'Unbranding' to Encourage an Appreciation of Diversity

Lesson on 'unbranding' guides students toward diversity appreciation
Grade Level

I created this lesson so students could explore the ways branding undermines efforts to build community and encourage diversity, while simultaneously reinforcing damaging stereotypes.

After studying various marketing techniques used to sell products and having discussed the reasons why advertisements often leave people feeling inadequate, we're convinced that we're not smart enough, pretty or handsome enough, not wealthy enough. Students then are ready to investigate the more complex world of branding, especially signature brand labeling, as it relates to youth culture and the marketing of "cool."

I begin the lesson by asking students why they think some experts view the wearing of name-brand clothing as an inviting short cut to developing a personality of one's own. Students discuss how brands set a mood and offer pre-packaged lifestyles. Then I ask students to write down the brands of clothing they like and choose not to wear, or what brands they do or don't wear based on their family's budget. I ask them to think about the reasons for their choices and prod them with questions like: "Is one brand associated with a 'preppy' or 'nerdy' personality while another is associated with a 'skater' personality?" At this point we discuss the use of stereotyping in advertisements and why marketing hype shapes the search for self.

After everyone has grasped the "secret" dual function of branded clothing (as an advertisement for the brand and as a means of identification for the person wearing it), I propose that we conclude the media literacy unit by "unbranding" ourselves.

I supply each student with a T-shirt. I ask each student to think about what his or her own brand — one that is an original piece of art and that truly reflects individual personality — might look like. No copyrighted logos, slogans or other commercial representations are permitted. Students spend at least one class period designing and sketching their individual brands. Students write a one- to two-paragraph artist statement, explaining the design process, how they arrived at their final product, and what the brand communicates about them. The artist statements and sketches are hung up around the classroom. Finally, using fabric markers, students transpose their sketches onto their T-shirts.

Students wear their T-shirts the last day of TV Turn –Off Week.

Amy Hutchinson
South Junior High School
Boise, Idaho

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