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4.5 Minute Lesson on Audience, Purpose, and Voice

posted: 7.29.09 by Traci Gardner

Too many times I’ve seen students’ eyes glaze over when I explain how audience, purpose, and voice matter in composition. No more. From now on, I’ll let The Wicked Sick Project video take care of this lesson.

The short video, which Chris Boese shared on Facebook, shows two employees from Australian PR firm George Patterson Y&R who buy a generic bike on eBay and then write a new ad that sells the bike for 5 times what they paid for it. The only difference was the description of the bike in the eBay ad.

In their entry for PR Lions category of the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the company explains their goal for the project:

Every advertising agency around the world is locked in a constant battle of creativity vs effectiveness. Some clients don’t believe in the value of a creative idea. Instead of just TELLING our clients that creativity works, we decided to PROVE it to them.

So the employees set off with the basic plan of “Show, Don’t Tell” and created a short video that documents their effort. The eBay ad that they created demonstrates a clear understanding of audience, purpose, and voice.

Here’s the video. It does include a couple of words used that the MPAA would label as “one of the harsher sexually-derived words,” and there’s a derogatory use of the word gay. I realize it won’t be appropriate for every classroom. That said, I would probably ask students to discuss why the employees included those problem words as part of the overall exploration of how the employees’ voice and choice of details builds their ethos with their audience.

The eBay ad is not the academic language of the classroom. It’s not even what I’d call great design for an online document (please, fewer lines in all caps!). That’s okay though. The ad wasn’t written for a college composition or professional writing assignment. It was written to sell a bike at a profit, and it does a stunning job of accomplishing that goal.

Show this video to students, and in 4.5 minutes, you’ll show them that shaping language for a particular audience and goal really does make a difference—in some cases, an especially profitable one!

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Categories: Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching with Technology
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One Response to “4.5 Minute Lesson on Audience, Purpose, and Voice”

  1. Denise Wydra, Bedford/St. Martin's Says:

    Confession: I once did freelance writing work for a travel guide book that involved reading brief, generic listings of vacation rentals in faraway places and rewriting them to sound more alluring.

    “2 bdrm, 1 bath, galley kitch, balcony, beach access, pets OK”

    became something like
    “Just a short walk from the dramatic cliffs and refreshing waters of Chilly Beach, you’ll find this cozy bungalow, which is perfect for two friends or a couple with children. Imagine strolling the beach at sunset with Rover and then returning home for a leisurely meal, enjoyed while taking in the fresh air and picturesque views from your own personal balcony. etc. etc.”

    And I got paid for it.