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Light up advertising

Alcohol was once promoted as health-giving and cigarettes were said to be kind to your throat. Studying past adverts can help children get the message about the dangers of binge drinking. Julie Cornish investigates.


Research shows that children are increasingly involved in underage drinking, and the binge drinking culture affects an increasing number of young people. Advertising has a part to play in this. The aim of this lesson is to encourage key stage 2 pupils to question what they see in adverts objectively and how images are used to persuade the consumer to buy the product.

Before the lesson, you will need to get together a range of adverts, including those for alcohol and tobacco. If you have an interactive whiteboard, there are some fantastic adverts that the children could watch. The Carlsberg adverts work really well, for example, and it's also good to look at retro poster campaigns for cigarettes to see what they thought they could do for you in the 1950s, and how attitudes have changed.

View the adverts and discuss what they are selling and how we know. What images do the advertisers create? Why do consumers buy products and how are they persuaded to buy one brand if two products do the same thing? Why are some adverts screened at a certain time? Put children into groups and ask them to list the times when adverts for certain products are screened and why.

Another idea is to put the children in groups and tell them that they work for an advertising company and have been asked to organise a campaign for a product. They have to decide when and where it should be advertised, based on who it is aimed at.

Then proceed to the main activity. Explain that today your focus is to look at how alcohol is advertised and what type of images are used to sell the product, and if these reflect the "whole" story of the effects of drink. Begin by dividing the children into mixed-ability groups and look at adverts for a range of different alcoholic drinks. These can be either poster campaigns or television commercials. Concentrate on one advert as a whole class and pose questions such as:

- What images have the advertisers used?

- What colours are used?

- What types of people are in the advert?

- How do they look?

- What are they wearing?

- How do you feel when you look at the advert?

- Does it make you aspire to belong to that group?

- How could you join that group or be part of the image?

Continue by giving out adverts for different drinks to each group and ask them to think about ways of advertising, considering the questions we asked during the whole-class session. Each group can share their ideas. The class can then write down the criteria for a good advert to sell alcohol.

Next, ask pupils to brainstorm everything they know about alcohol. A really successful way to do this is to play word association around the topic. Discuss where the game went and the children's responses. Spend some time discussing how alcohol can be harmful and refer back to the adverts. Did they give any indication of this? If not, why didn't they?

Now watch or look at a range of newspaper or magazine adverts that warn against cigarettes (the Government's "Hooked" adverts are powerful). Talk about the differences between these and the adverts the children looked at previously.

For a finishing activity, explain that they are back in their advertising agency, and they have been transported to the future, and asked to create a series of adverts aimed at young people who binge drink.

Encourage children to use their criteria for what makes a good advert to create their image, for example bright colours. As a plenary, the children should share their adverts and discuss slogans and how they can successfully get their message across

Julie Cornish is a PSHE Advanced Skills Teacher at Whitehall Primary School in Walthamstow, north London.

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