Using Advertising in the Business English Classroom

Every Monday evening I teach a BEC (Business English Certificate) Vantage course at my college. Of course I think it is important for them to get the certificate for their work or studies, but it makes me even happier if they become very confident in all four skills, especially speaking – nothing is better if they see you after their course ends and they say, “You know what Vicky? I use English at work / on business trips / with clients and I feel confident and comfortable using it.” That is why I love activities that help them talk.

We were discussing advertising in that unit and I had three commercials from YouTube to show them on the screen. Before that though, I asked them to think of their favourite – least favourite commercial, describe it, what kind of product was being promoted, what kind of audience was being targeted and why they thought it was successful or not. They could take notes and prepare a small presentation (a little bit of practice for Part 2 of the BEC Vantage Speaking Test in there too!).
One of my students asked, “Can we come up there and show it on the screen too?” I thought that was a brilliant idea and would illustrate their points even better and also put us into the atmosphere of the commercial and the product. (Plus, some of the best ideas come from the students!) So up they came, one by one and were really enthusiastic in showing us all their commercials, why they liked it and had some really good arguments on products, their promotion and whether they were convincing or not. Then we extended the conversation and spoke about which products are allowed to be shown on television in Switzerland, what time (for instance toys or alcohol commercials) and organisations which advocate safe and honest advertising. Their speaking skills were at their very best!

Here are the three commercials I showed them:

This one I chose because it promotes not only the product, but also the idea of an affluent lifestyle. I asked them:

– Was it convincing? Would they buy the product?

– What was the most impressive part of it? (They love the music!)

– What target audience was the company trying to get?

Here is the next one (one of my favourites which always makes me laugh):

– What ages/groups are targeted?

– How old are people allowed to drink in Switzerland? Does the specific commercial make it more appealing?

– What’s the point the commercial is trying to make?

And the last one (with thanks to Brad Patterson who sent it to me months ago – hilarious commercial, my students thought so too):

– Was the panda image strong enough to imprint the product in consumers’ heads?

– Apart from funny, did it have a lasting effect? (Some said they could easily forget what was being advertised because they were mainly focusing on the funny panda : )

They spoke so much and got so much new language out of it, debated and discussed – one of our most productive lessons so far.

16 thoughts on “Using Advertising in the Business English Classroom

  1. The “walk-in fridge” ad made my day. With a right bunch of students, this could give you so much to talk about 🙂
    If your students want to be pushed further, there’s a great semiotic approach to advertising – Roland Barthes’ “The Rhetoric of the Image.” A short essay but lots of good questions that ambitious students could handle.

    1. Hi Wiktor!

      Many thanks for your comment – happy you liked the fridge commercial…I have seen it so many times and it cracks me up each time!

      Thank you also for the essay you recommend – I think I might have read it in university, will try to find it and re-read it!

      Have a great Sunday,

    1. Hi Marisa!

      Thank you so much! It was great, because their enthusiasm took over and I was
      the one heard the least, which is the whole point : )

      Happy you liked it!

      Best wishes,

  2. Με μένα δεν πέτυχε, δυστυχώς! Δε νιώθω καθόλου άνετα να μιλάω Αγγλικά, αν και έπιασα όλο το ποστ σου και μ’ άρεσε πολύ η ιδέα! 😉

    Ελπίζω να είστε καλά, κυρία μου και να περνάτε υπέροχα! 🙂

    Φιλί από Ηράκλειο

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