Advertising Fallacies: Snowboarding Cars and Other Fine Things

If there ever is a perfect time to teach visual analysis, appeals, and SOAPSTone, now is the time. You can’t look anywhere without being bombarded by pressure—to be the best, to have the best. The message everywhere is BUY.

In today’s media-driven society, teens are immersed in advertising. In most cases, because it is so ubiquitous, they don’t even notice. They tune out the bar on the Facebook Wall, the popups in their favorite phone games, and can even fast-forward through commercials with their DVR. This, however, doesn’t mean that they are immune to the subtle effects. Now, more than ever, we need to teach them to read these things for what they are—ploys to make money.

My students are used to the SOAPSTone acronym (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, subject, tone) and use is repeatedly throughout the year. So, they know the drill. Sometimes, depending on the ad, I will introduce fallacies and fallacious reasoning. However, it depends on the level and the appropriateness of the ad. I like to start with actual television commercials because they are often more heavy-handed than straight print ads. The music, the movement, and the lighting are a lot easier to read.

This year I started with the standard commercials that utilize our stereotyped vision of Christmas. Tried and true are the Coca-Cola commercials, which always use sound and vivid imagery to convey warm, fuzzy feelings. One opening activity may be tracing their change in approach over the last few years from the Christmas Balloons to the Beard to the Starburst. Students can discuss the appeals that Coca Cola uses and whether they are or are not effective.

Following this, I think last year’s iPhone ad and this year’s John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin will be a great discussion starters. I expect students will have strong reactions to the over-the-top-pull-at-your-heart-strings marketing of this ad.

Then, for something completely different, the Nissan ad featuring snowboarding cars requires more brainwork. I plan on doing this activity with my junior college prep and honors students. They are all getting their licenses and looking at cars. Plus, many of them are skateboarders. So, I’m curious to see what they take away from Nissan—the sense of adventure, the unreality, or something else. While this add doesn’t expressly market the Christmas holiday, I want to talk about the choices the advertisers made—colors, weather, backdrop. In this initial phase, I want there to be more discussion than actual SOAPSTone analysis. This step is meant to get kids talking, so I can see how they think.

Another interesting ad to take a loot at is Kmart’s Not a Christmas Commercial Campaign, which was released in September 2014 amid a great deal of controversy. Again, this is a little harder than the Nissan ad and gets more to the heart of advertising—For whom is it intended? Why so early in the year? Why the effort for it not to be a Christmas commercial?

Moving forward, you can have students work in partners to find their own commercials and evaluate them using the SOAPSTone form. They can then present to the class or can jigsaw with other classmates to see if they come to the same conclusions. Another option is to move to print ads. Teachers can Google past ad campaigns and model analysis of a few before sending students off to investigate, analyze, and present ads of their own. The goal is to make them observers of the world in which they are living. I would encourage them at the start of class for the next few weeks to share any of their observations from TV, the internet, stores, magazines, etc.

SOAPSTone worksheet

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