Don't let them take ad-vantage

Jacob Mumford, left, and Becky Humcke work on producing a video sequence while learning about media literacy in a class at Orchard Park Elementary in Fort Mill.
Jacob Mumford, left, and Becky Humcke work on producing a video sequence while learning about media literacy in a class at Orchard Park Elementary in Fort Mill.

FORT MILL -- The fourth-graders at Orchard Park Elementary might be just 9 years old, but they are becoming savvy toy-shoppers.

Jacob Miles said a video game he saw advertised on television recently was a disappointment when he brought it home.

"It wasn't as much fun," he said.

Classmate Becky Humcke said another toy she got actually was much smaller than it looked on television.

"I'm going to hit the pause button to look at the details in commercials," decided fellow Orchard Park fourth-grader Kailey Fatigante.

The children made the comments after studying "persuasion techniques" in television ads Wednesday with Frank Baker, a consultant to the S.C. Department of Education on English/Language Arts curriculum. State curriculum requires students to not only read the printed word but to become media literate, he said.

"This is a very impressionable age," he said of the fourth-graders.

The children's teacher, Lindsey Campbell, and other Fort Mill teachers met Baker at an education conference recently and asked him to bring his PowerPoint to the school's fourth-graders.

"Media literacy is a big push right now," Campbell said. "The students are learning to construct and deconstruct an ad."

On Wednesday, the children learned to look and listen for things that are in advertisements but that they don't have at home: music, costumes, editing, special lighting, a set and lots of happy children who actually are actors being paid to smile.

After the children watched an ad for a remote-control racer, Baker asked them whether the ad was designed for boys or girls. Most of them correctly determined it was for boys.

"Commercials aimed at boys are loud with dark colors, and the narrator is a man," Baker said.

Then, they saw an ad with a little girl sitting in front of a vanity mirror set.

"How big do you think it is?" he asked.

Most of the children raised their hands to measure 4 or 5 feet. Then, Baker showed them an actual-size drawing. The vanity stood only 2 feet tall and was resting on a platform in front of the little girl in the commercial.

He demonstrated how close shots or shots from bottom to top of a subject to make it look bigger, and how moving farther away and shooting down makes it look smaller or less important.

"Critical-thinking students always ask questions," he said.

He urged them to listen for advertisements' persuasion techniques: The kids are 'cool,' a celebrity uses the product, repetition of the product's name, excitement, sound effects, feel-good stories, the actors' expressions and a memorable cartoon character, among others.

The children also learned to listen for things that aren't mentioned in the ad, such as the price.

The commercials are on television because the people who make the toys are paying the networks, and the networks need their money to pay for the television programs, they discovered.

The children also learned a new word: deception.

"Most commercials have elements of deception," Baker said. "It's up to you to be critical thinkers."

Children and parents can watch or tape television commercials together.

S.C. Department of Education consultant Frank W. Baker recommends families ask and answer the following questions as they watch ads. The questions were excerpted from David Walsh's book, "Dr. Dave's Cyberhood," Baker said. Walsh is part of the National Institute for Media and the Family, headquartered in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

• Does the toy seem bigger on TV?

• Is the commercial's setting a home or a made-up environment?

• Do the sounds the toy makes sound different on TV?

• Is there exciting background music you don't have at home?

• Is the toy pictured alone or grouped with other toys or add-on equipment?

• Can you play at home with the toy the same way it is handled in the ad?

• Are you as happy playing with the toy at home as the children in the ad are?

• Is the price of the toy mentioned?