Can't Sucker Me!

Objective :

  • Become aware of how certain factors affect consumer behaviour;Critically examine the advertising strategies and other factors that encourage overconsumption;
  • Recognize the advertising strategies used to sell products;
  • Differentiate wants from needs;
  • Develop the reflex of researching a purchase before deciding to buy.

Description :

By creating advertising posters and analyzing advertisements, students discover the persuasive strategies used to encourage them to buy. The class is then turned into an advertising agency where students are asked to use their imagination in raising other people's awareness about the problems of overconsumption.

Equipment :

  • Magazines, newspapers, and ads for cutting out (ask parents to help supply these);
  • Scissors, glue sticks, and posterboard;
  • Building the Message document.

Introduction :

Tell students what Imazine wrote in his notebook after spending a day in the country of consumption.

As soon as I arrived at the airport, I wondered just where in the world I was. As the moving walkway whisked me toward the airport exit, all sorts of ads rolled by me, with every type of slogan:

  • “Need a car rental? Car-Me is here for you!”
  • “You’ll smell great with Sniff! Perfume.”
  • “James Bond wears a Tick Tock watch. Why don't you?"
  • “Your business will take off with Ka-Ching Bank!”
  • “Exhausted from your travels? You need a Splash Spa!”
  • “Bad odours following you everywhere? Use Fwit-Fwit Spray!”

With so many strange things available, I decided to catch a taxi as quickly as I could. In my head, I kept humming the same refrain: sniff, tick, tock, splash, fwit, sniff, tick, tock, splash, fwit... I couldn't stop my mind from spinning in circles until the taxi driver decided to turn on the radio. A litany of ads took over from the print slogans:

  • “At Raidy Radiators, you’ll be radiantly happy with our quick service.”
  • “To stay on trend, check out the styles at Judge This Book by Its Cover.”
  • “Come out and get your groove on at Bing Bang Disco. Cuz we like to stay home!”
  • “Today only, scratch and save with a guaranteed discount of 10%, 15% or even 25%!”

Faced with all these tempting messages, a splitting headache forced me to cover my ears with my hands. I couldn't take it anymore! As the taxi turned onto a large boulevard, I peered out the window. Advertisements, flashing neon lights, and bright colours were everywhere. If we had stopped at every Big Wac, Burger Kling, Coco Chicken Express, or Sinky Submarine, I would have needed a school bus to get around, not a taxi!

When I got to the subway station, I headed toward the public washrooms. As I descended the stairs, more ads assaulted me. Ads, ads, everywhere! I opened the door quickly. “At least I'll find some peace here,” I said to myself. But no! Advertising had spread even to the washrooms. Gulpsum beer, which goes down smooth, was advertised right next to Beauti-Tone Gym, where you're sure to meet fun folks.

I finally arrived at the hotel. Exhausted by the trip and fatigued by so much noise, I flopped down on the bed and turned on the television to get my mind off things. Just my luck! I fell on an "ad-free" 30-minute infomercial, where the hostess and her guests went on at length about the benefits of Sleepytime Mattresses, designed just for me! I snapped the TV off to enjoy the real bed at my disposal in a room where, at long last, silence could erase the day’s hurly-burly. The Sandman came calling just as I wondered whether my dreams would all be advertisements and turn into nightmares instead.

Ask the students to comment on Imazine's story. Get the conversation rolling by asking students questions like:

  • Where is this so-called country of consumption located?
  • Could it be our own?

Divide the class into teams of three students. Ask the teams to list the main locations or media where Imazine encountered all that advertising noise.

Ask the teams to fill out, based on their own personal observations, an exploration map of the places around them (around the school and neighbourhood) where ads are displayed or posted, or to identify the media that publish them.

Working as a group, fill out this exploration map and invite one team to make a poster that reproduces the map.

Instructions :

Ask the teams to make advertising posters. To do so, provide them with old magazines, print ads, etc.

Get the teams to go through the magazines and newspapers to find advertisements. Ask each team to create a list of the topics they see.

As a group, identify the main themes. Come up with as many themes as there are teams in the class. Assign the themes to the various teams. Next, invite every team to cut out and glue on the posterboard the ads dealing with that theme, in order to make a poster.

Invite every team to present its poster. Working as a group, ask the following questions, and others, of every team in turn:

  • What theme boasts the highest number of ads?
  • How do the ads affect you?
  • Which is your favourite ad? Why?
  • Which do you like least? Why?
  • Who is the main audience for the ads associated with the theme your team chose? (Commercial advertising to children under age 13 is prohibited in Québec.)
  • What were the intentions of those who created these ads?
  • What needs are they attempting to fill?
  • Have the advertisers managed to convince you to buy their products?
  • How did they manage to do so?
  • What values are conveyed in this ad?
  • Is the ad trying to dictate behaviour?
  • Does it suggest that the audience adopt desirable behaviours?
  • Have you ever been tempted to buy merchandise, or have you ever bought merchandise, after seeing or hearing an ad boasting its benefits?

Explain to students that advertising aims to do more than just convince them to buy one or another product. For example, ads can suggest new habits, be informative or entertaining, give ideas, teach, raise awareness about problems, poverty, beauty, justice, etc.

Ask the class to become an advertising agency. Tell the teams they will have to design an ad intended to raise the awareness of other students and parents about overconsumption.

Help students realize the ways in which advertisers encourage the public to buy advertised goods and services. Give every team a copy of the Building the Message document, and ask them to read it.

Supervise the teams as they work. Check to make sure they have correctly included the elements necessary to build their message.

Organize a classroom presentation for the ads. Comment on the presentations.

Conclusion :

After the presentations, ask students whether they are influenced by any sources other than advertising, for example, family, friends, fashion, financial resources, etc.

Invite students to find concrete examples that prove the influence of these sources.

Wrap up 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. That’s why it is so important to think critically, to differentiate needs from wants, and to be wary of trends—in other words, to be an informed consumer!

Reinvestment activities:

To help students develop critical awareness, ask them to analyze other ads.

Encourage them to write a text. Get them to imagine a country without advertising, giving the reasons for the situation and describing its effects.