CCT316: Communication and Advertising

Chosen PSA: What’s Your Thing?  (Companies Committed to Kids)


Youth, do Your “Thing”

            It may be necessary in a society with insecure youth to advertise the importance of celebrating individuality. In “What’s Your Thing?” created by Ogilvy and Mather Advertising for Companies Committed to Kids (previously Concerned Children’s Advertisers), emphasis is put towards encouraging youth to find their “thing”. This public service announcement works to illustrate various activities from which youth may be able to identify with and potentially mimic. This paper argues that the purpose of this public service announcement is to encourage its youth audience to participate and engage in a recreational activity that suits them individually. Using arguments from “A New Consumerism” (Cross), “The Alien Past” (Strasser), “Reflection and Reviews: An English Teacher Looks at Branding” (Twitchell), as well as further discussion of consumerism and hermeneutics from “Content Analysis and Hermeneutics” and “All the Cool Kids are Doing It/Communicating the Emotional” lectures by Heydon, the aforementioned argument is made. The main indication of this advertisement’s intended audience is the demographic of its cast.



            The aim of “What’s Your Thing?” is directed towards a youth audience to encourage them to find and participate in an activity that suits their talent. The message that “[e]verybody is good at something” (“What’s Your Thing?”) is transferrable to a vast audience; however, the age group of the chosen action explicitly reflects a chosen youth audience. One may interpret that the PSA aims at mirroring its’ target audience through the choice to illustrate this PSA through a youth cast. As Howard Beale ranted (“Turn off Your TVs”), television produces and reproduces its’ audience, to an extent. In correspondence with Beale’s argument, the advertisers applied this concept with the intent of creating a youth audience dedicated to using their recreational time to improve their talents. If the audience acts as a mirror or as a by-product of television, then the function of this ad is to get youth to mimic the individualized dedication shown in the ad.

In order for the audience ‘produced’ by this PSA (“What’s Your Thing?”) to reflect the individuals depicted in it, (as a ‘product of television’ – “Turn off Your TVs”) dedication was used as a common identifier between each of the individuals. This PSA can be interpreted to promote individuality through its depictions of uniquely-talented, uniquely-dedicated, youth. The PSA compiles seemingly candid scenes of youth practicing their various hobbies, pastimes, and activities, from bug-collecting, to practicing magic, to playing sports (ibid.). The candid nature of these scenes appear to be presented through the “creative perspective” (Kelly et al.), because they are placed in believable locations, and most seem oblivious to the camera, which indicates that these scenes were spontaneous. The PSA complies many different activities from which the audience members are hoped to identify with, over the course of one minute (“What’s Your Thing?”). The addition of “[n]obody’s good at everything” aids to encourage youth to single out something that they are “good at” (ibid.). By crafting numerous unique activities, the PSA works to relate to youth whose individual interests are likely to vary across a broad spectrum. The inclusion of unique interests among more traditional interests in the ad projects the message to youth whose interests may seem odd to others.

The ad works to motivate youth to work towards and identify with their interests; the broad spectrum of presented hobbies encourages the “produced audience” (Heydon) to individually exhibit their unique interests. As discussed in “The Audience”, personalization is an essential factor to consider when the intent of the advertiser is to motivate the audience to do a certain thing. The audience is fed a number of ideas with the hope that at least one of them will motivate youth to exhibit the same determination seen in the ad. The PSA identifies its intended audience to be youth, the intended message is that the youth should participate in what they are “good” at (“What’s Your Thing?”), and the ad goes further to highlight that there are countless things that people (specifically youth in this case) are good at, and that each individual is good at something different.

To convince youth to participate in activities that may set them apart from other youth, the ad was required to provide enough incentive through its communication. It is important for advertisers to connect with their audience through relatability; a shared identity between advertiser and audience may increase the chance of the ad’s success. Kelly et al. discuss “creative perspective” in relation to viewing the world through the perspective of the audience; they explain the necessity to use that perspective when crafting an ad. Relatability through the creative perspective creates shared understanding, and a level of trust. The incorporation of numerous activities presented in the PSA gives insight to any number of talents that the audience may exhibit (“What’s Your Thing?”). Through relatability, the advertisers depict youth in an apparently natural way; the youth in the ad resemble how youth appear in real life: sometimes loud, odd, active, and energetic. One example from the PSA is the “magician” who has just “cut” his sister in half “again”(“What’s Your Thing?”), the young girl is yelling for her mom, something most people have experienced at some point in their lives.

The ad illustrates the idea of illustration, which is an important aspect of recreational participation, unlike some advertisements that capitalize on the idea of obsolesce or convenience. While Susan Strasser argues that consumer cultures promoted the idea of ease and convenience (“The Alien Past”), this PSA diverts to a consumer culture where physical engagement and hard work are promoted. The difficulty to sell the idea of hard work arises when consumer advertising routinely works against it to idealize the ease of convenience. The PSA diverged from using the consumer culture “common sense” values (Strasser) as tactic, because the advertisement promotes the opposite of ease: hard work. Twitchell’s discussion of the “you-just-don’t-get-it motif” (123) applies here in part, since each individual in the PSA does something that is unique, which they do for their own enjoyment despite what others think. There are many activities demonstrated so the audience may not understand some of them; however, the PSA insinuates that individual talent should be celebrated rather than discouraged, even if people “don’t-get-it” (123).

The visual content conveys the message of individuality though participation to an extent, but the textual elements were necessary for clarity. Hermeneutics (“Content Analysis and Hermeneutics”) allowed for clarification of the PSA’s intention. “Nobody’s good at everything” contrasted with “[e]verybody’s good at something” in the ad, shows a progression of encouragement towards identifying and participating in an individual talent. Hermeneutics, “the science of interpretation” gives attention to the “textual levels of persuasion” (“Content Analysis and Hermeneutics”),  the first textual element may appear as a deterrent from being “good” at something; however, the second textual element signifies that one need not be “good at everything” (“What’s Your Thing?”). These methods used to persuade youth to engage in individual activities, were crafted with the intention of promoting youth to have ambition and interest towards the things they enjoy and have aptitude for.

It is likely that a PSA from Concerned Children’s Advertisers is directed towards children and/or youth; however, an unequal division in the cast’s genders reduces the efficienct of the ad since the entire cast is male (apart from one female sub-character). If youth (as a whole) are the targeted audience, and the intention is to motivate these youth to participate in individualized activities, the chosen method is likely to be effective more so towards male youth. In “A New Consumerism” Vance Packard’s ideas of affluence are discussed with regards to advertising and marketing which “produced a mass of insecure individuals each trying to define and display themselves through their goods” (343). The “goods” (“What’s Your Thing?”) in this case are the hobbies and talents exhibited through the individuals presented. In this case the insecurity of not being “good at everything” is being argued against, emphasis is put on participating in whichever “thing” the youth are best at.

It is important to understand the audience that is being advertised to, it allows for the creation of a mutual level of understanding between advertiser and consumer. The “creative perspective” (Kelly et al.) is evident in this ad through its depiction of youth physically engaged in their individual activities. This method demonstrates understanding of the audience: youth who resemble those from the ad, on the advertiser’s part. The advertisers know that youth are good at a vast number of different things and illustrate this through numerous depictions of possible talents and interests. The incorporation of unique interests as well as recognizable interests offer youth numerous opportunities to find a shared talent from the PSA. The creative perspective (Kelly et al.) was used by showing many of the youth mid-practice, which creates a sense of the candid moment, which may seem more spontaneous and natural. These types of shots provide the ad with an air or authenticity, which is likely to encourage a positive reception from the audience.

Capitalism and consumerism are routinely romanticized through advertising (Twitchell), in order to counter this type of advertising stance, youth were encouraged by being shown the potential that youth their age exhibit. The material possessions held by those youth were not necessarily important, but the dedication put forth through their practice provided them with tenacity, and potentially with talent. Twitchell argues that through “romanticism […] the objects of our dreams become material not ethereal, we started to spiritualize the secular, to give the stuff of getting and spending a transdental affect” (232). To romanticize diligence and tenacity, rather than a commodity, the PSA incorporated both talented youth (for example the performing dancers) and youth with potential (for example the tuba player who is rehearsing). The PSA does not tell youth what they are good at, instead it offers numerous suggestions towards what their talents may be, and tells them that “[e]verybody’s good at something” (“What’s Your Thing?”). The persistence seen in the youth presented may influence the youth audience to aspire to work on their own talents.

In a consumer society, where convenience and ease are idealized, things that require effort and time to succeed in lose some of their allure. Furthermore, the difficulty to motivate an audience to act a certain way arises when alternatives to recreational activities (such as gaming or watching television) seem to encourage inactive behaviours. “What’s Your Thing?” is an example of a PSA with the intention of encouraging the participation of recreational activities. The intent and purpose of this ad is to motivate youth, especially male youth, to identify what they are “good” at, and to dedicate their time to it. The ad diverges from consumerist ideas (Strasser), and promotes activity over the promotion of commodities. The methods used, including the incorporation of the creative perspective (Kelly et al.) communicated the message through numerous depictions of the point “[e]verybody’s good at something” (“What’s Your Thing?”). While the ad may not be effective towards a youth audience containing both male and female audience members due to its use of only male characters (with one exception), it is effective towards a male audience through its incorporation of numerous examples of male youth depicting what one can be “good” at.

Works Cited

“What’s Your Thing.” Promoting Self-esteem. Companies Committed to Kids, 1999.                     Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Cross, Gary. “A New Consumerism, 1960-1980”, (339-345).

The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader. Ed. Joseph Turow and Matthew

  1. McAllister. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Heydon, Jeff. “The Audience.” University of Toronto. 14 January 2015.

—..“Content Analysis and Hermeneutics.” University of Toronto. 28 January 2015.

—..  “All the Cool Kids are Doing It/Communicating the Emotional.” University of Toronto.

18 March 2015.

“Howard Beale: Turn off Your TVs.” YouTube. YouTube, 1976. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Kelly, A., Lawlor, K., O’Donohue, S., “Encoding Advertisements: The Creative                                        Perspective”(133-146). The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader.

Ed. Joseph Turow and Matthew P. McAllister. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.


Strasser, Susan. “The Alien Past: Consumer Culture in Historical Perspective”, (25-35).                 The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader. Ed. Joseph Turow and Matthew

  1. McAllister. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Twitchell, James B., “Reflection and Reviews: An English Teacher Looks at Branding”,               (227-236). The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader. Ed. Joseph Turow                    and Matthew P. McAllister. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Twitchell, James B. “Miss Clairol’s Does She…Or Doesn’t She?”(118-125).

20 Ads That Shook the World: The Century’s Most Groundbreaking Advertising and How It Changed Us All.  New York: Crown, 2000. Print.

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