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The Carletonian

“Mental Engineer” visits, discusses popular TV ads with students

<lass="Body">On May 7th, Carleton Psychology majors joined John Forde of PBS’ “Mental Engineering” to analyze commercials by employing skills acquired in Professor Mija Van Der Wege’s Language & Deception class. They scrutinized the commercials’ music, imagery and text in order to expose the appeal behind so many of these advertisements.

The event, which was open to the public and welcomed students from the Northfield area as well as Carls, marked Forde’s second visit to Carleton. Two panels of Carleton students joined by Forde evaluated five commercials each for products as diverse as Pepsi, Schwab, and Children’s of Minnesota, a local hospital.

Forde favors the term “vivisect” — dissection of a living thing — to describe the process utilized both on Mental Engineering, his television show, and at the Carleton event. For example, the members of one Carleton panel examined a commercial for Amway Global, a company that distributes a variety of consumer goods such as dietary supplements and home cleaning products. In their analysis, they highlighted the meaningless and distracting aura that characterized the ad, which related little information about the product yet drew viewers in through the bright colors, feel-good soundtrack and emphasis on the word “positive.” Similar distractions were noted time and again in other commercials, enforcing Forde’s statement that “one of the goals of advertising is to make it about you.”

With honest, energetic discussion, the panelists analyzed the other commercials, offering insightful critiques and revealing just how blind viewers can be to the effects of advertising. “Commercials can put things in your mind you’re not even aware of,” said Forde. Though at times Forde’s humor seemed strained and his attempts at being provocative simply awkward, the discussion was valuable and interesting. In addition, Forde’s method of asking each panelist “exit questions” loosely related to the previously discussed topic — for example, after considering a Pepsi Refresh commercial, each panelist was asked to name something that refreshes the world — afforded each analysis a neat and unique end.

Forde’s show airs on certain PBS networks across the United States and bills itself as “the only media literacy series on American television.”

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