America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa—a PBS documentary series—tells the story of the changing demographics of the United States through character-driven portraits and in-depth conversations. Host Maria Hinojosa, an award-winning news anchor and reporter, visits communities from Clarkston, Georgia, to Long Beach, California, to examine the impact of demographic changes on local residents.
“The New Mad Men” explores how changing demographics in the United States have changed the face of advertising. In particular, the focus is on the purchasing power of the 54 million Latinx people currently living in the United States. The episode visits the headquarters of LatinWorks, an advertising agency in Austin, Texas, with a specialty in multicultural advertising.
Students respond to archival footage in the video, documenting the ways in which the depiction of various groups has changed, from ads from the 1950s that are, by today’s standards, blatantly racist and misogynistic, to more current advertising depicting multicultural family life.
Students discuss how ads target teens. They consider the merits of several Spanish-language ads, discussing stereotypes they notice, as well as the potential reactions of English-speaking viewers. Finally, they review options for responding to ads they consider offensive.
- Advertisers use demographic data to sell products to particular groups.
- The stereotypes used in advertising can influence our perceptions of self and others.
- How have the changing demographics in the United States changed the “face” of advertising?
- How does advertising influence our perceptions of others and ourselves?
Students will be able to:
- explain how advertisements target specific groups
- identify examples of stereotypes used in advertising
- explore the effect of stereotypes in advertising
- suggest actions that can be used to respond to stereotypical ads
- “The New Mad Men”
- Summary of Ads in “The New Mad Men”
- Ads Targeting Latinx People
- How to Protest Offensive Ads
advertising agency [ ad ver ti zing ay juhn see ] (noun) an organization that creates and places ads
client [ kli uhnt ] (noun) a customer
millennial [ mi len ee uhl ] (noun) a person reaching young adulthood around 2000. In the video, millennial refers to a person between 18 and 34 years old.
misogynistic [ mi soj uh niss tic ] (adjective) hateful toward women
target audience [ tar git ô di uhns ] (noun) group of people an advertiser is trying to influence
stereotype [ ster ee oh type ] (noun) a preconceived idea about someone based on a group to which he or she belongs; for example, a stereotype of teenagers, blacks, or women
(verb) to apply a stereotype to someone
Introduce the essential questions. Note that today, in order to investigate these issues, students will view a half-hour video about the ways in which changing demographics affect advertising.
Ask students to identify the purpose of advertising and review the cast of characters in an ad campaign:
- The client, who has a product to sell. (Have students provide examples.)
- The target audience, the consumers an advertiser is trying to reach.
- The advertising agency, which develops and places the ads.
Distribute the “Summary of Ads in ‘The New Mad Men’” handout, and explain its purpose:
“We’re about to view a video that describes advertisers’ efforts to capture a growing Latinx audience in the United States. In it, you’ll see current as well as historic ads. As you watch, consider how various groups have been portrayed in ads in the past, and how that has changed over time. Use this handout to record your ideas. Note that you won’t see every group that’s listed, and you won’t have time to record everything you see. Aim for five ads and see how you do.”
Answer any questions students might have, then watch the video as a class.
Talk About What You've Seen
Have students compare their responses in pairs. Then have students share their findings as a group, describing stereotypes they noticed in the ads they viewed. (If students had difficulty capturing stereotypical ad content, review the historic ad campaigns beginning at 21:55.)
Ask students whether the portrayal of diversity in advertising has improved, and have them provide evidence from the episode to justify their answers. (The video includes several examples: a biracial family in a Cheerios ad, and same-sex parents and a variety of nationalities in two recent Super Bowl ads.)
Note that one interviewee, Dr. Rachel Neale, comments that “A lot of people, even today, still get their information about other groups–about people that are dissimilar from themselves—from television. … I’m worried about whether or not we understand each other as a country, as a people, and I don’t think advertisers are helping that at all.” (21:20-21:53)
Discuss using the following questions:
- Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
- How does advertising influence our perceptions?
Who Do They Think We Are?
Explain to students that they are going to explore the idea of “target audiences” in more detail. They will think about how advertisers try to influence them, take a look at some ads with the growing Latinx market as their target and figure out how to take action when they find an ad offensive.
Ask students to suggest products that are typically purchased by teens, and list their ideas where everyone in the class can see them. In order to sell to teens, advertisers want to know all about their habits: the music they listen to, the clothing they wear, where they hang out online. Ask students to take out a sheet of paper and list as many personal characteristics as they can, starting each phrase with “I am” or “I like.” (You may wish to replay the video from 11:32 to 12:00 to suggest ways in which people define themselves.) When students have completed their lists, have them compare their answers with a partner, adding additional items to their own lists as needed. Then have students share their answers with the group.
Discuss the similarities and differences in answers. Ask students whether they think it’s easy or difficult for advertisers to “target” a teen market, and have them provide evidence for their answers. Use the following questions during the discussion:
- Do advertisers rely on particular stereotypes of teens to get their messages across in 15 to 60 seconds?
- In what ways are those stereotypes appealing?
- In what ways are they offensive?
In the video, millennial interviewees (people between the ages of 18 and 34) say that they don’t think that images of Latinx people on TV represent them, and that “being recognized and being understood are two different things.” (14:10-16:00) Do students agree with this statement as it applies to teens? Why or why not?
Latinx People as a Target Audience
Review additional details from “The New Mad Men” and discuss some reasons why the Latinx audience is of increasing interest to advertisers and how advertisers attempt to connect with this audience:
- Why are advertisers targeting a Latinx-American audience? What do we know about the size of the Latinx audience and their buying power in the United States?
- What does Lizette Williams, the multicultural marketing leader at Kimberly-Clark, mean when she describes the company’s ad campaign for Huggies, saying, “We’re not going to go all mariachi band”? (05:10)
- What does Sergio Alcocer, the president and chief creative officer of LatinWorks, mean when he talks about the challenges of casting for a Latinx commercial, saying, “How does a Latino look? It’s a gigantic question.”? (16:28)
- What are some of the challenges of trying to connect with a Latinx audience? In what ways are these challenges similar to trying to connect with an audience of teens?
Distribute the “Ads Targeting Latinx People” handout. Explain to students that one way companies target a Latinx audience is to create ads in Spanish. Tell students that they are about to review some Spanish-language ads that aired on English-language television stations.
If computer access permits, divide students into groups of four and have each group view one ad and answer the questions on p. 2 of the handout based on that video. (If access to computers is limited, you may choose to view several videos as a whole-class activity. Make sure to include the Taco Bell ad, which provides motivation for the final activity.)
Have students answer the following questions when describing their findings to the class.
- Which campaigns would appeal to the target audience?
- Is there any risk in presenting Spanish-language ads to an English-speaking audience? Why might some advertisers be willing to take this risk?
- Did any of the ads include stereotypes that might be considered offensive? (If students don’t mention the Taco Bell ad on their own, direct their attention to stereotypes of Latinx people and older people included in the ad.) What was the advertising agency trying to convey? Did it work? Why or why not?
Ask students to record stereotypes in advertising that they observe over the next week—Internet, print, TV, radio, billboard and public transportation ads. Set a date to collect the information they’ve gathered. You may wish to have students discuss what they found in pairs or small groups before sharing as a class.
Extension Activity: What Can You Do When You Think an Ad Is Offensive?
1. Ask students what they can do when they see an ad that they consider offensive. Ideas might include writing to the company that makes the product, starting a petition on change.org, or otherwise using social media to bring attention to the problem. Distribute the “How to Protest Offensive Ads” handout and review the details.
2. Discuss how to write a letter that will be taken seriously, including the format, information to be included and tone. Julia Bluhm’s petition to Seventeen magazine, found at change.org/p/seventeen-magazine-give-girls-images-of-real-girls, may be used as an example.
3. Have students, individually or in small groups, write letters describing the stereotypes found in the Taco Bell ad or another ad of their choosing. If needed, have them brainstorm ads they’ve seen or provide examples from the online resources. You may choose to assign the letters as homework if class time is short.
Related TT Resources:
- “Reading Ads with a Social Justice Lens”
- “Cheerios Expands the View of Family”
- “Cheerios Ad Touches Racial Nerve”
Related External Resources:
- “Teaching Digital Citizenship”
- “Sexism In 30 Vintage Ads”
Baby Praying Mantis, BuzzFeed Community
- “Learning Gender Stereotypes”
- "Resources for Teachers–Gender Representation"
- “Killing Us Softly 4—Trailer [Featuring Jean Kilbourne]”
Challenging Media, YouTube
- “Seventeen Magazine Takes No-Photoshop Pledge After 8th-Grader’s Campaign”
Elise Hu, NPR
- “Boys, Girls, and Media Messages in a Digital World: A Common Sense Media White Paper”
Common Sense Media
- “Are These The Most Offensive Ads of All Time?
Kathryn Westcott, BBC
- “Three Things You Thought You Knew About U.S. Hispanic’s Engagement with Media … And Why You Maybe Have Been Wrong”
Claudia Pardo and Charles Dreas, The Nielsen Company
Check out other America by the Numbers episodes and their accompanying lessons.