Media Literacy Basics

Why does the media exist? Learn about the intentions behind the creation of most media messages.

Media producers, both for-profit and non-profit, have one intention when creating their media messages: to sell you something. Although the sale may not be in the manner in which we typically expect a sale to be, the sale is there nonetheless.

The statement "the media wants to sell you something" really means the media wants to convince you of something. They want to convince you to buy one of two things: products and services, or ideologies.

An easy example of the media wanting to sell you a product or service is with an advertisement. Companies have products and services that they want you to purchase. They'll create advertisements to entice you to buy their products and services. The end result is that you, the consumer, will part ways with your money in exchange for their goods.

An example of the media wanting to sell you an ideology is with a political advertisement. Although money will never change hands, the political advertisement tries to convince you of the advertiser's side on a particular issue. The end result is that you, the voter, will side with the particular politician or issue in order to help strengthen the support base.

Note: You can learn a lot more about this topic by buying our book, Practical Media Literacy: An essential guide to the critical thinking skills for our digital world. You would be supporting our work so that we can bring you more great resources.

Although these are extreme examples, most examples are more subtle in their attempts to make a sale. These milder examples may not attempt to sell to you directly, but rather indirectly through a logical progression.

Take for example a television program. Soap operas are perfect examples of how television shows help sell products and services. All television shows know they have a particular segment of television viewers that watch the shows regularly. These viewers are the show's target market.

For soap operas, the target market is women between the ages of 18 and 50 who stay at home during the day. In fact, most shows on broadcast television during the day are aimed at this segment of the viewing population.

Advertisers know who watches their shows, so they create tailored advertisements for the products they know these people would want to buy. They ads you're likely to see during a soap opera? Ads for household necessities such as cleaning supplies (detergent, mops), food for the whole family (easy to make dinners, breakfast cereal for children), beauty products (makeup, shampoo), and career schools (for those women who want to gain new skills and work outside the home when their children are old enough).

Although advertisers know their target market perhaps too well, such intense profiling leads to generalizations of the audience and stereotyping. Using a soap opera to demonstrate how the media attempts to sell something to its audience is just one example.

Similar profiling and selling can be experienced in magazines, radio stations, newspapers, and even music. They all aim towards a specific part of the population, and sell products they know those people will want to buy. In fact, you can easily find out who a particular media message is aimed at by looking at the ads and figure out who the ads appeal to.

Knowing that media producers are actively trying to sell you something, the better you'll be able to understand how that particular source of media affects you and others.

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Media Literacy: 3rd Edition

media literacy 3rd edition

Media Literacy is a critical skill students must learn to succeed in today's tech-driven, media-saturated society. This book helps students understand media literacy, and how to implement and share that knowledge with others. As an experienced media literacy expert and professor, Nick Pernisco provides a well-researched guide for learning this important critical thinking skill and using it in everyday life. This is a must-read for anyone interested in learning how to interpret the enormous amounts of information we are exposed to every day, both in traditional media and online. Buy it now!