Behind the Image


  • Develop critical thinking with regard to the messages conveyed by media and advertising;
  • Realize the influence that advertising exerts on our lives;
  • Recognize the advertising strategies used to sell products;
  • Differentiate wants from needs;
  • Develop the reflex of researching a purchase before deciding to buy.


Using a range of ads for consumer staples (goods we use on a daily basis), students decode the ads’ visual and written messages, list the values being promoted, and determine what behaviours are proposed. Next, they assess whether the products offered meet needs or wants. Finally, the class becomes an ad agency where students are invited to make use of their imagination in an attempt to persuade classmates to adopt responsible consumer habits.



Ask students whether they think advertising affects their buying choices.

Ask them to recognize various advertising media: agendas, pencils, rulers, calendars, mugs, public bathrooms, advertising panels, television, radio, newspaper, magazines, posters, etc.

Initiate a discussion with students using the following questions:

  • What ads do you prefer?
  • What ads affect you the least? Why?
  • Do these ads have any influence over you?
  • Who do they influence? How? (Refer to ads with slogans that everyone knows.)

What is the purpose of advertising? (Beyond the usual answers given by young people, encourage students to consider objectives like getting consumers to change their habits, educating, entertaining, giving consumers ideas, learning things, raising awareness about problems, poverty, beauty, justice, etc.)


Invite students to gather a range of print media ads for consumer staples.

As a class, ask students to break down the ads by category, such as food, entertainment, housing, hygiene, household products, etc.

Give each student a copy of the document titled Building the Message and ask everyone in the class to read it on their own.

Initiate a discussion with students on these strategies.


Form work teams for all the categories targeted earlier.

For each consumer product, ask the teams to fill out the Ad Analysis Table.

Ask students to find a solution that would prevent these items from ending up in the landfill (buying durable objects or reducing consumption, for example).

Invite every team to present one or more ads of their choosing and to share their ad analyses with the entire class.

As a group, begin a discussion with students on consumer values in today’s society. As necessary, select a few ads and ask students such questions as:

  • What values are conveyed in this ad?
  • Is the ad trying to dictate behaviour? How?
  • Does this behaviour resemble your own or the behaviour you were taught?
  • Do you agree with this way of doing things?
  • If everyone consumed everything proposed in advertising, what would happen?
  • What would be the effects on society, the environment, and the economy?

Announce to students that the class will be turned into an ad agency. Remind them that advertisers use multiple strategies to make consumers want to buy the advertised good or service or to elicit a change in consumer behaviour.

Let the students know that you will be playing the client.

Divide the group into teams and ask team members to use their imagination to design print ads intended to denounce overconsumption.

Suggest that students use the information in the Building the Message document to help them design their ad.

Organize a classroom presentation for the ads. After each one, ask the student “audience” to identify the strategies applied to effectively convey the message.


Working as a group, have the students summarize the strategies used. Conclude the activity by telling students that the more they succumb to influences, the less free they are to make choices based on their true needs.

Help them understand the importance of critical thinking, differentiating needs from wants, and being wary of trends—in other words, the importance of being an informed consumer!