Teaching middle school students how different people are affected by political ads

A lesson in media literacy that relates to politics involves teaching middle school students how different types of people are affected by media, specifically political television commercials.

First, show a variety of political campaign ads and apply the following questions:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. Why is this message being sent?
  3. What creative techniques are being used to attract my attention?
  4. How might different people understand this message differently?
  5. What lifestyles, values or points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

Examples of political commercials can be found on YouTube. We looked at campaign ads for the following candidates and answered questions 4 and 5:

–     Dan Onorato (D) (PA Governor)
–     Christine O’Donnell (R) (DE Senator)
–     Meg Whitman (R) (CA Governor)

Dan Onorato: It appears he’s targeting white business men because of his business attire, and possibly attempting to appeal to middle-class voters and women by filming his commercial in a domestic arena. In this commercial he omits those who do not know the history of PA Governors and Ed Rendell, because his messages focuses on these topics.

Christine O’Donnell: When she says, “I’m just like you” she’s trying to appeal to mid-lower socioeconomic groups, groups who are not usually targeted by political media messages.  She’s using emotion to appeal to women and to make herself seem less like a typical politician.

The first words she says in the commercial are “I’m not a witch.”  She has been pegged as this typical stereotype of “witch” by the media and her opponents in the DE Senate election because during Bill Maher’s old television show, Politically Incorrect, she said she dabbled in witchcraft while in high school (Van Drehle, 2010). “Witch” is one of the many common stereotypes associated with strong, independent females in the public eye.  Now, because news writers and her opponents have latched onto that stereotype, she feels the need to refute it in her campaign ad.

Meg Whitman: She is including minorities in who she is targeting by creating ads in other languages. She has filmed ads for Chinese and Hispanic populations that air on Chinese and Hispanic TV channels, and highlight persons of those nationalities respectively. These minorities are represented in the ads as well as women, which shows an interest in issues surrounding these groups. Within the ads, she also features shop owners and other middle-class workers which shows her interest in those socioeconomic groups.

According to a Reuters report from Steve Gorman, “Whitman has contributed roughly $120 million of her own money to her bid for governor against Democratic rival Jerry Brown, an unprecedented campaign bankroll that has failed to produce a lead for her in the latest polls” (2010).

Her tactics may not be completely successful as people from other cultures and countries may not understand what these messages are for or how to use them. They may not be interested in voting because they do not have the opportunity to vote in their home countries.

After reviewing these ads or other political campaign ads, middle school students will create their own political ads and discuss the decisions they make to create them. They can apply the questions above in the creation process.

Contributing writers were ag7966, Doudou521114, and nb5619.


Gorman, S. (2010). Calif governor hopeful Meg Whitman courts Chinese vote. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69C00A20101013

Von Drehle, D. (2010). The party crashers. Time Magazine. November 8, pp. 46.

This entry was posted in Gender, Middle School, Multicultural and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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