- Roundtable on Teaching about Advertising: Thoughts and Experiences
I would like to open this discussion by asking each of us to talk about the courses on advertising offered on the campus where we teach. What is the current state of teaching about advertising at your college or university?
I teach at New York University in the American Studies and Anthropology programs. I can speak best about how I deal with advertising in my own work, as opposed to how it is taught elsewhere on campus. I recently taught a graduate seminar on “Culture and Consumption,” and I would say that at least a third of the course was about advertising and consumer culture - but not about advertising per se. Advertising was integrated into our study of contemporary culture, consumption, the commodification of everyday life, private spaces, and ways of thinking. The course looked at advertising as one side of a wider process of the commodification for consumer culture that affects the way we think about our daily lives. That’s my experience in teaching about advertising.
I’m Susan Smulyan. I teach at Brown University. We don’t have a Communications department. I teach in the American Civilization department, which is a term at Brown for what is called American Studies elsewhere. There is also a Modern Culture and Media department, and although no one teaches a course called “advertising” there, they take up advertising in some of their courses. In Cognitive Science and Linguistics they have a course on advertising - sort of a linguistic approach. And then there’s me. I should say that there are several people who teach the courses on consumption and consumer culture that have an advertising component, much in the way Arlene talked about, including the introductory course on the culture of consumption that is offered in our department for graduate students.
I often teach a big lecture course called “American Advertising: History and Consequences.” I think about it the opposite way from Arlene. For me, it’s a way of talking about consumption and the culture of consumption, but I start with advertising because it is so familiar to the students. We have no business school at Brown either, but there are people who basically major in organizational behavior. I have a very large course in terms of Brown’s class sizes - about 150 students come to take this advertising course, and most of them are not humanities majors. Half are, and half are business types or political science types. But it is a very humanities-based course. I’m a historian, and it starts from history.
My name is Peggy Kreshel and I am at the University of Georgia. I am in the Advertising department, so we have a full curriculum in advertising. We have a pretty large program. Basically, our students are required to take core courses, and then they take five advertising courses. “Advertising and Society” is an optional course. Students can take either “Advertising and Society” or “Media Law.” I teach the “Advertising and Society” class, which has been in our curriculum only since 1992. I also teach practical courses like “Media Planning and Management.”
My name is Bob Goldman and I teach at Lewis and Clark College, which is a very small Liberal arts Arts institution. I teach a course called “American Advertising and the Science of Signs,” which I began at least 20 years ago as an effort to smuggle in the study of semiotics and critical theory in a way that students would respond to. My experience [with students], up to that point, had been, “I don’t want to study Adorno. And suddenly, I found that with ads, I could not only get them interested, but begin to apply these the same analytic concepts to other areas.
The course I teach now begins with a broad overview of advertising and consumption in the United States, rooted in political economy, beginning about 1890. Then we move on to various theories, focusing on critical theory...