Fall 2020 - CMNS 323W D100

Cultural Dimensions in Advertising (4)

Class Number: 6959

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including one of CMNS 223W or 253W.



A cultural-historical examination of contemporary advertising practices as well as a critical exploration of their impact upon different aspects of the consumer society, such as children's culture, pharmaceutical marketing, globalization, political communication and new media. Writing.


Does advertising work on us, through us, or both? Are we “brainwashed” by corporate appeals or do we actively participate in the cultural narratives and myths produced by advertisers and promoters? How has advertising responded to critical changes in global capitalism and the shifting social dynamics of the home, the workplace and the natural environment? In this course we explore how social actors are compelled to express themselves through the language and forms of promotion. We also consider the ways in which the self is articulated as an infinite site of accumulation and improvement in contemporary consumer culture. From eco activists, professional athletes and health workers, to universities, sports franchises and cities, we all partake in discourses of promotional meaning. Using contemporary examples and trending advertising campaigns, we explore ideas of authenticity, subjectivity, affect, youth culture, anti-branding, commodity feminism, and consumer citizenship. This course will explore the broader social, cultural and ideological implications of advertising. A significant amount of time will be spent deconstructing contemporary advertising practices, however, the aim of this course is not to teach how to ‘do’ advertising, but rather how to critically engage with the cultural narratives from which ads draw their meaning.

Course Format

This is a lecture plus tutorial course. Through a series of contemporary promotions, each lecture will address a novel theme paired with the readings for that week. A unique feature of this class is a creative ad project assignment that is done as part of a group. Each group will produce either: a) 15-30 second critical advert that addresses the underlying logic of promotional forms; b) a 15-30 second advert that gives meaning to a contemporary consumer good. The aim of either project is to demonstrate a critical and reflective understanding of advertising. Discussion and in-class exercises are a critical element of this course and regular attendance and participation in class is mandatory. It is expected that students will attend class and tutorial prepared to actively participate in discussions and assignments. Students are encouraged to actively observe adverts outside of class time. The course is writing-intensive and therefore substantial time will be devoted to exercises and discussions designed to improve the writing skills of students.


By the end of this course students should be able to demonstrate understanding in the following areas: a) the social and ideological implications of promotion; b) contemporary critiques and debates in consumer culture; c) critical reflections on the scope of media effects; d) how to craft annotated bibliographies, paper abstracts and critical research essays; e) creative collaboration and peer review skills.


  • Term Paper - total 45%
  • Essay Abstract and Annotated Bibliography 10%
  • First Iteration Essay Draft 15%
  • Final Essay 20%
  • Creative Ad Project - total 35%
  • Project Proposal 15%
  • Final Video 20%
  • Tutorial - total 20%
  • Attendence
  • Discussion
  • Submit 10 Ad Examples, (with 75 word commentary) on Canvas


The School expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades.  In addition, the School will follow Policy S10.01 with respect to Academic Integrity, and Policies S10.02, S10.03 and S10.04 as regards Student Discipline (note: as of May 1, 2009 the previous T10 series of policies covering Intellectual Honesty (T10.02), and Academic Discipline (T10.03) have been replaced with the new S10 series of policies).



Illouz, E. (2007). Cold intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Oxford, UK: Polity.

ISBN: 9780745639055

All other readings will be available on Canvas.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).