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CMST 4E03 Media&Promotionalism

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Dilyana Mincheva


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 308

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23536

Office Hours: Friday, 2-3 pm or by appointment

Course Objectives:

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 lecture/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.


Method of Assessment:

  1. Graffiti Wall Assignment: You will receive an invitation via Avenue to Learn to contribute to the 4E03 graffiti wall. At least 4 times over the course of the semester you should contribute to our blog 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. Please also post a short summary and the links related to your student-led promotional analysis (see below). Your contributions will be scored on a credit/no credit basis rather than letter-graded.
  2. 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 6 and 7 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.

3. 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.

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.

4. Attendance and Participation: attendance at lecture and 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.

Breakdown of assignments:

Graffiti Wall Assignment: 20 percent

Student-led Promotional Analysis: 25 per cent

Final Project: 35 per cent

Attendance and Participation: 20 per cent

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Please, respect all deadlines provided in the syllabus. Assignments will be accepted for five days after the official deadline without penalty. After the five-day pass, late assignments will NOT be accepted. 

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

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.

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.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. 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:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

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.

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. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Week 1, September 6

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, September 13  

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.

Week 3, September 20

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:

The Century of Self, documentary, 2005, excerpts

Week 4, September 27

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.

Screening and discussion:

PBS Frontline, The Persuaders, documentary, 2004


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

Week 5, October 4

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.

Joseph Hall, “2013 was the Year of the Selfie. Here’s Why,” in: Toronto Star, 2013.

Media artifact discussion:

Patrick Hanlon, Isis as Brand Movement, 2015.

Week 6, October 11

Reading break, no class

Weeks 7 & 8, October 18 and 25

Workshop-style presentations: student-led promotional analysis

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 9, November 1

Promotionalism and politics

Case study: The US electoral campaign, Fall 2016 elections

Required readings:

Lindsay Stein, Can Trump the Brand Survive Trump the Candidate?

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

Week 10, November 8

Promotionalism and the rise of infotainment

Required reading:

Daya Thusso, The Murdochization of News? The case of star TV in India, in: Media, Culture, Society, 2007, vol. 29, number 4, pp. 593-611.


Markus Prior, “News Vs. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge”, in: American Journal of Political Science, vol. 49, number 3, pp. 577-592.

Week 11, November 15

A world beyond promotion: is it possible?


Ciro Guerra, Embrace of the Serpent, 2015.

Week 12, November 22

A world beyond promotion: is it possible? Discussion of Embrace of the Serpent

Recommended reading:

Jordi de San Eugenio Vela, “Place Branding: A Theoretical and Conceptual Framework”, available on Avenue.

Week 13. November 29

The promotional condition of contemporary culture

Required readings:

Andrew Wernick, “The Promotional Condition of Contemporary Culture”, in: Promotional Culture, 1991, pp. 181-199, available on Avenue.

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

Week 14. December 6

Review and Discussion

Your final projects are due today.

Other Course Information:

This is a seminar course.