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CMST 4E03 Media&Promotionalism

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Andrea Benoit


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 333

Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m., TSH 333

Course Objectives:

After taking this course, students will acquire an understanding of the historical context of promotional culture, particularly through advertising, public relations, and branding, and how it has informed various aspects of contemporary social life including public service, the arts, and the university. Students will be able to adeptly critique promotional texts, campaigns, and phenomena using relevant theories and concepts, and further develop their communication skills through critical writing assignments and verbal presentations. 

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

A custom Coursebook is available from the McMaster University bookstore. Other Course Readings can be accessed online through the McMaster Library and/or Avenue to Learn.

Method of Assessment:

Semiotic Analysis 25%: For this 1250-1700 word assignment, you will conduct a semiotic analysis on a contemporary print ad. Detailed instructions will be provided in class and posted to Avenue to Learn. Due: February 1, 2017.

Term Test 25%: On readings and lecture content from January 4 to March 1, inclusive. March 8, 2017.

Social Media Research Project 25%: For this assignment, you will write critically, in a 2000-word essay, about an aspect of promotional culture, advertising, and social media. Details will be provided in class and posted to Avenue to Learn. Due: March 22, 2017.

Group Presentation 25%: Five group presentations will take place, two in our penultimate class, and three in our last class. The theme of the presentation is “The Pitch.” Each group will be responsible for one 15-minute presentation, followed by a question period of approximately 10 minutes (25 minutes total). Detailed instructions will be provided in class and posted to Avenue to Learn. Groups and presentation dates will be randomly organized during our second class. Students will receive a group mark. Presentations: March 29 & April 5, 2017.

Participation: Although there is no formal participation grade, in a fourth year seminar I expect consistent attendance and weekly participation in class discussion. If you must miss a class, I appreciate a courtesy email letting me know. Your mark will suffer if you do not attend lecture. 

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Submitting Your Work: Assignments must be submitted in hardcopy directly to me by the beginning of the lecture on the due date . I will ask you to sign-in your work. You will incur a late penalty if I receive work after this time, including during, or at the end of, the lecture on the date it is due.

As such, any work submitted after the first 15 minutes of class will be counted as one day late. The assignment will then be penalized 5% for each 24-hour period it is late (including weekends).

If you must submit work late, I would appreciate a courtesy email letting me know when I may expect it. Submit your late work to the Dropbox on Avenue to Learn to verify the submission date, and then also submit the hardcopy directly to me upon your return to class. Your work will not be graded until you do so.

Make-up assignments, tests, exams, or presentations: There are none. 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 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:

1. January 4: Introductions

Williams, Raymond. “Consumer.” Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York: Oxford UP, 1983. 78-79.

Williams, Raymond. “Advertising: the Magic System.” Advertising & Society Review, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (2000).

Twitchell, James. “Two Cheers for Materialism.” Wilson Quarterly Volume 23, Issue 2 (Spring 1999): 16-26.

2. January 11: Historical foundations

Strasser, Susan. “The Alien Past: Consumer Culture in Historical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Policy 26(4)(2003): 375-393.

Bernays, Edward. Chapters 1-4. In Propaganda. New York: Ig Publishing, 2005. 9-61. Online.

3. January 18: There are signs everywhere

Twitchell, James B. “Reflections and Review: An English Teacher Looks at Branding.” Journal of Consumer Research, 31(2) (2004): 484-489.

Danesi, Marcel. “Advertising.” In Understanding Media Semiotics. London: Arnold, 2002. 179-200. Coursebook

Underhill, Paco. “How to Read a Sign.” In Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009. 61-76. Coursebook

4. January 25: Promotionalism in a brand new world 

Bratich, Jack. “Amassing the Multitude: Revisiting Early Audience Studies.” Communication Theory Vol. 15 (3)(2005): 242-265.

Arvidsson, Adam. “Brands: A Critical Perspective.” Journal of Consumer Culture Vol. 5(2) (2005): 235-258.

Turow, Joseph. “The Long Click.” In The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth.” New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2011. 138-170. Coursebook

Holt, Douglas. “Branding in the Age of Social Media.” Harvard Business Review March 2016: 42-50.

5. February 1: the real ‘mad men’ (and women) of advertising

*Semiotic Analysis due

Film: Project Re:Brief (2011; Dir. Doug Pray)

6. February 8: Children and promotional culture

Schor, Juliet. “Empowered or Seduced?” In Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. New York: Scribner, 2004. 177-188. Coursebook.

Buckingham, David. “Selling Childhood? Children and Consumer Culture.” Journal of Children and Media Vol. 1, No. 1 (2007): 15-24.

Martens et al. “Bringing Children (and Parents) Into the Sociology of Consumption.” Journal of Consumer Culture Vol. 4(2) (2004): 155-182.

7. February 15: Citizenship, nationhood, and politics in the Canadian context

Rose, Jonathan. “Government Advertising and the Creation of National Myths: The Canadian Case.” International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing Vol. 8., No. 2 (2003): 153-165.

Cormack, Patricia. “‘True Stories’ of Canada: Tim Hortons and the Branding of National Identity.” Cultural Sociology Vol. 2(3), 2008: 369-384.

Carstairs, Catherine. “Roots Nationalism: Branding English Canada Cool in the 1980s and 1990s.” Social History/Histoire Sociale Vol. 39, No. 77 (2006): 235: 255.

8. February 22: Reading Week ~ no class

9. March 1: Promoting the social good(s)

King, Samantha. “A Dream Cause: Breast Cancer, Corporate Philanthropy, and the Market for Generosity.” In Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. 1-28. Coursebook

Stole, Inger L. “Philanthropy as Public Relations: A Critical Perspective on Cause Marketing.” International Journal of Communication 2 (2008): 20-40.

Barker, Michael. “Celebrity Philanthropy: In the Service of Corporate Propaganda.” In The Propaganda Society: Promotional Culture and Politics in Global Context. Edited by Gerald Sussman, 145-158. New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Coursebook

10. March 8: Term test

On readings and lecture content from January 4 to March 1, 2017, inclusive.

In-class. Two (2) hours.

11. March 15: The promotional self

Peter, Tom. “A Brand Called You.” Fast Company, August/September 1997. Online.

McLeod, Kembrew. “The Private Ownership of People.” In The Celebrity Culture Reader, edited by P. David Marshall, 649-665. New York: Routledge, 2006. Coursebook

Hearn, Alison. “Meat, Mask, Burden: Probing the Contours of the Branded Self.” Journal of Consumer Culture Vol. 8(2) (2008): 197-217.

12. March 22: Opposing promotional culture

*Social Media Research Project due

Harold, Christine. “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism.” Critical Studies in Media Communication Vol. 21, No. 3 (September 2004): 189-211. 

Banet-Weiser, Sarah and Charlotte Lapsansky. “RED is the New Black: Brand Culture, Consumer Citizenship and Political Possibility.” International Journal of Communication 2 (2008): 1248-1268.

13. March 29: Promotional U  


Hearn, Alison. “‘Through the Looking Glass:’ The Promotional University 2.0.” In Blowing up the Brand: Critical Perspectives on Promotional Culture. Edited by Melissa Aronczyk and Devon Powers, 195-217. New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Coursebook

14. April 5: The Pitches


Other Course Information:


Students are responsible for keeping up with the readings. Lectures are planned based on the assumption that students have completed the weekly readings in advance. Keeping up with the readings will help you to follow references during lecture and better prepare you for tests. All required readings are “fair game” for tests unless otherwise noted. Readings will not always be mentioned in lecture, nor discussed in full. This does not make them any less likely to be test material.

Students are responsible for attending all lectures. Lectures offer more than summaries of readings. Lectures include complementary material, case studies, and various audio-visual elements that you may not be able to find elsewhere. All class lectures are “fair game” for the tests. If you miss a lecture, find a colleague willing to share notes. Under no circumstances will the professor provide lecture notes.

Students are also responsible for professional and respectful conduct in lecture and during any other dealings with colleagues or the professor. To create a respectful lecture environment in which you and your colleagues can engage with course material, you must:

  • Arrive on time and remain until the end of each lecture.
  • Avoid whispering or conducting private conversations during lectures or when colleagues are speaking.
  • Turn off your mobile phone and put it away. Non-negotiable.
  • Use laptops and tablets in a manner that will not distract others sitting near you. This means, at minimum, ensuring all sounds are off and using these devices only for purposes directly related to the lecture -- e.g. for taking notes, looking up related information, viewing slides, or pulling up the week’s readings. At times, all students may be asked to close laptops to give full attention to a discussion or screening.