even the young adult population. These types of advertisement aren’t as direct as a normal commercial may be. One of them being using video creators or other social media influencers, that young kids look up to and admire, to promote a product. Because of the large use of social media in today’s society, younger teens are often persuaded to follow these influencers. They are often seen as being “trendsetters” because of how popular they are (Sophia van Dam & Eva A. van Reijmersdal 1). These video influencers are sponsored by certain businesses to show off their brand and promote it. They are indirectly targeting teens to buy their product.
Today’s adolescents think that because this highly respected and valued person that they don’t even know is promoting a certain product that means that they should follow them and get that product. A lot of stores do this to promote their clotheslines. Viewers often perceive the influencers that they watch as their friends and develop an attachment to them (Sophia van Dam & Eva A. van Reijmersdal 3). The article “Insights in Adolescents’ Advertising Literacy, Perceptions and Responses Regarding Sponsored Influencer Veidos and Disclosures” discusses how in order to “empower adolescents and help them understand the persuasive nature of sponsored influencers videos” it is crucial for them to have an understanding of advertising literacy within the videos (Sophia van Dam & Eva A. van Reijmersdal 2). In the study that is discussed in the article the participants were shown a video of a popular influencer that was sponsored by Doritos to promote their brand (Sophia van Dam & Eva A. van Reijmersdal 6). After the video the participants’ attitudes and moral judgments were observed (Sophia van Dam & Eva A. van Reijmersdal 8). Overall, they found that with advertising literacy teens are able to form their own opinion on a brand rather than just following and automatically agreeing with a certain social media influencer that they look up to and admire.
With the indirect advertising this can play a huge mental role in teens. Because they constantly see video influencers showing off the newest trends, they feel obligated to buy or do what they are doing as well because it’s the “cool” thing to do. This is how advertisers take advantage of teens and younger adults because of the standards and obligations that society sets and affects how people feel and think about who they want to be like. Personally, I find myself doing this as well. Scrolling through Tik Tok I constantly see videos of people who are showing off a product that works well for them. I have bought a skin care product for my acne because it worked well for a random girl that I saw on Tik Tok. Along with this I have found myself buying clothes because I have seen other people wear the same thing in a video before and I thought it looked cute. As ridiculous as it sounds, social media and advertisements constantly control people’s lives and what they do with their lives. Not only are there indirect advertisements on social media, but there are many examples of direct as well. Speaking from personal experience scrolling through social media there will periodically be a sponsored advertisement that pops up on the page and is presenting a sale to the viewer trying to get them to buy a certain product. Overall, indirect and direct advertising is very prevalent in today’s society and people are exposed to it almost every day.
Going off of the idea that advertisers use persuasive techniques within advertisements to communicate to the public, it is not only relevant to the average person’s everyday life but also is relevant to big businesses and business owners. Along with this are the people that actually make the advertisements. They too must have an understanding of advertising literacy so that they know how to connect with the people that they are trying to sell their product to. Along with this, with advertising literacy they will be able to use the advertising techniques that are necessary within their advertisements. People who are actually making the advertisements need to have the knowledge and advertising literacy in order to best understand how to connect to their viewers or the people that they are trying to persuade (O’donohoe 9). There is a lot that goes into making an advertisement. From the words and phrases actually used that are addressing a meaning to the actual design of the advertisement that creates an emotional appeal to the viewer (Lapierre 6). Therefore, it is very important for not only the public eye to have an understanding of advertising literacy but also the people working for the businesses that are making advertisements.
Not only does advertising literacy affect those who are making advertisements and those who are viewing the advertisement, but it also impacts educators. People need to be taught about advertising literacy for life in the real world and the way to do this is for it to be taught in schools by educators. This goes to show that educators need to have advertising literacy in order to inform others about it (King 3). Speaking specifically of educators that this mostly impacts are librarians. Throughout the article, “Popular Sources, Advertising, and Information Literacy: What Librarians Need to Know”, the author talks about “native advertising” and how it is a pretty new form of advertising that has sponsors, fund articles and periodicals that then causes them to have control over the editorial process (King 7). It goes on to talk about how in the past this used to be unethical to allow advertisers to dictate the content of journalism (King 10). Overall, the essay talks about how important it is to understand how advertising impacts editorials that people use. This goes to show and explain why it is not only important for librarians and educators to teach students about advertising literacy for the real world but also for what they read in school as well.
Expanding more on the idea that advertising literacy affects children’s consumer behavior in the study discussed in the article, “Advertising Literacy and Executive Function: Testing Their Influence on Children’s Consumer Behavior”, the study is done in order to show how children’s consumer behavior is impacted by advertisements (Lapierre 3). They found that it is directly associated with consumer behavior (Lapierre 11). Along with this their advertising literacy was shown to have a negative relationship with the parents’ purchase requests (Lapierre 12). This evidence goes to show and explains how children’s consumer behavior is greatly impacted by advertisements. With advertising literacy, advertisements may not negatively impact children as much if they have the knowledge and are aware of what the advertisers are trying to get them to do. This way they can use their own critical thinking skills and form their own views and opinions in a smart and knowledgeable way.
Following up with this, another way children specifically can be greatly impacted on is through food advertisements. These types of advertisements can affect children’s health and what they eat on a daily basis. This can positively affect children, or it can affect them negatively depending on if the advertisement is promoting something healthy or unhealthy(Buttriss 4). This brings up the idea of banning the promotion of foods on children because of how most of the time it negatively impacts them and their health. Throughout the article, “Promotion of Foods to Children – to Ban or Not to Ban?”, it discusses the promotion of food presented to children and how it is characterized by many different types of viewpoints and opinions(Buttriss 5). One side believes that advertising to children should be banned or regulated because of its encouragement towards poor eating habits(Buttriss 3). Whereas on the other hand there are those that believe that companies can self-regulate their advertisements(Buttriss 3). Both sides relate to advertising literacy and either way having a knowledge of advertising literacy is important and applicable in both situations. Therefore, this goes to show how advertising literacy is an important concept that people need to be able to understand even if people have differing opinions on certain issues and topics that advertising literacy has to do with.
Throughout all of the research presented they seem to come to the conclusion that advertising literacy needs to be taught and understood by people because they are constantly surrounded by it in everyday situations. It is crucial for people to be informed and have an understanding of advertising literacy. Specifically, adolescents need to have an understanding of it because they are affected by the different techniques that advertisers use in their commercials in order to persuade them. Along with the research discussed, advertising literacy also relates to Gee’s “What is Literacy”. Gee talks about “discourses” and “identity kits”. These relate to advertising literacy because teens are their own “discourse” and are expected to act and think a certain way (Gee 14). Their “identity kit” impacts how they are supposed to dress within their “discourse” (Gee 14). Advertisements can take advantage of this by persuading them to buy their “cool” or “trendy” product. Gee also talks about “Secondary Discourses” (Gee 15). When teens are taught more about advertising literacy, they are acquiring the skill of how to recognize what the advertisement is trying to get them to do. Along with this within the “secondary discourse” they are able to see who the advertisers are trying to target with the techniques they use within their commercial or indirect advertisement. Therefore, it is important for not only the average everyday person to have advertising and media literacy in todays’ society, but also younger children because they are exposed to everyday advertisements that can affect the way they act and think.
The research overall goes to show that the techniques used by advertisers greatly impact the viewers. Whether it has to do with what it looks like to what the commercial is actually saying, commercials are constantly affecting humans mentally and trying to persuade them. Because this topic is relevant to almost everyone’s lives it is something that needs to be understood and taught to people in order to help them think critically for themselves. Personally, I don’t usually think about what goes behind the scenes of making an advertisement when I see one. However, after writing about literacy and exploring how it is involved in communication between businesses and the public, I have realized that it exists in almost everything. Along with this because I can relate to the designers that have to design the advertisements with my personal experience, I can see how much that I have to think about when making them. Even with the design of commercials and what they say in them uses literacy. There are words incorporated into the visual design and the meaning they are trying to present. Most of the time there are always words within an advertisement because they have to get their point across to whoever is looking at it. Another reason why advertising literacy is so important is because people can have more knowledge about what an advertisement is trying to sell them. With this knowledge people won’t be taken advantage of by companies that try and sell their product, even if it isn’t actually how it appears in the advertisement. Overall, I have realized that literacy is a big part of the world and how it functions in everyday activities.
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