How to Use this LAMPlit
The average American sees around 3,000 advertisements every day as marketers try to sell food, makeup, toys, movies, insurance and everything in between. Most of the time, we take those messages in but don’t have a chance to respond and engage with them on our own terms. It’s important to do this so we can think critically about the media we see every day, rather than consume media with no real thought about how they impact our lives and decisions. That’s where the LAMPlatoon program comes in.
With LAMPlatoon, you can take an existing commercial and use it to talk back to advertising and messages you see every day—we also call this process ‘breaking a commercial.’ You can do this on your own, with friends or even in school to learn basic media literacy skills, create your own video and send a message back to media companies telling them what you think about how they sell their products. In the process, you’ll also learn about fair use, which is the right to use copyrighted material and also a key component of the LAMPlatoon project and media literacy. This LAMPlit will teach you how to spot persuasive techniques in commercials, choose an ad you want to break and get started in editing your video.
The most basic purpose of an ad is to make you want something. In itself, that’s not so horrible; after all, everyone needs things like food and clothing in order to live. And of course we want to be entertained by games and movies, wear clothes we like and generally do things that make us happy. What advertisers are trying to do is convince you that their product is the right choice for you. And you need it.
So, one of the first things advertisers do is try to figure out who would be interested in their products, and how they can market it to that group, or ‘target audience.’ For example, if an advertiser is trying to sell action dolls, it probably wouldn’t run its commercials during the evening news or a late-night talk show, because the people watching those shows generally are not interested in toys. You can figure out a target audience by considering who would use whatever is being advertised, but also by looking at the people and images in the commercial. Are they young or old? Male or female? Is there anything to indicate if they are wealthy, educated or from a specific cultural background?
Next, think about the assumptions being made, both about the product and the target audience. Maybe the commercial assumes that long eyelashes are more beautiful, which is why you should use this mascara that will make your eyelashes look longer. But who got to make that decision? Or maybe the commercial assumes that Mom does the cooking while Dad watches football, or, as in this LAMPlatoon video of a car insurance commercial, that a young black woman is sassy and defensive. Commercials sometimes make assumptions about gender groups, ethnicities and others as they try to demonstrate the “type” of person or lifestyle for which their product would be “right,” but those assumptions are frequently unfair.
This is just one way you can get started thinking critically about a commercial. You can also think about any words, images or music which make an impact on you, any statements or facts that can be questioned, or pieces of information which might be left out. But remember, the point here is to be critical about the overall message. For example, commenting on actors in a commercial for wearing clothes you think are ugly doesn’t really say anything about the advertising message or tactic. But, if you think the commercial draws on a stereotype that girls like the color pink and should wear dresses, then you’re headed towards a real criticism of how the message is supporting a very limited view on how girls should behave and appear. See the difference? Try to think about the way the message might use and trigger larger
If you can come up with at least three critical points to make, then you’re ready to get started on breaking your commercial and join LAMPlatoon. As you work, take note that the video you are creating is based on a commercial owned by somebody else. You’re legally able to do this because of an important copyright clause known as Fair Use, but what does that mean and why is it important?
Fair Use Basics
As stated on the website for the Center for Media and Social Impact, “Fair use is the right, in some circumstances, to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it. Fair use enables the creation of new culture, and keeps current copyright holders from being private censors.” Without fair use, we would all be living in a very different world. As one example, teachers would not able to use copyrighted material, like most movies and books, without filing boatloads of paperwork first. Artists, software developers, publishers, lawyers, students, scientists and anyone who depends on the Internet would be greatly stifled, if not altogether silenced, in a world without fair use. However, there is a difference between fair use and stealing, and it is important to understand that difference. Fair use is a right, and we believe you should learn how to use it.
To learn more about fair use, visit:
Why Do I Need to Understand Fair Use? (another LAMPlit guide!)
United States Copyright Office
Center for Media and Social Impact
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Most computers come programmed with basic video editing software. If your computer is a Mac, it probably has iMovie; if you have a PC, look for Windows Media Maker. Unless you already have some editing experience, we recommend you stick with either iMovie or Windows Media Maker.
Here at the LAMP, we have created an easy-to-use online video editing tool called MediaBreaker. You can use MediaBreaker to remix and criticize commercials, news clips, music videos and more.
To get started, just download the video clip you wish to remix from YouTube using a free video conversion site such as KeepVid.com or Clip Converter.cc. Once you have downloaded the video clip to your computer, upload the video by clicking on the +Add Media button. Uploaded video clips will be stored in your library. Drag the video clips onto the timeline and start editing! Remix and transform copyrighted media into something new and original by adding text, transitions, visual effects, and music and sound effects.
If you’re new to editing videos, you can keep things simple if you think of your video like a series of photos from a vacation. When you lay them out in an album, they tell a complete story, but in editing, you’re going to add some other pictures and change the story a little bit. In a program like iMovie, this can consist of choosing a background, then dragging and dropping to the point in the commercial where you want to make a comment. Use the title function to add text on top of the background, and that’s it—you’re talking back, and making a LAMPlatoon video.
The text options allow you to talk back to media messages by inserting your own critical perspective. You can also talk back by doing things like recording and uploading your own voiceover commentary, inserting still images and clips from other videos, or any number of techniques. Be creative!
The best resources for learning how to use your editing software are probably online. You can find loads of video tutorials on YouTube or your software’s support website, and they will walk you through everything from the most basic edits to the most complex. Remember that a LAMPlatoon video doesn’t need to be fancy or perfect, but if you have some spots where you’d like a little fine-tuning, let us know and we’ll put our editing experts on the job.
(sidebar—As you edit, keep in mind that you are learning a valuable technical skill! Basic video editing is useful for school projects, workplace presentations or even making a home movie.)
Sending us your video
When you’re done, email your video to firstname.lastname@example.org. Since it will probably be a large file, we recommend using a file sharing software service like YouSendIt, which is also free. We will review your video and add the LAMPlatoon intro and outro images, but before we post it to the LAMPlatoon video portal and the LAMPlatoon YouTube channel, we will ask you to sign a release. This acknowledges that the video is property of The LAMP, and we will not redistribute it outside of the video portal or YouTube channel without your written permission, or repurpose it in any way. We also accept legal liability for any fair use or copyright infringements.
In order to meet fair use and copyright guidelines, we may have to ask you to make a few edits to your video. This usually happens if the comments mention a specific product or company name, factual statements cannot be supported or comments are not interspersed throughout the video (they cannot be in one lump at the beginning or end of the video). It’s also important that you remember the mission of LAMPlatoon, which is to talk back to commercials in a thoughtful, critical way.