Start by teaching kids under 7 the difference between a TV program and a commercial. Point out commercials and use a timer to show them when the commercial begins and ends. Ask questions to help them recognize the purpose of the commercial is to sell them a product. What is the commercial selling? How does the commercial make them feel? Would they like to buy the product?

Once kids understand that advertising is about persuading them to buy a product, they can begin to identify other types of advertising messages such as product placement, Web site games and guerilla marketing. Watch TV or play a video game with your child and find the products and logos used as a prop or part of the storyline. Have a conversation about how the messages try to get you to buy the product.

Key questions to ask about any advertising message

Who created this message?

  • Who wrote the words or took the picture?
  • Why are they sending this message?
  • Who do they want to see this message?
  • Who makes money from the ad?

What words, images and sounds are used to attract my attention?

  • What colors stand out? Is music used? Words? Narration? Sound effects?
  • Is a celebrity featured in the ad?
  • What are the people doing? Is it something I like to do?
  • Does the ad make me think the people in the ad are cool? Happy? Healthy?

What is really being sold in this message?

  • What does the ad say?
  • What do you know about the product from looking at the ad?
  • Is something left out that you think should be included?

What does the message mean to me?

  • How does the ad make me feel about the product?
  • Would my parents or friends feel the same way?
  • Do I want to buy the product? Why or why not?

The same questions can be asked about any media message with just a few minor changes — substitute the word ad or product with the name of another media form.

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