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Grade 3-5, 6-8

Did You Get the Message?

Updated: May 13 2016,
Author: Patricia Bonner

Advertising is the primary tool used by businesses to tell consumers about the goods and services they sell in the marketplace. Businesses also use advertising to try to convince consumers to buy what they are selling. Advertisements do this by pointing out how consumers will benefit if they buy a product. These benefits are called incentives. In this lesson, these two basic functions of advertising are introduced. Various techniques used to achieve these objectives are also explained. During the assessment activity, students view television commercials directed at them. They identify the various advertising techniques used to grab their attention and convince them to buy.


Ask the students what types of programs they like to watch on television. Point out that most of the programs they watch have breaks for product advertisements. Discuss:

  1. What kinds of products are shown during these breaks? [Various goods and services will be identified.]
  2. What do these products have in common? [ They are things that young people want to have or buy.]
  3. Why do you think these products are advertised? [Advertisers want viewers—young persons in this case—to know about the products and buy them]

Businesses that advertise know you have money to spend, and they want you to use your dollars on the goods and services that they are selling.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify advertising techniques used in television commercials that target them.
  • Learn how advertisers use incentives in their efforts to influence consumer behavior.
  • Analyze the influence of advertising on themselves and their purchases.
  • Identify the impact of advertising on changes in demand (taste and preferences).

Resource List

  • Messy Marvin promoting Hershey Chocolate Syrup:  This page provides a commercial that students can use to understand advertising techniques.
  • Assessment Activity: Instruct the students to complete a Television Advertisement Log. You may want to print this document in advance for distribution to your students.
    Television Advertisement Log
  • Adland.com:  This site provides an archive of popular commercials from recent history.


Have the students read the lesson text which uses two television commercials to introduce some of the basic techniques used by advertisers.

Students view the https://www.clipland.com/v/4902 ad. They are then asked what the advertisers are trying to accomplish via this advertisement. The answer rollover to the right of each question provides immediate feedback as to whether their answers are correct or incorrect.





What Grabs You?
Computer Grabbing Man

The students are told that the creator of the Messy Marvin advertisement hoped a funny story would get them to pay attention to the Hershey's Syrup ad. Humor is just one of many techniques advertisers use to try to grab people's attention. Some ads feature a movie star, athlete or cartoon character. Popular music, sound effects and bright colors are other common features. Words like “new,” “amazing” or “free” may also be effective.

The students are directed to watch the https://www.clipland.com/v/4902 ad again. This time they are instructed to listen very carefully for all the adjectives used to describe Hershey's Syrup.

The students are also asked whether the image of Marvin drinking a big glass of chocolate milk makes them think about having a glass of their own.

To learn about some other attention-grabbing strategies, the students are told to watch this Pepsi advertisement  They are asked these questions:


What’s the Message?
Proud Toaster Man

It is explained that advertisers want to do more than just grab attention. They want to persuade consumers to make a purchase. One way they do this is by pointing out how we will benefit if we buy what they are selling. In other words, they want to help consumers identify the incentives for buying.

The students are asked to think back to the two ads they have just examined.


Incentives can be monetary or non-monetary. All of the incentives above are non-monetary. An advertisement that announces a lower price on one of the products would be an example of a monetary incentive.

MessengerWho Is the Messenger?

The students are told that sometimes the messenger is as important as the message in an advertisement. Advertisers often select messengers that they think people would like to be like or that they trust.

Famous people: Students have already discovered in the Pepsi ad that some advertisers use famous people to grab consumers' attention. Advertisers also think that consumers will want to buy a product because it is associated with or recommended by a famous person. Winning athletes are often used to promote sports clothing and equipment. A movie star might be shown driving a new car. Popular musicians are common in soft drink commercials.

Experts: Students have probably seen an ad where a dentist or an actor playing a dentist advises people about which toothpaste to use. Other commercials claim most doctors prefer one medicine to other medicines. Advertisers think consumers are more likely to trust a message delivered by an expert.

Ordinary people: The students are asked if they have ever seen an ad in which ordinary people tell why they liked a movie as they were leaving the theater, or an ad featuring a mom who tells how clean a laundry detergent got her family's dirty clothes. Advertisers know that some people are more likely to believe a message when “regular” people are the messengers.

The students are directed to think back to the Pepsi ad. They are asked these questions: 



Have your students complete their TV Advertisement Logs. Then ask these questions:

  1. Which of your ads featured a famous person? Experts? Ordinary People?
  2. What monetary incentives were used to try to convince you to buy or use the goods and services advertised?
  3. What nonmonetary incentives were used?
  4. Would any of these messengers influence your decision to buy? Why or why not?
  5. Why do you think famous people agree to be in advertisements? [While some may really like and use the product and want others to know about it, the primary reason they do ads is that they are paid to do them.]
    • Which of these reasons are monetary incentives? [The pay.]
    • Which of these reasons are non-monetary incentives? [Wanting others to know they like or use the product and want others to use it.]

Extension Activity

Have your students :

  1. Go to Don't Buy It: Advertising Tips and create a print ad for Burp Cola, using elements that would grab their attention and make the drink seem appealing. The students many apply many of the techniques used in television commercials, minus the sound and motion. They should select a snappy slogan, an image that makes people feel good about the product and themselves, a word that grabs attention and ad copy that makes the product seem fun and exciting. At the end of the activity the students must decide where they will locate their ad—on a billboard, in a teen magazine or on a bus.
  2. Prepare a television or print advertisement promoting one of their favorite books, using some of the strategies they have learned in this lesson. If you elect to have the students do a print ad, have them do the first extension activity for additional guidance. You may also want to specify the location of the print ad, since this choice affects content. Compared to ads in magazines, ads on billboards and vehicles must be brief or they will be missed.
  3. Separate product successes from product failures at Don’t Buy It! Hot or Snot . Each product is an example of items that advertisers have tried to convince people to buy. Some were huge sellers (Menudo, Pet Rock, Scooters, Simon Game) while others were big flops (New Coke, ET Video Game).
  4. Not all economists agree on the impact of advertising. Some economists credit advertising with increasing consumer demand and helping the economy grow. As businesses get more sales, they are often able to reduce their per-unit production costs. Consumers benefit if businesses pass on these savings as lower prices. Other economists, however, believe that advertising is wasteful. They argue that the cost of advertising adds to the cost of goods and that most advertising simply encourages consumers to buy one brand rather than another. Which side of this argument do you think the ads in this lesson support?

[Teacher note: Consider using the EconEdLink Lessons Be an Ad Detective and Believe It or Not as follow-up lessons.]


Direct the students to view ten television commercials targeting young persons. On the Television Advertisement Log, they are prompted to identify the business sponsoring each ad, the product being advertised, how the ad tries to grab the viewers'attention, the ad's message and messenger.

[NOTE: If you prefer to do so, pre-record ten ads and show them to the entire class. Some television ads are also available for viewing via the Internet at https://adland.tv/commercials .]

Assessment is based on student analysis of the ads using the television advertising logs. Responses to class discussion questions may be evaluated as well.