Can subliminal advertising help students revise?

Last week I was teaching my Year 7 students (11-12 year olds) about subliminal advertising. Yes I can now imagine cries of what the hell do you think you are doing? Why would you be teaching this? We are doing a few lessons on how we can be effective communicators in the 21st century as part of a module called 21st century learning. We had already looked at our own body language, how to speak effectively, the power of images and the media and now at the power of advertising and can we learn something from this to help us in our revision and learning?

“The phrase subliminal advertising was coined in 1957 by the US market researcher James Vicary, who said he could get moviegoers to “drink Coca-Cola” and “eat popcorn” by flashing those messages onscreen for such a short time that viewers were unaware. His claims led to fears that governments and cults would use the technique to their advantage and it was banned in many countries, including the UK.  Vicary later admitted he had fabricated his results. But more than 50 years on British researchers have shown messages we are not aware of can leave a mark on the brain.” Daily Telegraph

So I started the lesson showing the video clip from Derren Brown’s subliminal advertising video, if you haven’t seen it you have to watch it! I have my own copy of it but it is online. This is a great introduction we then started to talk about particularly powerful advertising campaigns, students came up with a series of things that you must include to make the advert interesting, intriguing and to ‘stick in your head’ as one of the students said – they soon picked up that many of these often have some sort of jingle or song that also stays in your head and you end up singing round and round in your head all day.

Students then in groups had to sell our school but only using 6 images and whatever audio they wanted to use to produce a video on moviemaker that is not longer than a minute. Students then went round and took photos on their mobile phones, uploaded them to moviemaker and then either narrated it with a voice over or created their own jingles/songs on audacity.

We then watched back all the one minute advertising videos and discussed what was good about them. The final part of the lesson was to get students to reflect on how they could use the lessons of this advertising for their own learning in particular when revising. They came up with some fantastic ideas on creating their own mindmaps that they look at every day by posting in various locations round their house like by the kettle or on the toilet, we thought this would be particularly annoying for their parents which is awesome ha ha! They also came up with the idea of making more of their own songs & jingles to remember information so will be trying to use something like Songsmith to do this as part of their homework in the next week or so. Are you doing anything like this? What do you think about this lesson? Wondering if some think it is controversial? Brain washing? What do you think?


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6 Comments on “Can subliminal advertising help students revise?
  1. Hi Dan, I do a similar piece of work but thought it was a great idea to use the Derren Brown piece. We look at the Cadbury’s gorilla ad, great for multiple interpretations along with a few others as a lead up to pupils recreating the story of Romeo and Juliet in 17 pictures. We introduce forfeits half way through such as take cameras off groups – forces them to plan, get random objects such as cardboard boxes into the photos etc. pupils have become much more sophisticated in their photoediting over the last couple of years using websites like photopeach to preview their photos and combining microsoft paint and movie maker to edit pictures. I usually come at this from a thinking skills angle and start with a video called “Birthday boy” to encourage pupils to ask higherorder questions and not simply take things at face value. The whole scheme takes about 6 lessons as we look at body language as well. I loved your idea about the ad for the school as it has shown me where I can take the idea next
    Cheers Greg

  2. I remember watching that Derren Brown episode and was amazed, and I really like the idea how you have used it as a starting point for a class, must have been a great way to really get the students involved and to start thinking about what & how the advertisers can play with us.

  3. I love Derren Brown’s work, I’ve not seen the clip linked to above before, so thanks for posting it … subliminal advertising is a fascinating subject

  4. I never even heard of Darren Brown until I met some people from the UK and they got me absolutely hooked. I like to thing I’m naturally a little resistant to advertising but I can see my kids synapses firing like a machine gun every time any kind of ad comes on whether loud and in your face or subliminally from some random cartoon.

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