5th Grade – Print Advertising (and cultivating visual literacy)

5th Grade – Print Advertising (and cultivating visual literacy)

Description of the Unit – Students will take a critical look at a variety of award-winning print ads, exploring the ways in which the ads use elements and principles of design to sell a product, and as such cultivating visual literacy by understanding mechanism of persuasion. Using what they have learned, students will work in groups to create an ad (for a real-world product but imaginary brand) that works to catch the eye and persuade the viewer to buy the product they are selling. To test the ads’ effectiveness, we have a school-wide contest to choose the most effective, persuasive and visually interesting ad.


These two ads for Samsung cameras use famous figures (Vincent Van Gogh and frida Kahlo) and a bit of humor to draw its audience and tell a story
These two ads for Samsung cameras use famous figures and a bit of humor to draw its audience and tell a story

Activity statement – We live in a visually dominant culture, bombarded by imagery trying to convince us of what we lack and need. Print advertising at its best uses eye-catching imagery and design concepts (such as isolated color, simple palettes, rule of thirds, etc.,) to draw a viewer in, while also saying something—maybe even telling a story—about the product’s effectiveness that ultimately convinces the viewer to buy the product. In this unit students will explore these mechanisms, discuss ways in which particular ads may or may not catch succeed at their objective, and, like in a real life ad agency, work in a group to come up with their own product advertisement.

While observing a variety of ads, I ask students to examine and speak to the following, thereby developing visual literacy:

Design Elements

  • Does the ad use mostly one isolated color?
  • Does it use a simplified color palette? To what effect?
  • Does it use contrasting color schemes? To what effect?
  • How is the ad composed? Where is the focal point?
  • Does the ad use negative space for effect?
  • Where does your eye move? Are there leading lines?
  • Does it use point-of-view, perspective and scale creatively?
This ad for Band-Aids is one of the students' favorites. Here we note the use of isolated color, where the image is dominated mostly by green, so that our eye is drawn to the band-aid around the Hulk's finger. We discuss the use of a recognizable pop culture character, and the story the ad is telling, i.e. "our band-aids are so strong, that even when Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk, it stretches with him and stays on."
This ad for Band-Aids is one of the students’ favorites. Here we note the use of isolated color, where the image is dominated mostly by green, so that our eye is drawn to the band-aid around the Hulk’s finger. We discuss the use of a recognizable pop culture character, and the story the ad is telling, i.e. “our band-aids are so strong, that even when Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk, it stretches with him and stays on.”
Again, this ad uses effective design elements as well as visual metaphor–and yes, it makes all thirsty!

Story/Emotion

  • What kind of story is the ad telling–or at least, what is being implied? For example, if you look at the razor ad below, the story is “our razors are so (sharp, precise, good, etc.,) that it can even shave the fur off of your tattooed tiger.”
  • Does it use hyperbole and exaggeration to tell its story?
  • Does it use humor?
  • Is it trying to elicit a “big” emotion (shock, surprise, horror, laughter, fear, disgust?)
A humorous ad for a razor
My students get a real kick out of this ad–they think it’s so funny! An effective way to express how humor is used to make an ad memorable.
An ad for headphones
This ad for Bose headphones is one that the students enjoy figuring out–can you?
This ad for hand sanitizer is a good example of how an ad will try to elicit a certain emotion, in this case being horror and/or disgust

Copy and other visual cues

  • Is there any common symbolism?
  • Is there a visual metaphor being used?
  • Use of pop culture or historical icons and ideas?
  • Is the imagery clear and simple?
  • Is it showing rather than telling (i.e.: using imagery over text)
  • Is the copy (text used in an ad) short and sweet?
  • Is the copy interesting to look at?
This clever ad is a good example of how famous figures can be used to sell products
Among many things this ad does well, one is the use of clear, simple copy.
This ad uses visual metaphor to infer the heat packed into Tabasco sauce
This ad uses visual metaphor to infer the heat packed into Tabasco sauce

On working in a group: I like to feature at least two units per year that center around group work. For this particular unit the reason behind making this a group project is to mirror real-life experience. Just like at an ad agency, students have to pitch their ideas to a group, with the group choosing that idea which they consider strongest. What I invite students to imagine is that a big-name company has put a call put to ad agencies to create an ad for their product, and therefore the group wants to be the “winning bid.” This teaches students how to articulate their ideas as well as how to listen to and be open to others’ ideas. Once an idea is chosen, the group then has to delegate tasks, negotiate the process, and compromise. Everyone should have something to contribute—it’s all hands on deck. In real life we don’t always get to choose our coworkers, so this is a great learning experience for finding ways to cooperate with another for a common goal, while not always getting along.  

Working in a group towards the common goal of creating a successful ad is akin to the real-life experience of working in an ad agency. Four students are working on their ad.
Working in a group towards the common goal of creating a successful ad is akin to the real-life experience of working in an ad agency

On the contest: This is just a fun way to up the ante for the students. Once the ads are complete, we display them in the multi-purpose room so that the rest of the school—students (from 3rd grade up), admin and faculty—can observe the ads and place their vote in an envelope. On the ballot is written things to look out for, including whether the ad is eye-catching, if it holds your interest, and if it persuades you to buy the product.

I just want to note that in 6th grade we build upon this experience and have students explore advertising for nonprofit organizations, such as Unicef, World Wildlife Fund and many others. We review what they learned in this unit and apply it to the nonprofit ads. Again in groups students will form an NGO, come up with a name, logo and mission statement, then an ad campaign. Here is that unit: https://anitasagastegui.com/2020/07/28/6th-grade-nonprofit-ads-and-reinforcing-visual-literacy/

Objectives – Students will:

  • Explore ways in which artists/advertisers use imagery to persuade customers of the value of their product
  • Create a print ad (in a group) that tries to catch a viewer’s eye and persuade the viewer to buy their product

Goals – Students should (both as regards viewing other ads and creating their own)…

Understand:

  • Various visual mechanisms artists and advertisers use to advertise products

Know:

  • How to recognize the inherent “message” in an ad

Be able to:

  • Discuss the difference between a literal and a figurative (exaggerated) image
  • Create a print ad that employs above mechanisms to sell their own product

Resources and materials –

  • Examples of print ads that demonstrate some or all of the qualities of a successful ad
  • Tag or Bristol board (white) in various sizes
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Sharpies (fine and thick point)
  • Rulers
  • Watercolor pencils
  • Markers
  • Oil pastels
  • Chalk pastels

Questions – Applies both to viewing other ads and creating their own:

  • What is the ad selling?
  • What is the message or story in the ad? (i.e., “our headphones are so good at noise cancellation, you won’t hear Niagara Falls as you row towards it”)
  • How does the ad catch your eye?
  • What colors does the ad use?
  • Is the ad eye-catching?
  • What feelings does the ad spark in you? Is the ad funny? Is it disturbing?
  • Is the ad effective—in other words, does it make you want to buy the product? Why or why not?

Evaluation – Did students:

  • Understand some of the visual mechanisms involved in print advertising?
  • How to look for the message within an ad?
  • Understand the use of the metaphoric and exaggeration in print advertising?
  • Work with color, shape, line and space to draw the eye to their ad?
  • Have a message, or story, within their ad?

Informal:

  • Student questions
  • Group discussions
  • Oral responses to essential questions
  • Group-created ad
  • Contest results
5th grade student group ad for paint
5th grade art – An ad for paint
5th grade student group ad for gummi bears
5th grade art – an ad for Gummi Bears
5th grade art – An ad for candy; an example of an ad trying to do too much at once
5th grade art – A little bit of humor was used for this ad for shampoo
5th grade art – usually groups try to keep their products a secret from other groups, but this group got wind of another doing an ad for gummi bears, and they decided to compete. Which do you prefer, this one, or the one a couple of images up? Why?
5th grade student group ad for sneakers
5th grade art – This ad was a contest winner one year

When it came time to do this unit with my 5th grade class this school year, we were sheltering in place due to Covid-19. I taught all of my art classes on Zoom for the rest of the year, and so decided to go ahead with this unit, but take out the group component, as it would have been nigh on impossible for students to create an ad in groups. The examples below are screenshots of individual ads a couple of my students came up with this year, and though interesting and well-conceived, I feel some of the dynamism that comes from a group project is missing from these ads.

An ad done by an individual student after teaching the unit on Zoom during shelter-in-place
5th grade art – An ad done by an individual student after teaching the unit on Zoom during shelter-in-place
An ad done by an individual student after teaching the unit on Zoom during shelter-in-place
5th grade art – An ad done by an individual student after teaching the unit on Zoom during shelter-in-place

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