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Pedagogical day #2 - Project « Bridges over troubled waters »

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

As part of the "Bridges over troubled waters" project, the students took part in various thematic days centered around the notion of value. During one of these days, they were interested in the values ​​conveyed by advertising as well as the way in which advertising uses, diverts or perverts our values ​​in order to make us consume better. They then tried to create their own advertising in order to better understand the springs used by advertising and the way in which they play with our values, thus initiating a reflection on the value that we place on our values.

PEDAGOGICAL DAY #2 — "Analysis of an advertisement: how does it resonate with our values ?"

As an introduction to this day, a recent poster campaign from the company Uber was presented to the students and analysed with the help of the teachers.

This campaign, launched to promote the initiative of the company Uber to make more than 50% of electric VTC available, questions us directly about our values ​​and the way we deal with these values ​​on a daily basis. What is the real reason behind our purchase choices? Are we hiding something culpable or less respectable (paying less) under the guise of a rewarding or responsible action (preserving the environment) and more in line with the values ​​we defend? What is the sincerity of our commitments and how is this tested by advertisements?

Through a series of questions and exchanges of points of view, the students sought to understand the nature of the message that Uber sends to us and the way in which this advertising campaign plays with our values ​​to better convey its message: choose Uber because it's cheaper! In particular, the absence of an image was noticed. The fact of only offering a (short!) text allows both not to impose a particular visual to embody these values ​​(everyone is free to imagine what they want) and to focus on the confrontation of values highlighted here. Two reasons are given to justify the injunction to choose Uber for travel. The first of these reasons expresses a certain awareness of the ecological emergency but also a concern for one’s personal image and reputation. This questions the reader about the sincerity of their commitment to ecology and invites them to open their eyes (correction of the first reason) by admitting that the reason which makes them choose Uber is the price. This dynamic is reinforced by the colour code used, the green recalling the ecological argument, the neutrality of the white suggesting an absence of real commitment.

The question that then arises is how strong is this ad, which allows it to be effective in selling us and touting Uber's services. The spring used is that of humour (superficiality of the first reasons given) with the (implicit) aim of discrediting those who seek to make Uber users feel guilty. What we have here is an example of cognitive dissonance as Marine reminds us, that is to say an opposition or a contradiction between two values. On the one hand the ecological concern, on the other the pecuniary concern, seem irreconcilable but Uber has/is the solution. Thus, thanks to Uber, it is possible to consume (without moderation) without feeling guilty for the environment or fearing the judgement of others. By pushing the reflection a little further we would come to say that it is a good thing and that we are doing good to the planet by using the services of Uber. This advertising therefore creates a desire to buy which is a desire free of all guilt and very advantageous (triple repetition of the slogan “because it is cheaper”). We end up understanding that the (subliminal?) message of this advertisement is that our purchasing power is or should be our only concern (Uber takes care of the rest!) and, seen from this angle, this advertising campaign has a strong cynical character. Regardless of morality, only the pleasure of consuming matters.

This raises the question of the public targeted by this advertisement. It is of course mainly a city audience and this advertisement seeks to convince as many people as possible. By being sarcastic, the supposed superficial commitment of some people to ecology (who will no doubt only see it as a joke), the advertisement seeks to reach all the better those whom the ecological argument does not reach by hammering the “real” reason to choose Uber: because it's cheaper! Which is very practical to avoid communicating on the ecological impact of electric cars and the fact that there is no “clean” energy. It was also noticed that this advertisement is actually three advertisements in one, each of these three advertisements targeting a different audience. By way of example, Fabrice rather recognized himself, or felt touched, by the address to the “bobos” while it was the fact of being able to tweet that reached the students the most.

The discussion around this advertisement ended with a final question regarding the value(s) being promoted in it. The students identified freedom (to circulate for the greatest number), equity (access to a service for the greatest number) and solidarity (ecological commitment even if it is questionable).

After this (long and rich) introduction, the students were invited to reflect on the advertisements they had collected prior to the session. They had to come with (a photo of) three advertisements each maximum (in order not to be overwhelmed) all media combined and structure their reflection in three stages: (I) the advertisement that confirms me the most in my prejudices / habits / values; (II) the advertisement that upsets me / outrages me / revolts me the most; (III) the advertisement by which I do not feel concerned, that I do not understand or that does not question me. This sequence generated many rich and varied discussions between the different participants, each one being curious to discover and share the advertisements brought as well as the fruit of all these individual reflections (and in small groups). This took us back to the reflective activity that the students followed on day one and then they wondered how advertisements use values, our values, to highlight the best aspects of a product.

The morning ended with a final activity during which the students had to create and produce their own advertising poster extolling the merits of a product of their choice. Divided into three groups, they then began by researching which product to sell, to which audience in order to determine the values ​​to include/promote in order to sell their product. These posters were made on Canva or on A3 format sheets with coloured markers.

After such a busy morning everyone was ready for lunch. Everyone was then able to satisfy their consumer desires by letting themselves be seduced by the sirens of the consumer society. 😉

Once everyone was satisfied we were ready to start the second part of the day. After the effort comes the comfort, they say, so we spent the afternoon watching videos. We started by viewing advertisements from the 80s. The students were surprised by some of these advertisements, whether by the discourse used or by the values ​​conveyed/used. This was particularly the case with the series of car advertisements and the relationship to virility they offer. The pupils, just like the adults, were able to realise how much mentalities have changed in thirty years. During a second series, the students enjoyed watching advertisements for pasta. This series was an opportunity to question the means used by advertisements to create the desire to buy, the story they tell us in order to stage their values ​​and their product.

Watching these ads made us realise that advertising is ubiquitous in our lives and an integral part of our culture. Some advertising slogans have passed into everyday language (“every little helps”) and the Nuit des Publivores is in its forty-second edition! This observation led us to take an interest in parodies of advertisements. These parodies are interesting because, by hijacking well-known advertisements, pushing their logic to the limit, they show us and allow us to better understand how advertisements play with our values ​​and hijack them. We then watched some of these fake advertisements produced by Les Nuls and Les Inconnus. It has been amusing to see how caricature and exaggeration are used by these false advertisements to better dismantle the mechanisms of real advertisements. This allowed us to recall and come back to the various points of discussed during the day.

The day ended with one last activity. The students re-formed the morning groups and each group was given the task of creating a mock commercial parodying the one they had created in the morning. The work was a little more difficult for one of the three groups who, in the morning, had chosen to praise the merits of a totally imaginary product through an advertisement which was in itself a parody of an advertisement. Nevertheless, they did very well and they managed to hijack what they had, in a way, already hijacked. The other two groups also had a lot of fun hijacking their advertisement by displaying a surprising, but very funny, cynicism.

A short discussion recalled the main reflections of the day during which all carried out a profound work of reflection and learned a lot about themselves and the society in which we live.

Fabrice Barbier, mathematics teacher


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