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"Don't be so critical."

Maybe you've heard that from time to time. But when it comes to things you read and see, it pays to think critically. Everything that's written is written by someone for a reason. Every media message you see — whether it's a news story or an ad on television — was created by someone for a purpose.

Do you believe everything you see? Probably not. But how do you decide what's true and whether to believe it? Try this:

You see a picture of an athlete in an ad. This quote is beside the picture:

Ad with basketball athlete

"This shoe lets me run faster and jump higher. Come with me."

Do you believe him and buy the shoe? Why or why not? Would it matter if the athlete was paid to say this?

You care about the environment, and see yourself as "green." You see an ad that suggests that buying bamboo clothes makes you eco-friendly. But you know that most "bamboo" clothes are really rayon. Do you believe this ad?

When you see a message in any medium — a news article, a commercial, a story online, even your textbooks — ask yourself these three questions:

  • Who's responsible for the message?
  • What is the message actually saying?
  • What does it want me to do?

Once you know the answers to those three questions, you can decide if you might believe and trust the message — or whether you need to keep looking for more information.

Ad it Up

Did you know?

What you do online affects the kinds of ads you'll see. Businesses can track the sites you visit and what you search for; then, they show you related ads. If you're searching for sports scores, and visiting lots of team sites, you'll see more sports-related ads than someone who looks up, say, science fiction books. That means the ads you see on your social network page may be different than the ads your friends see.

What is advertising? You see it every day — you might even be wearing an ad now. If you look for it, you can probably spot ads nearly anywhere you go:

  • online in games, on social networking sites, on web pages…
  • in your house packaging of food, posters, logos…
  • outside billboards, buses, people wearing logos...
  • in print magazines, newspapers...
  • in your video games ads on the roadside in a driving game, for example
  • on TV and radio TV commercials — but also on TV programs

Advertising is a tool to get your attention and make you interested in something — maybe a product, an idea, or an issue. Ads try to get you to do, buy, or think something — whether it's a product, idea, issue, or service. All of them are created by someone, and all of them have a purpose: to get you to do, buy, or think something.

Do you take all ads at face value? Will you automatically believe that this cereal tastes the best, or that face wash can't be beat? Probably not. Maybe your experience tells you that the cereal really does taste the best. But you'll want to think critically about the information you get in ads. You can start with three key questions. If you spot an ad, ask yourself:

  • Who's responsible for the ad?
  • What is the ad actually saying?
  • What does the ad want me to do?

Once you know who's behind the ad, you've deciphered what the ad is saying in words and images, and thought about what the ad wants you to do, then you can better decide for yourself what you think.

Ask the Experts

Dear Expert, I love watching women's soccer — and I play — so I read a lot about the players. I just saw an article about how my favorite player trains. Then I saw an ad saying how she uses this one sports drink. But in the article, she said she drinks a different one. I thought that was strange. Is one of them lying?

It's great to follow the careers of athletes who are at the top of their game. But advertisers often pay famous people to use their products — like foods or drinks or sporting goods — so that they'll talk about it or be photographed using it. The advertiser hopes we'll associate their product with the stars we like. There's nothing wrong with that, but the law says that the athlete really has to use the product. And it's important to remember that the athlete is getting paid to appear in the ad. Success on the soccer field relates to hard work and talent, not a sports drink.

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