We’re heading into the homestretch of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Both sides are targeting their commercials at undecided voters as well as those who live in the so-called battleground or swing states.
If you live in one those battleground states you’ve no doubt already seen TV spots for and against Donald Trump (Republican) and Hillary Clinton (Democrat). With three months still to go, you can expect to see a lot more.
In Ohio, a new art museum exhibit examines past presidential ads and images and the emotions that sway consumers. “I Approve This Message- Decoding Political Ads,” opened in July and continues until Election Day November 8.
One of the goals of the exhibit is to use visual literacy as the lens through which we see and understand these persuasive ads. (Visual literacy also plays a large role in Common Core state standards as well as in art education.) The exhibit’s designer says “we hope to unveil some of the most potent ways they (the ads) pull our emotional levers.” Source
As a media educator, I recommend that you consider using past and current presidential commercials in your classroom. This is a perfect way to help your students understand not only the techniques of persuasion, but also the techniques of production.
Early in the campaign, Hillary Clinton’s first ad, “Family Strong,” introduced her to voters by addressing her mother’s influence. As she spoke, soft, pleasant music played subtly in the background.
How do color, music, editing, symbolism, camera angles and more contribute to the way we comprehend the message? Studying these elements and helping students to identify them are opportunities to insure our students understand the power of media to influence and persuade—critical and relevant in an Election Year.
If you’re reading my column for the first time, you should know that I have previously written about visual literacy and politics at MiddleWeb.com many times. Be sure to see:
Curators of this new exhibit have also identified four key emotions used in previous campaign spots: hope, fear, anger and pride. They provide many examples from past campaigns. You don’t have to be inside the museum to see these ads, they can also be found online.
Another website offers a comprehensive listing of ads: The Living Room Candidate is produced by the Museum of the Moving Image. Here you’ll find ads listed by presidential election year. Click on 1984, for example, and see the “Bear In The Woods” ad. Can your students tell which of the four emotions that one conveys?
1. Allow your students to choose one of the candidates or one of the Super PACS supporting that candidate.
2. Using news sources and the video site YouTube, have students download a recent commercial and create the transcript of both the words and the images used.
3. Task them with matching their spot with one of the four key emotions identified in the museum exhibit.
4. Have your students present their ads and their findings.
Which ads were effective? How would they define effective? How does the commercial make them feel? What images or sounds were memorable and why?
Engaging your students in a study of campaign ads is a no-brainer. Whether you teach political science, history, art or media now is the time to consider how to help your students become more media literate in their viewing.
Frank W. Baker is highly lauded in the field of media literacy. He has conducted hundreds of workshops for educators and students across the United States. Learn more about him and how to book a workshop at your school, district or conference.