Children today, as with most people in our society, are inundated with a constant barrage of advertisements. This study first looked at how a specific group of adolescents view, interpret and use messages from advertising in their daily routines. Then a unit plan was developed and implemented to educate students on how to consider and process messages from ads for critical awareness. This was used to bring to light what messages specific advertisements are trying to convey and to give students a strategy in order to understand advertisers’ deeper, hidden meanings.
The study began with initial observations of the classroom setting, the teacher, and the students in an effort to understand classroom dynamics. A unit plan was then implemented based on curriculum strategies suggested in the review of literature by Anderson (1997), Nadaner (1985), Barthes (1977), and Kehl (1983). This study incorporated an single group pre and post test design in order to achieve its goals. Strategies and instruments included conversations, interviews of selected students, a field journal, implementation of a specific model, and a questionnaire in the form of a pre and post test.
The post tests showed that students who participated in this study exhibited little change following the unit plan. While they recognized the denoted content, superficial reasons, and means of advertising they mostly missed the deep/connoted content and structure. However the daily critical discussions centered on the critique of advertisements suggested some development of the students’ ability read more deeply into ads’ purposes, means, and content. Since students themselves chose the ads to be critiques, together, these two findings suggest that students bonded to products through advertisements in a way that is objectively difficult for them to see or affect. Their identities may be intertwined with the products and product representations they chose. If this is this, in turn, suggests the depth that advertising is infused in these children’s consciousness and indicates that a six week treatment is inadequate for countering this pervasive influence. The implication for art education, in teaching advertising as visual culture, is that in-depth instruction of the connotative content of advertising may be necessary to bring that connotative content to the surface.