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Susannah Stern
Communication professor's study on "advergaming" the subject of a NY Times article

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Susannah Stern

"I like the community feel to USD. It is small enough to feel connected to other faculty and to the students, and to have a sense that we are united in making the world a better place through learning and sharing."

Susannah Stern

Your recent study on children and online game advertising was the subject of a recent NY Times article. Why should we be concerned that children fail to recognize advertisements tucked into online games?

A solid body of research has helped establish how poorly children, especially young children, understand the persuasive goals of advertising on television. On the Internet, advertising is even more subtle and integrated in entertainment content than it is on TV (where there are bumpers to separate programming from commercials, and the program is clearly interrupted by different visuals and sounds when commercial messages begin.) Advergames, in particular, embed advertising within games so that the promotional messages are subtle but persistent. To children who play them, advergames are just fun, free games. But to their creators, advergames are a way to get children to have favorable interactions with their brands and products for a sustained amount of time.

A basic tenet of American communication policy is that people have the right to know when they are being advertised to; this is why advertorials are labeled "advertising" and sponsored links on Google are identified as such. I believe that children also deserve to know when they are advertised to, and, of course, if they don't even understand the persuasive nature of advertising, which they frequently don't until about age 8 or so, this adds an extra layer of complication. Advergames present yet one more space where children are targeted as young consumers, rather than as developing individuals/citizens. I'd love to see more non-commercial spaces altogether, but advergames represent the opposite trend.

Susannah Stern

"To children who play them, advergames are just fun, free games. But to their creators, advergames are a way to get children to have favorable interactions with their brands and products for a sustained amount of time."

Susannah Stern

You've also been quoted by the NY Times on the topic of "sexting," something that may be a little more relevant to our undergraduate community. What should we know about this practice?

Sexting has received a lot of negative hype in the popular press, although it's not altogether clear how much of a problem sexting really is. Generally people use the word "sexting" to refer to sending sexual messages or images (or sometimes simply provocative and/or naked pictures) via text message.

The concern is that these messages/images, usually intended for a specific person with whom someone shares or hopes to share a relationship with, get into the wrong hands. From that point forward, the speed and ease of forwarding on messages from phone to phone and network to network greatly increase exposure to the content, and thus amplify the potential harm to relationships, reputation and self-esteem. In some instances, legal action can also been taken. Nearly all of the concern about sexting focuses on children and teens, who are thought to be too young to understand the potential harm that sexting can have.

For undergraduates, it is probably best to recognize that it can be very difficult to retain control of information once it has left your own hands. A true love now may be an ex-partner 6 months from now; it's a good idea to be judicious about what content you send digitally since it could be used in ways that you didn't anticipate (e.g., as a joke, in retaliation, forwarded in error, and so on).

Susannah Stern

"Media messages are produced within systems that favor certain content, viewpoints, and people. It behooves us to critique the institutions and industries that shape media messages, as well as the messages themselves."

Susannah Stern

What can we do to be more aware of media's grasp on our lives? How concerned should we be about this influence?

To become more aware of media's grasp on our lives, I and many other faculty who teach Introduction to Media Studies, COMM 130, require our students to engage in a Media Use Project. For 48 hours I ask my students to carefully log their media use, and for the subsequent 48 hours, they are asked to abstain from any media use. Students explain that this project helps them to better understand how pervasive media are in their lives, as well as to appreciate their own dependence on and affinity for various media. I recommend this activity to anyone who wants to explore media's grasp on his/her own life.

We should be very cognizant of media's influence in our lives, because much of how we think, what we know, what we value, and how we see ourselves is influenced by our media exposure. I could write a thick book on why we should be concerned about media's influence (and many people have), but the key is to recognize that media messages are produced within systems that favor certain content, viewpoints and people. It behooves us to critique the institutions and industries that shape media messages, as well as the messages themselves.

Susannah Stern

"I love teaching my classes on children, teens and media, since these are also my research interests. I like sharing my enthusiasm for these topics with students, and I like exposing them to the range of literature and ideas about youth and media."

Susannah Stern

Tell me about your favorite course to teach. Why do you enjoy it?

I love teaching my classes on children, teens and media, since these are also my research interests. I like sharing my enthusiasm for these topics with students, and I like exposing them to the range of literature and ideas about youth and media that forces them to engage with the unique and special qualities of childhood and adolescence. I like to complicate the oftentimes black-and-white perspective of youth and media shaped by the popular press (e.g., TV is bad for kids; teens are up to no good, etc.).

What is special about USD, in your opinion?

I like the community feel to USD. It is small enough to feel connected to other faculty and to the students, and to have a sense that we are united in making the world a better place through learning and sharing. It is big enough to keep meeting new people and encountering different viewpoints. It is also a very beautiful and peaceful place to work.

- Anne Malinoski '11

Quick Facts

  • I have two small boys, a 3½ and a 1-year-old, and a 12-year-old Husky/German Shepherd.
  • I grew up on a small barrier island in Florida called Sanibel Island.
  • My favorite thing to do when I have time to myself is to curl up in the sun and read a good book.
  • I went to boarding school for 3 years in high school.
  • I have lived in every corner of the country (FL, MA, WA, CA) and even in the middle (IL).

Useful Links

www.sandiego.edu/cas/academics/
faculty/biography.php?ID=92

www.sandiego.edu/cas/commstudies/

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/
21/children-fail-to-recognize-online-ads-study-says/?hpw

www.sandiego.edu/cas/news_events/
news_detail.php?_focus=38549