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CMST 4E03 Media & Promotionalism (C02)

Academic Year: Winter 2020

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Dilyana Mincheva


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 308

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23536

Office Hours: Tuesday – 11.30 – 12.30 or by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course description: This course examines the relationship between media and promotionalism. It places particular emphasis on the ways in which this relationship manifests itself in everyday life, society and the public sphere. The first half of the course explores theoretical and historical perspectives on “the cultural logic of late capitalism” as they relate to advertising, consumerism, branding and public relations. In the second half of the course, we put these theoretical tools into practice to examine specific cases of promotionalism in various professional settings such as journalism, academia, entertainment and politics. In both sections of the course we try to answer a couple of fundamental question: how does advertising, consumer culture and ‘promotional culture’ structure the society in which we live; and how do they connect with the values, structures, belief systems, and ideas about what constitutes personal and social satisfaction and ‘the good life’ in our present day? We conclude by reflecting on the future of promotionalism in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Learning Goals: Students will acquire a sound understanding of theories and history of promotionalism and will be able to apply these in an analysis of different media forms. They will refine their ability to research and communicate such ideas through formal presentations, classroom discussion and written assignments. Emphasis will be placed on enhancing students' critical thinking as well as writing and presentation skills.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required readings: The required readings for the course are either designated with hyperlinks or will be made available on Avenue prior to seminar. The readings will sometimes be challenging, and at other times quite straightforward. I will provide worksheets and study questions to help you through the difficult readings. Students are expected to familiarize themselves with the required texts prior to the time allocated to seminar discussion.

Recommended: Andrew Wernick, Promotional Culture: Advertising, Ideology and Symbolic Expression, Sage Publications, 1991. The book could be found in Mills Memorial Library on reserve under the course name.

Method of Assessment:





Discussion Wall

(Video discussion + comment post)


February 13

April 7

Student-led promotional analysis


February 27

March 5

Advertisement and Film Analysis


March 26

Final project


April 7

Attendance and participation


Ongoing, weeks 1-14


  1. Discussion Wall Assignment: You will receive an invitation via Avenue to Learn to contribute to the 4E03 graffiti wall. Two times over the course of the semester you should contribute to our discussion wall two DIFFERENT PIECES of promotional materials.

a) By February 13, I would like you to create a ‘promotional video’, which explores what you learnt in your education journey as a Communication Studies (or Communication Studies and Multimedia) major. With this assignment you aim to convince your audience of your professional strengths, knowledge and expertise. You can talk straight into a camera, or you can do interviews with your peers. You can approach the assignment creatively and add humour, music, visuals and/or other creative elements that reveal your personality and your academic choice in the best possible light. The videos with the highest production and creative quality will be shared with the promotional committee of our department (prof. Beutin and prof. Mudavanhu) and upon the committee’s decision may be featured on the Communication Studies and Multimedia website. Details to follow in class.

b) By April 7, I would like you to share a link and a short review (2 paragraphs) of a website, example of media promotionalism, art project, news story, or any other resource relevant to the reading assignments.

Your contributions to the Graffiti Wall will be scored on a credit/no credit basis rather than letter graded. Your first contribution to the graffiti wall should be made before the reading break.

2. Advertising and Film Analysis: This semester we are going to see three short documentaries that reveal controversial and exciting aspects of the advertising industry: Art & Copy (2009), The September Issue (2009) and Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) and one feature movie, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born (2018). You are required to pick two of the film texts and compare their presentation of the promotional industry: what is the relationship between art, the culture of rebellion and advertising? Is it possible for the practices of advertising and promotionalism – which focus on the successful and continuous selling of products – to become a form of resistance to capitalism, i.e. to the system that makes this form of communication possible in the first place? What is the impact of emotions in the creation of advertising campaigns? In what ways advertising is a form of ideological thinking and in what ways it is not? What is our everyday relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, with the people who design them? In what way the advertising campaign for a presidential candidate is similar to the advertising agenda of a fashion magazine? What is your personal reaction to these similarities? Reflect on the formal qualities of the documentaries – their objectivity, the narration, the camera work, the selection of people for interviews. Your comparative analysis should be between 2000 – 2300 words. This assignment will be graded on a credit/no credit basis rather than letter graded. Your analysis is due on March 26 in a drop box on Avenue to Learn.

3. Student-led Promotional Analysis: Students are asked to form small groups, select an example of media promotionalism (an advertisement, website, twitter feed, video clip, article, branding campaign, etc.) and lead the class in an analysis and discussion of the text. Each group should start by familiarizing us with the example they have selected for analysis. The next step is to facilitate analysis and discussion of the relationship between this particular aspect of media promotionalism and one of the theories, concepts, or issues discussed in the course. Presentations will happen in weeks 8 and 9 (February 27 and March 5) and will take on a workshop format.

Guidelines to consider as you plan your presentation:

1) Please prepare something to show in class and let me know at least one week in advance what audio/visual services you will require;

2) Prepare to discuss with the class how the example of media promotionalism you selected is related to a particular theory, issue or topic from the course;

3) Plan to speak for at least 15 minutes and not longer than 25 minutes;

4) Prepare discussion questions or activities for the class to encourage involvement in the analysis of your organization;

5) Come prepared to present on the day you signed up for;

6) Feel free to come see me if you need help with refining an idea;

7) Please post a discussion thread on Avenue to Learn summarizing the highlights of your presentation and any related links.

4. Final Project: Students have the option to write a research paper or create a podcast or video project on an aspect of media promotionalism. The final project should be approximately 2,500 – 3000 words (research paper) – or 5-8 minutes for audio/visual work – in length. It is due on A2L, the last day of classes, April 7.

Guidelines for the final project: you have to choose option a) OR option b):

a) Research paper: you are expected to write a 2,500 – 3,000-word research paper based on the presentation topic that you have chosen for your previous assignment. Your final paper has to take into consideration the feedback that you have received from me on your presentation as well as the questions that have been raised by your peers during the class discussion. Your research may carry you beyond the course readings; however, the course concepts should play a prominent role in your writing. The formal requirement for the paper is that you use at least ONE course text and at least THREE other academic sources (that may or may not be included in the course readings) as your references.

b) Creative project: you can create a podcast, a video-project, art installation, radio show, etc. on an aspect of media promotionalism. Since this is a creative process, you can choose whether to approach this assignment critically and analytically (and thus create a media project, which is conscious of promotionalism as deliberate styling and propaganda technique) OR you can act as someone who creates, disseminates and advocates a particular brand. Your project should be accompanied by a short (around 500 words) explanation of your creative choices and intentions. As mentioned above, we are watching three documentaries focused on advertising this semester. All of them reveal aspects of the industry that you will find inspirational for your creative projects.

5. Attendance and Participation: attendance in seminar, participation in seminar discussion, and contribution to the general intellectual atmosphere of all parts of the course are the criteria for this portion of the mark.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late assignments for this class will be accepted without penalty within 5 days from the official deadline. After the passing of the five-day gratis period, I am not going to accept late assignments. Please note that MSAF is for a maximum period of three days and can only be used for the assignment’s due date, so even if you submit an MSAF, you will not get additional time beyond the five-day grace period. Students who submit their work after the original deadline but within the grace period may not receive feedback on their assignments.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Integrity

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  • plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  • improper collaboration in group work.
  • copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Authenticity / Plagiarism Detection

Some courses may use a web-based service ( to reveal authenticity and ownership of student submitted work. For courses using such software, students will be expected to submit their work electronically either directly to or via Avenue to Learn (A2L) plagiarism detection (a service supported by so it can be checked for academic dishonesty.

Students who do not wish to submit their work through A2L and/or must still submit an electronic and/or hardcopy to the instructor. No penalty will be assigned to a student who does not submit work to or A2L. All submitted work is subject to normal verification that standards of academic integrity have been upheld (e.g., on-line search, other software, etc.). To see the Policy, please go to

Courses with an On-Line Element

Some courses use on-line elements (e.g. e-mail, Avenue to Learn (A2L), LearnLink, web pages, capa, Moodle, ThinkingCap, etc.). Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of a course using these elements, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in a course that uses on-line elements will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Online Proctoring

Some courses may use online proctoring software for tests and exams. This software may require students to turn on their video camera, present identification, monitor and record their computer activities, and/or lockdown their browser during tests or exams. This software may be required to be installed before the exam begins.

Conduct Expectations

As a McMaster student, you have the right to experience, and the responsibility to demonstrate, respectful and dignified interactions within all of our living, learning and working communities. These expectations are described in the Code of Student Rights & Responsibilities (the "Code"). All students share the responsibility of maintaining a positive environment for the academic and personal growth of all McMaster community members, whether in person or online.

It is essential that students be mindful of their interactions online, as the Code remains in effect in virtual learning environments. The Code applies to any interactions that adversely affect, disrupt, or interfere with reasonable participation in University activities. Student disruptions or behaviours that interfere with university functions on online platforms (e.g. use of Avenue 2 Learn, WebEx or Zoom for delivery), will be taken very seriously and will be investigated. Outcomes may include restriction or removal of the involved students' access to these platforms.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. For further information, consult McMaster University’s Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities policy.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

Request for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work
McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar "Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work".

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances (RISO)

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religious, indigenous or spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the RISO policy. Students should submit their request to their Faculty Office normally within 10 working days of the beginning of term in which they anticipate a need for accommodation or to the Registrar's Office prior to their examinations. Students should also contact their instructors as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements for classes, assignments, and tests.

Copyright and Recording

Students are advised that lectures, demonstrations, performances, and any other course material provided by an instructor include copyright protected works. The Copyright Act and copyright law protect every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including lectures by University instructors.

The recording of lectures, tutorials, or other methods of instruction may occur during a course. Recording may be done by either the instructor for the purpose of authorized distribution, or by a student for the purpose of personal study. Students should be aware that their voice and/or image may be recorded by others during the class. Please speak with the instructor if this is a concern for you.

Extreme Circumstances

The University reserves the right to change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances (e.g., severe weather, labour disruptions, etc.). Changes will be communicated through regular McMaster communication channels, such as McMaster Daily News, A2L and/or McMaster email.

Topics and Readings:

Week 1. January 9

The relationship between media and promotionalism: introduction to the course


Jacques Ellul, “Preface” and “Introduction” in Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, 1965, available on Avenue.

Brendan I. Koerner, Why ISIS is winning the social media war?

Screening and discussion:

Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, Manufacturing Consent, 1992 (excerpts)

Nasheed songs (ISIS propaganda), For the Sake of Allah; We have the Swords


Bryan Schatz, Inside the World of ISIS Propaganda Music

Week 2. January 16

Tools for thought: ideology, hegemony, and framing

Required readings:

Dick Hebdige, “From Culture to Hegemony”, in: Simon During (edit.) The Cultural Studies Reader, Rutledge, 1993, available on Avenue.

Jean Baudrillard, “The System of Objects”, in: Mark Poster (edit.) Baudrillard: Selected Writings, 2002, available on Avenue.


John Hartley, “Ideology” and “Hegemony” in: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts, pp. 99-100; 103-106.

Mark Poster, “Introduction to Baudrillard’s Thought”, in: Baudrillard: Selected Writings, 2002, available on Avenue.

Screening and discussion:

PBS Frontline, The Persuaders, documentary, 2004

Week 3. January 23

Advertising and/as ideology

Required readings:

Andrew Wernick, Promotional Culture, in: Daemon Politics, 1991, pp. 261-281.

Stewart Ewen, “Advertising as Social Production,” in Captains of Consciousness, 1976, pp. 22-31, available on Avenue.

Screening and discussion:

Doug Pray, Art & Copy, 2009

Week 4. January 30

Branding and the knowledge community

Case study: The promotional university

Required reading:

Alison Hearn, “Through the Looking Glass: the Promotional University”, in: Melissa Aronczyk, Devon Powers (edit.) Blowing Up the Brand, 2010, pp. 195-219, available on Avenue.


Andrew Wernick, “The Promotional University”, in: Promotional Culture, 1991, pp. 154-181.

Week 5. February 6

Social media and self-branding

Required readings:

Alison Hearn, “Meat, Mask, Burden: Probing the Contours of the Branded Self”, in: Journal of Consumer Culture, 2008, pp. 197-217, available on Avenue.

Jaimie Bartlett, “Mo Ansar: Tweeting Yourself Into Existence”, in: Medium,

Screening and discussion:

R. J. Cutler, The September Issue, 2009

Week 6. February 13

Promotionalism and politics

Case study: The US electoral campaign, Fall 2016 elections

Required readings:

Alan N. Shapiro, “Baudrillard and Trump: Simulation and Object Orientation, Not True and False”,

Andrew Wernick, “Promotional Politics”, in: Promotional Culture, 1991, pp. 124-154. Available on Avenue.


Kevin Glynn. “The 2004 Election Did Not Take Place: Bush, Spectacle, and the Media Nonevent,” 2009, in: Television & New Media, 216-245.

Media Artifact Discussion:

Shonda Rhymes, Hilary Clinton: Biography

Weeks 7. February 20

Reading break, no class

Weeks 8 and 9. February 27 and March 5

Workshop style in-class presentations.

Students are expected to work in small groups prior to the seminar classes. By selecting an example of media promotionalism (an advertisement, website, twitter feed, video clip, article, branding campaign, etc.) students have to lead the class in an analysis and discussion of their chosen example/text. Each group should start by familiarizing us with the example they have selected for analysis. The next step is to facilitate analysis and discussion of the relationship between this particular aspect of media promotionalism and one of the theories, concepts, or issues discussed in the course. You are encouraged to comment on and/or present examples that we have mentioned in class so far or discussed together in the Graffiti Wall Assignment.

Week 10. March 12

Stardom and authenticity

Required readings:

Richard Dyer, “A Star Is Born and the Construction of Authenticity”, in: Christite Gledhill (edit.) Stardom: Industry of Desire, London and New York: Routledge, 2005, pp. 136-145, available on A2L

Curtis A. Fogel and Andrea Quinlan, “Lady Gaga And Feminism: A Critical Debate”, in: Cross-Cultural Communication, vol. 7, number 3, 2011, pp.184-188, available on A2L.

Hadley Freeman, “Female Success and Male Decline: what A Star Is Born tells us about fame, fear and feminism”, in: Guardian, September 28, 2018,

Screening and discussion

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born, 2018

Week 11. March 19

A world beyond promotion: is it possible? Part 1

Screening and discussion:

Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010

Week 12. March 26

A world beyond promotion: is it possible? Part 2

Required reading:

Christine Harold, Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism, in: Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 21, number 3, 2004, pp. 189-211. Available on Avenue.

Discussion of the three documentaries on advertising that we saw together this semester: is advertising art or ideology?

Your film analysis is due today on A2L.

Week 13. April 2

The Promotional condition of contemporary culture. Conclusions.

Class Discussion: How do I promote my Communication Studies degree in a competitive job market?

Your final projects are due today on April 7, last day of classes, on A2L.




Other Course Information:

Classroom Etiquette:

During class you are required to switch off and put away all cell phones, electronic organizers, and all other communication devices in order to minimize distractions and foster an environment of mutual respect. Laptops may be used to take notes; however, if it becomes apparent to the instructor that your laptop is distracting other students you will be asked to leave the seminar. No form of discrimination or harassment will be tolerated in the classroom. Every member of the McMaster University Community has a right to equal treatment with respect to the receipt of education services and related services and facilities without discrimination or harassment on the basis of the following grounds: race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, disability, gender and identity. For more information visit the Office of Human Rights & Equity Services Website:

Office Hours

Office hours are for everyone! I encourage you to take advantage of them. Please make an effort to come once in the first month of the semester, which will help me get to know your interests. Please also be respectful of each other’s time, especially when other students are waiting.

Online Course Content

In this course we will be using A2L. Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names, usernames for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure, please discuss this with the course instructor.

Authenticity/Plagiarism Detection

Students may be asked to submit papers through a web-based service ( to reveal authenticity and ownership of student submitted work. Students will be expected to submit their work electronically either directly to or via Avenue to Learn (A2L) plagiarism detection (a service supported by so it can be checked for academic dishonesty.