Most incoming high school freshmen begin with an on-boarding experience, but usually that time focuses on core academic subjects. It’s unique, then, that students make and remix commercials within two weeks, and do it all on a college campus. Welcome to the LAMPcamp: Make/Break a Commercial featuring incoming freshmen from MECA (Manhattan Early College School for Advertising), a curated experience where students learn how commercials are constructed while identifying various persuasion tools and techniques in advertisements. In gaining these skills, students talked back to media messages through the critical remix segment of the course.
There were 60 students in total, and the classes were facilitated by Jennifer Liu, Jesus Villalba, Lindsay Skedgell and our newest facilitator, Eva Peskin. During the first week, students learned the purpose of advertising and the persuasive techniques advertisers use to sell their products, some of which include, emotional appeals, celebrities, bandwagon and many more. Students were shown a variety of commercials and had to identify the persuasive tools used; next, they split into groups and were given a product to sell. All groups had to pitch the same product using a different persuasive technique directed at a specific target audience. In order for the groups to be successful with their pitch, the audience had to be able to identify the techniques used. I noticed that students were responding to advertisements emotionally, but not really thinking twice about them critically.
During the rest of the week, students produced and edited their own commercials. Groups storyboarded their ideas, scouted places to shoot while taking into consideration camera angles. When reflecting on the final product several students expressed that they enjoyed it because they were able to collaborate with their peers and produce a collective effort. It was amazing to see how invested the students were in creating a finished product that they could be proud of.
While students were emerged in the commercial-making aspect of the course, there was also a lot of critical discourse centered on the power dynamics in media representation. Students learned of the men who run the Big 6 media companies, which opened up a discussion about who controls the media images we all receive daily. Several students stated that while they were not surprised by what they learned, they now questioned the ideas of privilege, power and narrative. When facilitators asked student if they felt mass media images represented them, one student replied, “No, not at all but if I don’t want to see these commercials I can just fast-forward them and resume watching my show.” A teacher from the MECA School pointed out that not everyone has the luxury of just skipping a commercial they don’t like. Another student chimed in: “It’s like they (advertisers) are bombarding us with ads whether or not we want to see them. I guess we have no choice.” Facilitators expressed the importance of critical remix as a way of talking back to those commercials, and how it is perfectly legal to remix material as long as it adhered to Fair Use & Copyright law.
The process of the remix project was very exciting to watch. As one student said repeatedly, “The fact that I get to state my own opinion is so cool!” Students stated that they’d seen these commercials on television or social media platforms, but originally didn’t pay attention to the messages within them. After learning still more about persuasive techniques and understanding the role of research when making critical commentary, students were eager to finish their remixes. All in all, LAMPcamp: Make/Break a Commercial was a huge success!
– Zenzele Johnson, Education Associate