Focus Question: How are people influenced by persuasive techniques?
Ask students to bring in ads from magazines or newspapers. Have small groups analyze the ads and record observations about what makes each ad appealing or persuasive. For each ad, have students identify any facts and or opinions used. Students should also identify any emotional appeals.
Say, “Advertisers use several kinds of propaganda tactics to influence people. We have explored the use of emotional appeal as a persuasive technique. In this lesson, we will learn about some other techniques.”
Distribute copies of a list of propaganda techniques, such as the one below or the one in the Materials list:
- Name calling: an attack on a person instead of an issue
- Bandwagon: an appeal that attempts to persuade the reader to do, to think, or to buy something because it is popular or because everyone else is doing it
- Red herring: an attempt to distract the reader with details that are not relevant to the argument
- Emotional appeal: an attempt to persuade the reader by using words that appeal to the emotions instead of to logic or reason
- Testimonial: an attempt to persuade the reader by using a famous person to endorse a product or idea
- Repetition: an attempt to persuade the reader by repeating a message over and over
- Sweeping generalization: an oversimplified statement about a group based on limited information
- Circular argument: the use of a conclusion as proof of an argument
- Statistics: an attempt to persuade the reader by stating how many people think something is true
After a brief discussion of the techniques, ask students to re-evaluate the ads used in the beginning activity. Have students identify examples of the strategies on the list.
Ask students to focus on the technique of testimonial (an attempt to persuade the reader by using a famous person to endorse a product or idea). Have students read, or summarize for them, the information in the article about testimonials (www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ct.fc.testimonial.html).
Ask students to recall examples of television or print ads that use testimonials (famous athletes selling shoes or appearing on a box of cereal). Remind students that a famous person doesn’t guarantee the quality of a product, but the advertisers hope that people will want a certain brand because of the celebrity associated with it. Ask, “How can an informed consumer determine the quality of a product?”
Have students work in small groups to analyze ads that utilize the testimonial technique. Have them write answers to the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the ad? (to persuade, teach, entertain, convince, inform, or compare and contrast)
- Who is the intended audience?
- Do you think the ad appeals to people other than the intended audience? If so, how?
- Who is in the ad?
- What do the people represent?
- Why were the people chosen?
- Is this ad successful? Why or why not?
Collect the students’ ads and their attached commentary.
Say, “Propaganda techniques are used to sell products and ideas, and often to call us to action. They may be used for a worthy cause, for financial gain, for political success, or for questionable causes. It is up to us to distinguish the purpose of the propaganda and the reaction that is appropriate for us.”
Display the visual of Star Power ad found at http://www.nitrolicious.com/blog/2009/06/01/louis-vuitton-core-values-campaign-sally-ride-buzz-aldrin-jim-lovell/.
Note: The initial image, featuring Sally Ride, the first woman in space, and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell has appeared in magazines as a Louis Vuitton ad.
Ask, “Why might the company have chosen the astronauts for the ad?” (associating the Vuitton travel bag on the hood of the pickup with extraordinary journeys, like that of the astronauts into space; to make buyers feel that they, too, are adventurous and courageous, like the astronauts)
Say, “Now you will work in groups to create an ad that features a testimonial. You may create a print ad or an audio/visual presentation.” Provide the following guidelines:
- The ad should feature a person from history.
- The person in the ad may endorse a product or a cause or an organization, such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
- Target the ad to a specific audience.
- Write a brief explanation of why you chose this individual and what qualities of this person you want to transfer to the product or organization in your ad.
Walk around as students are working and help them with any problems in understanding what a testimonial is. Also, if students have difficulty thinking of a figure from history, suggest a few ideas, such as Franklin Roosevelt, Edgar Allan Poe, or Amelia Earhart. Tell students that when they think about a product or an organization, they should also think about the testimonial individual’s personality, interests, and accomplishments. Remind students that the focus of the assignment is on the idea, the ad, and the audience.
Have students display or present their group ads using testimonials. Have students do a gallery walk to analyze print ads. Encourage students to ask questions and comment after audio/visual presentations. Before explaining the group’s reason for choosing a particular historical individual, ask students to discuss the choice. Ask one of the group members to read aloud the group’s reason for its choice and the qualities of the person that transfer to the product.
Collect the explanations after all the groups have displayed their work or completed their presentations.
- Refer students who are ready to move beyond the standard to the discussion “Testimonial” from the ChangingMinds.org site (found at http://changingminds.org/techniques/propaganda/testimonial.htm). Ask students to summarize the main ideas of the article. (Problems of celebrity testimonials: celebrities transfer the credibility of the roles they play to the products or causes they support. Testimonials by “ordinary folks” and by experts whose names may not be known may have more value than those of celebrities.) Students may also find examples to support the ideas in the article.
- Students who need more practice might do a matching exercise in which they match a celebrity and the qualities of the celebrity with a product and explain why the celebrity would be a good choice to endorse the product.