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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Savvy Voter, Dissect an Ad

Analyzing Political Ads

Students will view current political ads and learn how they make use of various commercial ad appeals. Students will also develop familiarity with basic videography terms.

Estimated Time of Completion: It is recommended that one week of class time be scheduled to complete the entire lesson, with additional outside time dedicated to shooting and editing.

I. Objectives
II. Necessary Materials
III. Background
IV. Teaching Procedure
V. Assessment Recommendations
VI. Extensions and Adaptations
VI. Resources
VII. Relevant Standards

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I. Objectives

Students will study the historical impact of television commercials on presidential campaigns.

  • Students will study current political commercials for their persuasive devices used.
  • Students will enhance their own media literacy through analysis of all types of advertising.
  • Students will collaborate with others in class and create a 30-second commercial in storyboard form and/or finished video product.

II. Necessary Materials

  • A VCR, TV
  • Video recorder/camcorder
  • Clip-on (lavaliere) microphone or boom pole mic
  • VHS videotape stock
  • Video editing equipment
  • Colored pens/pencils
  • Computers with Internet access & laser printers
  • LCD projector (optional)
  • The following worksheets:
  • Advertising Appeals
  • Videography Terms (pdf)
  • Storyboard Form (pdf)
  • Commercial Checklist
  • optional: Commercial Script Form (pdf)

III. Background
Political advertising has been called "the primary mode of public address." From corporations to nonprofits to presidents, it is the first method used to mass distribute messages or change the balance of power.

Since the days of Eisenhower and the Nixon/Kennedy debate, the presidency has been sold on media images that television has created. And while candidates still canvass the country shaking hands and speaking at rallies, most people cast their votes on how they see candidate from their own living rooms on television.

Students will study how these images are made, what effect they have on the viewer, and some will create their own political commercials for their fictional presidential candidate.

IV. Teaching Strategy

1. Review this two Web site for background information on the messages behind political advertisements:

The 30-Second Candidate

Taking on the Kennedys: Dissect an Ad

You may create a simple viewing guide that walks the students through the sites, or you may review them together using an LCD projector in class.

2. Review the Advertising Appeals worksheet with students and solicit other ideas for each appeal given. For example, the first appeal given on the handout is "word magic." It has two examples of Sprite and GE, but students may also think of others such as the Coca-Cola jingle. Elicit their responses to see how many other examples of each advertising appeal they can remember.

3. Download and review the Videography Terms handout with the class. This is an overview of the types of shots used in filming commercials that should be fairly self-explanatory. Explain to the class that you will be looking for these types of shots in commercials you will watch to.

4. Prepare a tape of political commercials that you have recorded from your television at home. As a guided practice, show 4-5 commercials and interpret them with the class. Use the Advertising Appeals worksheet with the students to identify the types of appeals used in the commercials. Additionally, use the Videography Terms handout to identify the types of shots being used.

Enhance their media literacy by interpreting the commercials together in class. For example, if a candidate is shown walking among a crowd of farmers wearing a plaid shirt, help the class see this is probably a wide shot (WS) and that the candidate is using a "plain folks" tactic in appealing to common people.

Explain that the camera-person's choices in shooting a commercial can change the meaning. For example, a wide shot of a candidate with thousands of people lends a grander feeling and plays to the "bandwagon" appeal: everyone is supporting this candidate. A medium shot might convey a greater sense of intimacy with the viewer and perhaps an image of sincerity or trust.

5. On the next day, have students record their own commercial (political or other type) and bring it into class for analysis. They should come to class, show the tape and analyze the commercial for the advertising appeals it is using. They should show the tape once without stopping, then show it again without audio and explain the types of shots being used and the message conveyed in the advertising appeals. Consider this a mini-presentation. For students who do not have easy access to recording a commercial, they may find an advertisement from print to share with the class.

6. For the final exercise download the Storyboard Form (pdf) and explain to the class that commercials evolve from a carefully planned blueprint called a storyboard. Explain how each box represents one scene from the commercial. Give each student a copy of the form for their own use.

Next, everyone should vote on which commercial they want to storyboard together. To complete the storyboard, students should draw rough sketches (stick figures are allowed) of the scenes they see. Under each box, they should denote the length of each scene and the type of shot it is. You will have to play the commercial for them in very brief segments in order for them to have time to complete their storyboards.

V. Assessment Recommendations
The Commercial Checklist form may be used to asses students' videos. If students have not produced a video, the form can be adapted to asses their storyboards.

VI. Extensions and Adaptations
Students may choose an additional commercial to storyboard. They also may write a one-page analysis of the types of advertising appeals being used and how the shot choices of the camera person has enhanced/changed the meaning of the advertisement.

Using the Commercial Script Form (pdf) as an example, students may create their own commercials. There is space for them to write their own narration, sound effects, camera shots, and more.

VII. Resources
Center for Media Literacy

Making Sense: Exploring Semantics and Critical Thinking
Robert R. Potter, Globe Book Company, Inc., 1974

Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen
Steven D. Katz, July 1991

VIII. Relevant National Standards
These are established by McREL at


    Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government
  • Understands what is meant by "the public agenda," how it is set, and how
  • is influenced by public opinion and the media
  • Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics
  • Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals
  • Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy

    Language Arts
  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process
  • Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts
  • Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning

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