Media Literacy: Teaching Kids to Read Advertising

The New York Times is reporting on a new government website designed to teach advertising literacy to kids in grades 5 and 6:

Teaching Youngsters How to Read Advertising: “A federal agency is undertaking an effort to school youngsters in the ways of Madison Avenue.

The Web site,, will include several such ads in an effort to teach children to think through what an advertiser is trying to get them to do. A poster … will be distributed in classrooms to encourage children to visit the site.

The initiative seeks to educate children in grades four through six — tweens, in the parlance of marketing — about how advertising works so they can make better, more informed choices when they shop or when they ask parents to shop on their behalf.


A quick look at the site – – shows that the main section consists of a Flash game – very much like other Flash games that my kid (and probably yours) plays. There are also separate sections, accessed through links in the top left, for parents and teachers.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to undertake a thorough exploration of this site to see just what the Federal Trade Commission and its partner in this project, Scholastic, think our kids need to know to be “ad literate.”

For starters, I’d like to know what they have to say about the above sample ad – used as an illustration in the New York Times article and apparently drawn from a set of sample ads provided by the site. Looking just at the text on this made-up ad, I would imagine that the ideas of a “Next Big Thing” and an “eco-flag” might be things they discuss. But what struck me most forcibly about this ad was its use of the sexualization that has become such a problem in ads aimed at children. We will see if this is an issue they address – if not, I will have some serious issues to raise with and the Federal Trade Commission.

I would love input from other people about the site – if you check it out, be sure to let me know what you think.


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