Grade 3-5, 6-8

Be An Ad Detective

Updated: April 18 2016,
Author: Patricia Bonner

Every day, students are bombarded by advertising. They cannot escape it. But marketers realize that many people—especially young people—are becoming very good at tuning ads out. Businesses thus are becoming more creative in their communication with consumers. In this lesson, the students assume the role of detectives searching for the new places where advertisers are promoting themselves and their products. They also investigate logos, imaginary characters, slogans and jingles—tools used by advertisers to develop brand awareness.

This lesson works well as a follow-up to the EconEdLink lesson Did You Get the Message?


TV Commercial

Show the students several different forms of advertising — for example, a newspaper ad, a catalog, a direct mail flyer, a shopping bag with a store logo, an item of clothing such as a hat or T-shirt with the name of a company on it, and a pre-recorded television commercial. Discuss:


  1. What do all of these things have in common? [They are advertisements, calling attention to a good or service.]
  2. Why do you think businesses advertise goods and services? [Possible answers: to create a positive impression of their business or product, to help people learn about what is being promoted, to encourage people to buy what is being promoted.]
  3. What else do businesses do to tell us about their products? [Possible answers: they place ads on the radio, the Internet, magazines, billboards, store signs and displays, signs on public transportation, product packages, free samples.]

Explain to the students that they are going to investigate the many places where businesses advertise and how businesses use brands to help us remember them and what they sell.

[NOTE: Students may want to look at the Believe It or Not lesson, which is also an advertisement lesson.]

Learning Objectives

  • Detect obvious and not-so-obvious examples of advertisements in their everyday lives.
  • Recognize the role that logos, imaginary characters, slogans and jingles play in developing brand awareness.

Resource List

  • Believe it or Not?:  This EconEdLink lesson will help students to increase their awareness of advertisements in their daily lives.
    Believe it or Not?
  • Don't Buy it:  Be the Ad Detective:  This site asks students to look at images and notice where advertisements may be placed.
  • Interactive Activity:  This quiz tests students understanding of advertising jingles and logos.
    Interactive Quiz
  • Be an Add Detective Worksheet:  This worksheet should be filled out by students as they search for hidden advertisements.
    Be an Add Detective
  • Advertising is All Around Us:  This billboard allows students to understand how surrounded they are by advertising every day.
    Advertising is All Around Us
  • The Center for Commercial-Free Public Education:  This site shows students where they can find advertisements in the average public school


Activity 1: Be an Ad Detective

At this PBS Kids web site, the students are told they have been hired by Don’t Buy It, Inc. as an Ad Detective. They are directed to examine four pictures and find where the ads are hidden. Some ads are obvious but others are not. As students try to identify these ads, they are told:

  • SAFECO Field: SAFECO, an insurance and investment company, is paying $40 million over 20 years to get the Seattle Mariners’ baseball stadium named SAFECO Field. Buying the name of a sports arena is one way for companies to make their names known.
  • NIKE logo on Tiger Woods’ hat: Nike is paying Tiger Woods about $100 million to use Nike products for five years. Pretty smart advertising, huh? People really look up to athletes.
  • Taco Bell Banner in video game: Taco Bell made a "promotional partnership" deal with X-Box video games. As a result, people will see Taco Bell ads in X-Box games, and X-Box promotions in Taco Bell stores
  • Old Navy T-Shirt on a woman: Old Navy has made this woman a "walking billboard." Everywhere she goes with this shirt on, she is advertising for Old Navy.

Activity 2: Advertising Clues

The students are asked whether they noticed that all of the ads in the previous activity are based only on names and logos. They learn that businesses often use names, logos, and imaginary characters to establish brand awareness. The idea behind branding is to create positive feelings about a certain business or what it sells. Examples shown are the Apple computer logo, Mr. Clean and the Keebler elves.



Slogans and jingles that relay positive messages are also discussed. Examples include Tony the Tiger saying "They’re GRRRREAT!" for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, the Oscar Mayer Weiner Song and the jingle sung by the Green Giant. The students then complete an interactive activity that tests their knowledge of logos and jingles.

Ask the students to think about these questions in preparation for class discussion:

  1. Write down three other brand images you have seen. Why do you think you remember them?
  2. What other slogans and jingles do you remember?
  3. What do you think makes these effective advertising tools?


Conduct a class discussion of the students’ responses to the THINK ABOUT IT questions in Activity 2. Call on a few students to describe the logos they Keeblerremember. Ask:

  1. Do any brand images appear on several of your lists?
  2. Why do you think you remember these images? [Possible answers: the logo is unusual or has some feature that grabs attention, the product is something they would like to buy, or it is a brand that they frequently see advertised.]
  3. What other product jingles do you remember?
  4. What do you think makes a jingle an effective advertising tool? [Possible answers: they are short, they have some attention-grabbing words and/or music, they are easy to repeat, they say something good about the product being promoted.]

When the students have completed the Be an Ad Detective worksheet, you may also want to have them share some of their findings with the class. Ask:

  1. Were there any similarities in products at some locations? [The students may notice, for example, that fast food soft drink cups often promote current movies. Hats often promote goods and services purchased by guys. Restaurant placemats may introduce new foods offered at the restaurant.]
  2. Why do you think advertisers select these locations for these specific products? [They are trying to reach a target audience. In the case of soft drink cups, it is young persons. Hats are more likely to be worn by guys. The placemats are an effort to tell current customers about new products.]
  3. Have you seen advertising in other places? [Possible answers: the Goodyear blimp, hot air balloons, movies, popular television shows.]

[Note to teachers: In recent years, product placement in television shows, movies and video games has been occurring more and more frequently. This development provides a great source of current examples. At the time this lesson was written, cups of Coca Cola were appearing on the popular television show American Idol. The Survivor show featured Doritos, Pringles, various brands of cars and tools from Home Depot. A famous early product placement was Reese’s Pieces in the movie ET. Check to see whether your students realize that these product placements are actually ads and that the sellers often pay for inclusion in these entertainment venues.]

Extension Activity

Have your students do additional detective work. Here are some possibilities:

  1. They might count the number of ads they are exposed to in one day. To make this activity more manageable, you may want to have each student count for just one hour of a day. Assign them different time periods when they are awake. By combining data, they can calculate the ad messages for a “typical” student in their class. Use the following questions in your discussion of their results:

    1. What were some of the most unusual places where you saw ads?
    2. Were there some times of the day when you were exposed to more ads? When? [Obviously, they will not be exposed when they are sleeping. Some may notice they are exposed to more ads when they are watching television, surfing the net or making the trip to school.]
    3. What kinds of ads were you exposed to at school? [Possible responses: backpacks with cartoon characters, brand names and logos on soda machines, book covers, packaging on food products in the school cafeteria, and educational materials from a commercial sponsor.]
  2. To reinforce student awareness of the pervasive nature of ads, prepare an Advertising Is All Around Us bulletin board. Place a group photo of your students in the center of the board; then surround it with examples of logos, fantasy characters, slogans and jingles collected by students. Use logos, imaginary characters and slogans clipped from magazines, newspapers, packages, etc. On index cards or small pieces of paper, the students can write down words from slogans and jingles they hear on TV and radio.
  3. Take your students on a walk through your school and school grounds looking for advertisements. This Center for Commercial Free Public Education web page will give your students ideas about where to look. Another page, on this same site, is filled with ideas appropriate for older students and parents who wish to take action in response to what is found.


Assessment is based on student completion of the Be an Ad Detective worksheet. As you may deem it necessary, do the first entry with your students so that they know precisely what to do with the worksheet.

Responses to class discussion questions may be evaluated as well.