As teachers, we’ve all seen how student interest lights up the moment we introduce elements of pop culture into the sociology classroom. It’s a magical moment, really, as though an invisible fairy has fluttered through the classroom sprinkling unexpecting students with sociological fairy dust. Suddenly, student eyes become deglazed, spines stretch toward the ceiling, chins raise, hands spring into the air, and all at once, everyone has a point-of-view that absolutely must be heard.
This seemingly magical anecdotal experience is supported by the scholarship on teaching and learning, as much literature has been written on the pedagogical effectiveness of using popular cultural mediums to teach abstract sociological concepts. The benefits of film, in particular, have occupied much scholarly attention. While films and other mediums are useful, commercial advertisements are often an overlooked and underutilized pop cultural medium that can effectively convey sociological concepts and insights.
In an article I published last year with Amy Irby, we highlight three clear advantages of using commercials in the sociology classroom; namely, they are time efficient (often lasting only 30 seconds), current and accessible (available almost immediately online), and serve as a unique platform for sociological analysis. You can find a link here to our full article "Overcoming Constraints: Using Commercials in the Classroom."
Yet in that article, we also outline some limitations of using commercials, with one being that “there is not a centralized catalogue system that houses commercials and tags them by sociological themes” (Irby and Chepp 2010). Increasingly, The Sociological Cinema is becoming a resource that can fill this void.
There are several ways to identify commercials that have been archived on The Sociological Cinema, but here are two suggestions: (1) type the keyword “commercial” into the search box or, (2) click on the marketing/brands tag on the right sidebar of the "Videos" page. Also, remember that if you have your own suggestions for good commercials that work well in the classroom, you can contribute them to The Sociological Cinema by clicking here.
In addition to archiving commercials by sociological themes, a previous blog post on The Sociological Cinema points to commercials as a useful empirical site for sociological analysis; numerous other blog posts focus on various elements of pop culture and the sociology classroom.
So, as the school year comes to a close and you begin thinking about how to innovate and improve your course for next semester, you might consider using commercial clips in your next classroom experience. Thanks to sites like The Sociological Cinema, they are significantly easier to get your hands on than fairy dust.
***TEASER ALERT: Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post that offers in-class activities and assessment strategies that instructors can use to teach students commercial analysis and media literacy!