Advertising and Social Change (P3080)

15 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

The module engages with the historical development of advertising and opens up a critical understanding of its contemporary place within media economies, culture and society. In the 21st century, advertising has been transformed by the rise of branding, the maturing of the internet and the emergence of new media forms like social media. Traditional advertising forms and the funding model for media which advertising has provided are under threat.

It asks questions about advertising in relation to (social) change, considering whether it is quite the conservative force it is sometimes believed to be reproducing 'dominant ideologies', trading in 'stereotypes', blocking or hiding change, and whether it is perhaps scapegoated when blamed for causing undesirable social changes, such as obesity. To think of advertising in another way, we explore how advertising as an institution and commercial tool is tied into the dynamics of capitalist modernity so that it also trades in the 'new': forever trying to capture the 'mood' of the moment or articulate the current 'state of play'. We consider how some scholars argue that advertising can be therapeutic, managing change and resolving the tensions of modern life rather than simply inciting anxieties for which capitalism has the remedy: go shopping.

We also explore the contradictions of advertising, as both commercial tool for capitalism helping to sustain consumer expansion and a cultural communicative artefact, offering pleasures and irritations, provoking memories, constructing multiple identities and like other cultural output contributing to how we feel, think, talk and culturally connect and disconnect from others.

Through lectures and seminars, group work and independent study, the module engages with these questions and issues through the study of historical and contemporary ad examples, scrutinising both commercial ads and those geared to social marketing, eg. charity ads. It equips you with the tools of analysis to engage with the 'work' of ad campaigns and the broader phenomenon of branding and promotion. But it also provides you with knowledge of the ad industry and the work that ad agencies do. Through engagement with a wide scholarship, you will be introduced to theorisations which give you ways to understand why and how advertising has changed and how it can be thought about in relation to broader developments in society.


45%: Lecture
55%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay, Portfolio)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 150 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 128 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: