Teach kids about ads

12 December 2007

The Herald  Op Ed

P.T. Barnum allegedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take ’em.” But after a session with Frank Baker, the fourth-graders at Fort Mill’s Orchard Park Elementary School are less likely to be suckered.

Baker is a consultant to the S.C. Department of Education on English/Language Arts curriculum. Part of that curriculum includes instruction on how to become media literate.

Baker visited Orchard Park Elementary recently to see if he could make students a little more savvy about how TV ads try to persuade them to buy products. And part of that lesson was about how not to be conned by ads that, in one way or another, promise more than they deliver.

The media literacy session included a Powerpoint presentation and hints on how to deconstruct an ad. Students learned to look and listen for things in ads that enhance the desirability of the product – such as music, editing, special lighting and actors paid to smile and appear to be enjoying themselves.

Adults may be aware of the gimmicks used by ads to get us to pull out our wallets. But we may only have become aware of those come-ons after some hard-learned lessons and buyer’s regret.

Baker and his roadshow offered these students an early and painless lesson in the art of advertising and how to look beyond the glitz to get a more realistic idea of what a product has to offer. And learning that lesson now may save them some misery as consumers in the years ahead.

As the public is bombarded by more and more forms of artful advertising from a variety of new media outlets, it is essential to be able to recognize the common ways we are seduced into buying things – sometimes a bill of goods. And children often are pawns in this game, dazzled by ads into pestering their parents to buy them products they see on TV.

“Most commercials have elements of deception,” Baker told the students. “It’s up to you to be critical thinkers.”

This is a good example of why media literacy should be part of the elementary curriculum and the value it can provide. It teaches children a lesson they can use as consumers for the rest of their lives.

And, no doubt, it also may spark an early interest in a career in advertising.

Jacob Mumford, left, and Becky Humcke work on producing a video sequence while learning about media literacy in a class at Orchard Park Elementary in Fort Mill, SC

Don’t let them take ad-vantage

Class helps kids avoid falling prey to deceptive commercials

By Karen Bair ·
Updated 12/06/07 – 1:05 AM |

FORT MILL — The fourth-graders at Orchard Park Elementary might be just 9 years old, but they are becoming savvy toy-shoppers.

Jacob Miles said a video game he saw advertised on television recently was a disappointment when he brought it home.

“It wasn’t as much fun,” he said.

Classmate Becky Humcke said another toy she got actually was much smaller than it looked on television.

“I’m going to hit the pause button to look at the details in commercials,” decided fellow Orchard Park fourth-grader Kailey Fatigante.

The children made the comments after studying “persuasion techniques” in television ads Wednesday with Frank Baker, a consultant to the S.C. Department of Education on English/Language Arts curriculum. State curriculum requires students to not only read the printed word but to become media literate, he said.

“This is a very impressionable age,” he said of the fourth-graders.

The children’s teacher, Lindsey Campbell, and other Fort Mill teachers met Baker at an education conference recently and asked him to bring his PowerPoint to the school’s fourth-graders.

“Media literacy is a big push right now,” Campbell said. “The students are learning to construct and deconstruct an ad.”

On Wednesday, the children learned to look and listen for things that are in advertisements but that they don’t have at home: music, costumes, editing, special lighting, a set and lots of happy children who actually are actors being paid to smile.

After the children watched an ad for a remote-control racer, Baker asked them whether the ad was designed for boys or girls. Most of them correctly determined it was for boys.

“Commercials aimed at boys are loud with dark colors, and the narrator is a man,” Baker said.

Then, they saw an ad with a little girl sitting in front of a vanity mirror set.

“How big do you think it is?” he asked.

Most of the children raised their hands to measure 4 or 5 feet. Then, Baker showed them an actual-size drawing. The vanity stood only 2 feet tall and was resting on a platform in front of the little girl in the commercial.

He demonstrated how close shots or shots from bottom to top of a subject to make it look bigger, and how moving farther away and shooting down makes it look smaller or less important.

“Critical-thinking students always ask questions,” he said.

He urged them to listen for advertisements’ persuasion techniques: The kids are ‘cool,’ a celebrity uses the product, repetition of the product’s name, excitement, sound effects, feel-good stories, the actors’ expressions and a memorable cartoon character, among others.

The children also learned to listen for things that aren’t mentioned in the ad, such as the price.

The commercials are on television because the people who make the toys are paying the networks, and the networks need their money to pay for the television programs, they discovered.

The children also learned a new word: deception.

“Most commercials have elements of deception,” Baker said. “It’s up to you to be critical thinkers.”

Children and parents can watch or tape television commercials together.

S.C. Department of Education consultant Frank W. Baker recommends families ask and answer the following questions as they watch ads. The questions were excerpted from David Walsh’s book, “Dr. Dave’s Cyberhood,” Baker said. Walsh is part of the National Institute for Media and the Family, headquartered in Minneapolis-St. Paul.- Does the toy seem bigger on TV?- Is the commercial’s setting a home or a made-up environment?

– Do the sounds the toy makes sound different on TV?

–  Is there exciting background music you don’t have at home?

– Is the toy pictured alone or grouped with other toys or add-on equipment?

– Can you play at home with the toy the same way it is handled in the ad?

– Are you as happy playing with the toy at home as the children in the ad are?

– Is the price of the toy mentioned?

Education Photo

Becky Humcke shoots down at Zander Cole. Fourth-graders at Orchard Park Elementary School participated in a class on advertising techniques taught by national media educational consultant Frank Baker. Becky and Zander learned that by shooting from a high angle you can make objects or people look smaller.

TV advertising lesson Kids warned about medium and message

By Jonathan Allen Fort Mill Times
(Published December 12, 2007)

Beware the fine print.That was the message National Media Education Consultant Frank Baker left with a group of fourth-graders at Orchard Park Elementary School. Baker spoke to three classes there Dec. 5 about the tricks advertisers use in TV commercials aimed at children. He was there at the request of teachers Lindsey Campbell and Nicole Ayers.

“Media Literacy is embedded in the South Carolina education standards,” Campbell explained. “These kids are so swamped with media, we’re trying to teach them to be media savvy.”

Campbell and Ayers met Baker three years ago at an education conference in Myrtle Beach. Since then, he’s visited Orchard Park twice. Baker spent nine years as a television reporter before working 11 years in the Orlando school system. His job there was eventually eliminated, and Baker returned home to Columbia, where he got a job promoting media literacy with SCETV. That job was eliminated, but he’s continued to work on media literacy, giving lectures at schools throughout the state.

“I came out of TV news and saw teachers using video in class, but using it wrong,” baker said. “There was no media literacy, so i took it on myself to offer media literacy training to teachers in the Orlando system.”

Baker said he had no formal training, but deciphering the visual tricks advertisers and political candidates use in television commercials came naturally to him.

“The advertisers use the same techniques they have always used,” he said. “They’ve just gotten better at using new media to reach parents.”

Last Wednesday, Baker showed the fourth-graders clips from a 1990s documentary series called “Buy Me That” to illustrate some of the points he was trying to make. The series looked at several toy commercials and then documented a group of children playing with those toys to illustrate how commercials can be misleading.

Student Jacob Miles said later that a video game he saw advertised on television recently was a disappointment when he brought it home.

“It wasn’t as much fun,” he said.

Classmate Becky Humcke said another toy she got actually was much smaller than it looked on television.

“I’m going to hit the pause button to look at the details in commercials,” fellow Orchard Park fourth-grader Kailey Fatigante decided.

Baker talked about how camera angles and editing are used to trick the viewer. He used commercials to show the children how marketers are targeting them: boys with dark colors, fast cuts and loud male announcers, girls with a a female announcer and light colors.

“Editing is a trick,” Baker told them. “You never see what we don’t record.”

Baker’s lecture tied in with some ongoing class projects, Campbell said. This year, the fourth graders are using newly purchased Digital Blue cameras, paid for through Orchard Park PTA funds. The kid-friendly video recorders make it easy for the students to film scenes and edit the footage on a computer.

Last week, the students in Campbell’s class were putting the finishing touches on scenes they were shooting based on a children’s book called “Inkheart.” The students read the book, were split into small groups, and had to choose a scene from it to film. They were responsible for creating a story board of the scene, writing a script and acting it out while two of the group members filmed the action. Later, they had to edit the raw footage to produce a finished product. It was a three-week project.

The class also produced toy commercials this year, Campbell said. Next, they will be writing persuasive letters. Baker gave the class a few ideas for the letters. He suggested they write to toy companies asking them to make commercials that are not misleading. Another suggestion was to send a letters to the companies that own the channels the students watch asking them not to run commercials that are misleading. He also told them to send letters to their congressmen and senators asking them to actually regulate commercials to eliminate misleading claims.

“What we really need are media literate parents,” Baker said. “It’s all about critical thinking. Critical thinking and media literacy are things (students) have to have to compete in the 21st Century economy.”

Herald reporter Karen Bair contributed to this story.

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