Teaching Advertising: The Concept of Image.

Just like every year, we are just starting out with our advertising simulation. The way it works is the students in my high school media class break into groups of three and form advertising agencies. They are given a letter from a fictitious company asking the newly formed ad agencies to submit samples in order to be considered for a new campaign contract. The letter is included in a student packet of information and the exercise is the culmination of somewhere around two weeks of exercises including seminars, lectures, web search safaris and a PBS video on advertising to teens called “The Merchants of Cool.”

The letter from the fictitious corporation has this paragraph in it:

“Of course, I should not have to mention that we will be looking for a sophisticated agency able to offer us a new corporate image, to suggest target markets for our products, and to incorporate effective advertising design and technique into the sample advertisements submitted.”

The problem I am having is the idea of corporate image. There is nothing I can do to get all the kids to “get it” at the same time. Too many are stuck on the definition of image as a picture. But image in terms of advertising is so much more than just a picture.

Finding the correct definition of image can be difficult for a kid growing up in a mediated society. Our students have come to expect the answers to be delivered to them in some form. The desire to search and learn is difficult to access. Reading comprehension is on the decline. If I could rap these definitions or write them into a comic book, TV show, podcast or sportscast, I might have better success. But I’m not that multi-talented.

Image: From a Google Search, “Define:image.”

  • An iconic mental representation.
  • A personal facade that one represents to the world.
  • Picture.
  • A standard or typical example.
  • Double, as in “the spitting-image.”
  • Visualize, as in creating a mental picture.
  • The general impression that something presents to the public.

Image in advertising is a way for a corporation to promote the positive aspects of a product or a company rather than dwelling on the “nuts and bolts” of that product. Image advertisements like those that represent Nike’s “Fitness Lifestyle” image, for example, do not mention price-points or particular Nike products.

Nike image advertisement.

Nike image advertisement.

But it can be hard to impress on some students the differences between the definitions of the word image. I have had three student groups, so far, bring me a picture and ask, “Is this a good corporate image?” Others are keying in on corporate images that are easy, like “comfortable.”

I am not certain why this group of teenagers are finding it difficult to accept the concept of image advertising. At best estimates, these kids see 3,000 ads every day and many of those are aimed directly at them. Image advertising attempts to usurp their need for self-identification by offering them the quick and easy solution of a pre-packaged corporate personality. Sprite did it a few years ago when they aggressively went after the hip-hop market. Their sales went up and their “Q-Factor” as a soda quadrupled. Sprite has since moved away from this marketing strategy but it was undeniably successful.

Now, how does Sprite equal hip-hop in anybody’s mind? It takes an advertiser to make the connection. I imagine the thought process went some thing like, “I have a product without any real identity outside of the fact that it’s a lemon-lime soda. I also have a lifestyle that is sweeping across all demographics and doing very well in crossover markets so…1+1=2.” Cynical? Sure. Did it work?? Without a doubt.

This is the first time I have had this much trouble getting this particular concept across. I want to blame myself but one class gets it, the other doesn’t. What I need to do is to find some way to distinguish the small differences between the classes in terms of educational demographics and start teaching to the differences. It could mean more PowerPoints, fewer PowerPoints, more hand-outs or seminars or something. All I know is that the answer is out there. I also know that, while this is an abstract concept to some, the notion of image in advertising isn’t all that abstract. Especially not when compared to what is to come after graduation.


About ex8404

I used to do the news but Journalism is dead. Now I teach. And teaching is dead. For the right amount of money, I will come and kill your career field as well. View all posts by ex8404

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