Take a look around this website. Notice the titles of the blog posts. The podcasts we’ve been featured on. The color scheme of Jordan O’Donnell’s debut novel, Zoon Garden: Decline of a Nation. Notice any themes? If you’re paying attention, you should see that most of our content centers around travel, politics, connection, and creativity – all themes which directly relate to the product we want to sell you, which is O’Donnell’s breakout political satire Zoon Garden and the tour we’re taking across the country.
Now take a stroll over to Walmart’s website. Check out the sleek, modernized format. The constant use of the color blue. The top three headlines: “College prep for less,” “Supplies from 25 cents” and “A+ savings.” They, too, are following a brand narrative that attempts to convince you, the consumer, to buy their product.
The key to understanding media literacy is knowing that, to some extent, all media presents information with the goal of maintaining a brand narrative – and often that brand narrative aims to convince you, the viewer, to buy their company’s product. FOX and CNN want you to watch their channels and subscribe to their websites. Starbucks wants you to purchase a cup of coffee. Even individual social media accounts aren’t immune to brand narrative – your old friend from high school posted that picture of his vacation because that picture aligns with how he wants to be perceived by the public.
Once we understand that all media is created from a certain perspective, and that this perspective almost always has a financial motive, it becomes easier to analyze media and mine for “truth.” The Young Africans Leaders Initiative puts it nicely: “Each form of communication has its own creative language: scary music heightens fear, camera close-ups convey intimacy, big headlines signal significance. Understanding the grammar, syntax, and metaphor of media language helps us to be less susceptible to manipulation.”
So, next time you’re reading the news, scrolling through Instagram, or grocery shopping, pause to ask yourself: who’s talking? Where is this information coming from? How and why does the speaker distribute this information to you, the buyer? And what parts of the message ring true?