Tag Archives: cultural studies

Effective Climate Change Messaging: A Media Lit Primer

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

As climate change advocates, we know how important it is to connect with our audiences through effective messaging. Training and technical assistance for environmental decision-makers is typical, but many of these leaders crave communications management. They understand communication challenges and recognize the importance of the “mindset” in framing our climate change communications.

But what are the best approaches to designing constructive, persuasive messages about climate change? What works to convince resistant audiences? What do deliberate climate change communications look like? These are important questions that need answers, because by understanding climate interpretation, we can change the national discourse — especially from the media — and focus on meaningful solutions that bring divergent groups together toward collaborative solutions to climate change.

climate change communications

Climate Change Communications Must Target Mental & Cultural Models

Jennifer West, coastal training program coordinator at the Narragansett Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, spoke at the Land & Water Conservation Summit at the University of Rhode Island campus in Kingston on March 10, 2018. She started out by outlining what climate change advocates need to know prior to composing climate change communications.

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What does your audience know and think?
  • What would you like your audience to know, think, and do?

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Branding Opportunities around the Holidays: Tesla and Radio Flyer

A child looks up wide-eyed as the holiday tree twinkles. “Ooh! A Tesla! My own Tesla!” she cries out, a smile spread wide across her face.

It’s a scene that’s been played out, in one form or another, for generations. This year’s holiday dream-come-true is the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. In another generation long ago, it was the No. 4 Liberty Coaster — the first in the long line of historic Radio Flyer wagons to come from an immigrant named Antonio Pasin.

There’s another immigrant whose skills, like Pasin, brought him to the United States. Elon Musk, too, sought the refuge of new beginnings. After being bullied as a school child in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk attended college in Canada before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S. Musk has been the driving force behind Tesla Motors, Inc., one of the most innovative technology companies of the 21st century, and has revolutionized how we think about transportation.

tesla-radio-flyer

With a keen business sense, Musk knows that Tesla should be looking to the next generation of U.S. citizens in the same ways that other companies seek out branding opportunities. Branding, which is the marketing practice of creating a recognizable name that holds deeper symbolic meaning, identifies and differentiates a product from others in its line. And branding has the capacity to instill positive images of Tesla for generations to come through a sense of nostalgia.

Enter the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car.

Robert Pasin, a grandson of founder Antonio Pasin, is “chief wagon officer” for Radio Flyer and has run the company since 1997. He spoke about the connection between certain classic or nostalgic items from our childhoods and their associated branding. “People love them,” he admitted readily, while also acknowledging that a company is “always going to be innovating.” The idea of Tesla in the Radio Flyer business family also helped to solve some of the electric generating problems that the company had encountered.

“When we started looking at the category of battery-operated ride-ons, one of the main pain points consumers would talk about is whenever the kid wanted to ride the car, the battery was dead. Our team thought they could solve it with a lithium-ion battery, but it’s really expensive. So if we were going to do lithium-ion, we should partner with Tesla, because they have the hottest, coolest electric car on the planet. We pitched it to Tesla about three years ago.”

According to Tesla, “Every Tesla Model S for Kids is a battery powered ride on that comes equipped with high-end features to recreate the ultimate Tesla experience.” Like the Radio Flyer brand itself, the Tesla for Kids car has the potential to become an American icon.

For 98 years, Radio Flyer toys have sent children on countless voyages of fantasy. With beauty, simplicity, and standards of safety, Radio Flyer toys have encouraged adventure and discovery; they’ve helped to capture the wonders of youth. In the same way that the Radio Flyer is rediscovered with each new generation, so, too, can the Tesla become part of a nostalgia of the timeless symbol of childhood freedom.

Moreover, Tesla will be adding credibility from a parent’s point of view with the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. Just like the full size Tesla, parents can choose the paint color, performance, accessories, and personalization. Pasin says of their pitch to Tesla, “They didn’t bat an eye at Radio Flyer, but it did take awhile to sign the deal and convince (Tesla) it was a good thing to do.”

Pasin thinks his grandfather would like the Tesla within their product line. “One of his nicknames was ‘Little Ford,’” Pasin remembers. “The idea was he did for wagons what Ford did for cars. He was really interested in the latest and greatest products; he was not a nostalgic person at all. Partnering with Tesla, he would have thought was just awesome.”

And so will lots of children this holiday season when they discover a Tesla under the tree.

[A different version of this article appeared on Teslarati.]

Photo credit: Tesla

Let’s Analyze Super Bowl Commercials!

In 2015, You Tube Super Bowl ads accumulated 133 million views, and many of these views came well in advance of the actual Super Bowl broadcast, offering advertisers a rich (pun intended) opportunity to attract online audiences. The Super Bowl is the largest advertising event of the year, with costs to air a 30 second ad in excess of $3 million. Clearly, planning, design, and execution of Super Bowl commercials requires meticulous persuasive rhetoric.

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

As Super Bowl audiences, we enjoy the commercials; they’ve become part of the bigger picture of the Super Bowl as a mega-media event alongside the halftime entertainment spectacle and the actual football competition.  But the Super Bowl commercials also present us with an opportunity to unpack the methods by which we are made to feel a particular way about a product or service.  And, when we step back from the content of a text like Super Bowl commercials, we become reflective. Reflexivity is a developable capacity—the ability to self-reflect is not separate from the process of coming to know and understand. When we recognize the persuasion infused within text structures like Super Bowl commercials, we become better readers of other texts and our world.

So, what language and visual analyses can we apply to Super Bowl commercials?  How can we move from deciding what the Super Bowl commercial topics are to how their composers are crafting their arguments?

Persuasion, Messages, and Assumptions 

Source: Emergent Media

Source: Emergent Media

It helps to understand what “persuasion” is in order to get started with Super Bowl commercial analysis.  Persuasion is communication intended to induce belief or action. If they’re successful, text composers will capture and hold their audiences, and those audiences will be persuaded to think, to know their worlds, and to behave in particular ways based on persuasive appeal.  The messages that are embedded within texts like Super Bowl commercials are part of an information exchange that contains a definite world view. Composers disseminate messages in ways that attempt to persuade their audiences to see the world in particular ways.

Those particular ways of seeing the world are sometimes called “assumptions.”  Assumptions are ideas that are accepted to be true without having much accompanying evidence.  Amateur and professional sports are constantly-evolving spaces, and Super Bowl commercials describe these sports spaces and the larger society in which we live through embedded assumptions.

A Four-Part Process to Analyze Super Bowl Commercials

So much happens during a Super Bowl commercial! A full story is told within 15 or 30 seconds. As the audience, we respond not only to fictionalized characters and conflicts but stylized images made possible through sophisticated digital editing  techniques. Together, a series of elements create effects that cause us to respond in particular ways.  Breaking these elements into parts and synthesizing them afterward can help us to show evidence of measured thought and to digest multiple possible interpretations of Super Bowl commercials as persuasive media texts. 

Content and Context 

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

  • Start by listing objects within the commercial and offering detailed descriptions of these objects.
  • What do people say to each other in this commercial?  How do individuals respond to and build upon others’ language choices? Note the most important conversational exchanges.
  • Consider the structural mechanisms that are used to draw the viewer into the text. For example, how are lighting, sound, music, voice overs, special effects, editing, color symbolism, and/ or casting used to foster audience interest?
  • Is there any specific implied prior knowledge that would be important for a viewer to hold in order to understand the commercial?  If so, name it.
  • Describe the setting: time and place.  Why did the composer choose these instead of other possible times and places?

Symbols 

Source: PBS

Source: PBS

  • Return to the list and descriptions of objects you created.  Now isolate certain objects that seem to stand out as unusual, important, or curious.
  • Explain what these isolated objects often represent in society.  This type of representation is sometimes called “allusion.”  Allusions use one object to remind us of a deep series of meanings through calling to mind popular culture, history, politics, literature, religion, or art.
  • Make a hypothesis for each isolated object:  what might the composer of this commercial be trying to tell us about our own lives through this allusion?

Composer and Target Audience 

Source: Driving Sales.com

  • Research who commissioned the text.   Since Super Bowl commercials are so expensive, it’s likely that a corporation paid to have the commercial produced.  What do we know about the corporation and its holdings?
  • Who actually designed and produced the commercial?  What is that company’s or individual’s reputation and experience within the world of advertising? For what other advertisements is the designer/ producer known?
  • Who is the target audience for this commercial?  How do you know?  What features of the commercial appeal to a particular age and demographic group?  
  • What are the possible economic consequences of this commercial’s success? How might it lead to new audiences adopting the corporation’s product or service?

Messages 

Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

  • What themes or lessons is this commercial telling us about our world and ways that we should behave?
  • What evidence or reasons does the text composer supply to support the theme or lesson? How good are these reasons or evidence? Why do you trust or distrust the reasons and evidence?
  • How might different people interpret these themes or lessons differently?  What are the possible consequences of such themes or lessons for different audiences?

Critical Thought through Analyzing Commercials

Breaking apart Super Bowl commercials like this takes methodical thought and effort. However, such textual analysis through both visual and language deconstruction moves us from being passive recipients of messages to active interpreters of media and society.  Sound bites have less power when we can demonstrate why media messages reproduce certain cultural norms in our society.  

Because we both consume and produce media texts, we can integrate the critical analysis techniques we learn through Super Bowl commercial analysis into our lived media experiences. Super Bowl commercial analysis opens us up to how advertising is played out between corporations and changing objectives of economic and cultural fields. The interplay between corporations and the media can become a bit more apparent when we recognize media’s changing forms and content and its impact on lifestyles, social norms, and belief systems that most people consider “normal.”

When we investigate the pleasure we derive from media consumption and learn how to question it, we achieve a duality of purpose that helps us to weigh the costs and benefits of media messages. Through our social media interactions, we can use media analysis to shift to our own greater community involvement and understand of media’s contributions to our collective culture. 

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches English Language Arts at a New England public high school and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

Harvard University: An Opportunity for a Digital Media Literacy Lesson

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard Yard

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard Yard

As a December recess getaway, I spent a long weekend in a Harvard University neighborhood. I walked beside Victorian townhouses and through the campus maze. The raw and misty weather didn’t stop crowds on historical tours of the Yard, as dozens gathered around buildings like Massachusetts Hall and listened to the narratives of years gone by.  But the tour that I envisioned in my head was not historic but, rather, based on critical digital media literacy.  In no particular order, here’s what my Harvard University digital media literacy tour might look like.

Matthews Hall at Harvard Yard

Matthews Hall at Harvard Yard

Buildings in Harvard Yard have ornate cornices, austere lines, or even modern facades. I kept asking myself, What social and cultural forces have influenced changes in architecture since 1636, when Harvard was founded? How did the introduction of new materials and mass production change the way that buildings have been designed?  What effect will natural resource depletion have on architecture in the next two decades? What do we, as consumers, need to know about the sources of the materials we buy for our own home projects? How will a greater understanding of our own consumption contribute to a more sustainable planet?

Roses in bloom outside the Harvard University Museum

Roses in bloom outside the Harvard University Museum

As a self-trained gardener, I’m always studying the ways that plants adapt to our four season New England climate.  I wondered, In what ways is it ironic that roses were blooming in December on the Harvard University campus? To what extent has New England climate change affected botanical cycles of dormancy and bloom?  What research studies are underway at Harvard University to help scientists and citizens to understand and confront the quickly changing climate? I recognized that the effects of climate fluctuations and consequences can be a first step to adapting our own interactions with the natural world.

Thayer Hall accessibility sign at Harvard University

Thayer Hall accessibility sign at Harvard University

At one time in my life, I was a community access monitor, so I noticed universal accessibility signs as I walked on the Harvard campus.  What is it like to be a person who uses a wheelchair at Harvard University?  What types of architectural adaptations have been made to Harvard’s historic buildings so that persons with disabilities are given freedom of access?  What barriers remain to persons in our U.S. society who seek higher education and associated residential housing? Moreover, how can we all, in our local communities, ensure that all citizens with disabilities have access to as many public and private structures as possible so they can richly participate in community culture?

Plaque commemorating education of indigenous peoples at Harvard University

Plaque commemorating education of indigenous peoples at Harvard University

Several years ago, my local book group read Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing and even heard the author speak at the Read across Rhode Island May breakfast.  So, of course, as I meandered through Harvard Year, I was delighted to come across a plaque commemorating John Sassamon, who became the first known Native American to study at Harvard. Today, the purpose of Harvard University’s Native American Program is to advance the well-being of indigenous peoples. I wondered, What barriers do Native American and Alaskan Native students face in higher education? How are these barriers to student success being addressed theoretically and practically  at Harvard and at other renowned sites of higher level education in the United States?

Of course, questions about cultural literacy aren’t new to Harvard University.  In 1993, Harvard hosted a Media Literacy Teaching Institute that drew nearly a hundred interested instructors, scholars, and journalists.  It is also telling, however, that funding cuts later discontinued the Institute.  The host, Dr. Renee Hobbs, continues inquiry into education that prompts today’s students to think critically about what they see, read, and watch at the Media Education Lab. Perhaps Harvard’s current work at Youth and Media Lab at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society  will continue the power and promise of cyberspace research through a study of its own Harvard Yard, which is a site that offers myriad possibilities for critical connections through digital and media inquiry.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches English Language Arts at a New England public high school and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.