Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 5Topic 4
Talking Back

Top During the 1920s, new radio networks, magazines, and mass production technology all played important roles in the growth of the advertising industry in New York City.

Today, advertisements in magazines and on TV reach millions of American consumers. Some ads are enjoyed by all and contribute popular phrases to popular culture. Other ads use negative stereotypes or misleading information when promoting their products. As an example of the second case, a TV commercial for a dishwashing detergent company might show only women washing dishes, when in fact many men--and kids--wash dishes, too.

Look at an ad

Take an ad or commercial, either by yourself or as a class, and analyze it. What kind of "arguments" is it using to sell the product? What kind of imagery does it show? What claims are being made for the product -- either directly or indirectly (for example, "using this mouthwash will get you lots of attention from girls")? Are these claims realistic? Does the ad or commercial use any stereotypes that are out of date or incorrect? Does the ad/commercial try to create any desires or fears in you, the viewer, in order to persuade you that you want to buy this product?
Write Your Views

Then, write a letter to the company to either criticize or compliment it on the advertisement. You can often find the address for the company on the packaging for their products. If not, you can probably track down the address either on the Internet or by using the resources at your local library. (NOTE: Some companies have said that writing letters to them on paper is more effective than sending them e-mail correspondence. Sending an e-mail message, they say, is easy. Writing a letter shows more of a commitment.)

As you write your letter, consider including the following information:

  • Who are you? -- age, where you live, etc.
  • Where did you see the ad? -- Name of magazine, during what TV show, etc.
  • Praise or criticism? -- Why do you like the ad? or What about the ad concerns you? Are there negative stereotypes? Possibly misleading information?
  • Possible solutions? -- If you criticize an ad, what could improve the ad?
  • Contact information -- your mailing address, so that the company can write back to you.
  • TIP: When you write to the company, if possible, address the letter to either the president of the company or its public relations director. Without a name, sometimes letters get lost at a large company.

    Spread the word

    If you receive a personal letter from the company you contacted, considering writing an editorial to your local newspaper, and sharing your experience. Include quotes from both your letter and the company's reply.