The Latest Advertising Trend:
How To Use It To Improve Student Writing

A few months ago in the South of France, marketers attended an international advertising festival equivalent to the Emmys called The Cannes Lions.

Apparently, the best advertisers are recognized for their efforts in creating an ad that is memorable, creative, and gets great audience response.

Why is this important to you?

Well, there’s a lot we can learn from this year’s festival. As writers, but specifically as a writing teacher.

According to Perlberg’s Wall Street Journal(1) article, creating more ads doesn’t make ads good.

It just creates a lot more bad ads.

It can be tempting as a teacher to ask students to write several essays a semester. Or, even several journal entries each week.

While you do get students writing, the writing may not be engaging, error-free, or thoughtful. More likely, it will be superficial “crap content,” as the article calls it.

I found that to be very true in my classes.

It was much easier to get students to answer one writing prompt honestly and with heart – and help them create the best written piece than it was to give them a new writing prompt each day to fill their journal for five minutes. Or, multiple essay assignments a quarter.

More often than not, those journal entries would be one to three sentences of “I don’t want to do this!” or “I don’t like this prompt, why do we have to do this?”

Some students, of course, would do their best and actually write something. But the majority would hurry through so they could put their heads down and sleep until forced to do something else.

Another interesting point Perlberg’s article says is that regarding advertising, people don’t mind watching content that’s technically advertising as long as it’s valuable and captures their attention.

I found the same to be true in the classroom.

Students don’t mind writing, if they’re interested in the topic.

And when students aren’t interested … you have to show them how to be creative and write about something they do like from the prompt they hate.

Lets say your state department of education gives them an expository writing prompt for their annual state assessment.

Something like this …

Example Writing Prompt: 

“Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson       

People experience life differently. Think carefully about the statement.

Write an essay explaining how individuals interpret nature and how such interpretations affect their lives.

Be sure to ...

  • clearly state your thesis, 
  • organize and develop your ideas effectively, 
  • choose your words carefully, and 
  • edit your writing for grammar, mechanics, and spelling.

Now presume this is a normal class … which means the students hate the prompt.

They don’t like to be outside. They don’t camp or fish. And, they hate bugs.

That’s when you show them how to find something they do like and can write about out of the original writing prompt they hate.

You take the things they say, i.e. hating being outside with bugs, and show them how to create topic choices for themselves based on the writing prompt.

Here’s what you do – 

You say, “Why do you hate bugs?”

Student may say, “I don’t like them crawling on me.”

You: “Have you ever been outside and bugs crawled on you or one of your friends … and someone freaked out?”

Student: “No.” (Here’s where your patience really need to kick in…)

You:  “Okay, well, have you seen a movie about camping or being out in nature?”

Student: “Yeah.”

You: “Well, can you see how that person interpreted nature and how that affected their behavior—what did that person do?”

Student: “I don’t know. But, I do have a cousin who’s allergic to bees. She got stung once and almost died. It was pretty serious. So, she couldn’t be outside anymore. Or, at least not around bees.”

You: “Okay. So you see how that affected her behavior… now how did that affect you? Could you spend a lot of time outside with the person?”

Student: “No … instead we always…”  And you let the student go on and tell the story.

Now you have something to work with. You have a student with an idea of what to write about or a direction to explore. And, it’s personal to him or her.

Students often don’t get to choose the first writing prompt—yours or the states. But, they can make it their own by prompting themselves to think of ways to answer the question.

When you show them how to create something they’re interested in and that’s personal to them from a writing prompt they hate, you’ve helped them make the writing their own.  

It gives meaning to what they’re doing and changes their mindset from “I’m writing for a test” to "I’m writing for myself."

So, instead of demanding your students write more journal entries and essays, create single but longer writing assignments. Teach the writing skills and the writing process through that one assignment. 

You’ll be helping students develop writing both you and they can be proud of.


(1) Perlberg, S. (2016, June 23). Turbulent times spark new spin in advertising, marketing industries. The Wall Street JournalB6.