Playwriting Exercise: Advertisement Prompt

Here’s a playwriting prompt exercise that takes advantage of something that’s frequently around us: advertisements! Ads are everywhere, and their main purpose is to sell us stuff. But we’re going to use them as inspiration for some fun writing activities. This exercise can be done in person or via distance learning.

Students must find an image from an ad with a person in it. This can be anything – a picture from a magazine, a popup ad from a website, a clip from a television commercial, or an image from the side of a bus or a billboard. Students might choose a well-known advertising figure, such as the handsome man from the Old Spice ads, or the Philadelphia Cream Cheese angel. They might choose a model from a print ad or catalogue. The image can be a person of any gender, race, or age. Try to avoid animated characters or celebrity endorsements for this exercise.

Students will capture an image of the advertisement. For example, they can take a screenshot of the website or take a photo of the ad on their smartphone. Once they have an image, they will create a character sketch about the person in the ad. Students must write a minimum of ten different personality traits and personal details about their character (that are unrelated to the character’s visual appearance). Who is the person? What is their name? How old are they? Do they have family or friends? What do they do with their time? Why do they like the product or service they’re selling?

Once the character sketch is done, students will select, complete, and submit one of the five follow-up assignments below (along with the image and character sketch):

  • Write a monologue for your character. Ignore the product or service that they sell and put them in a completely different situation – at school or work, spending time with other people, going on an excursion. What are they doing? What are they thinking about?
  • Choose a completely different product for the character to sell. Write a 30-second commercial script for that product, using the personality traits created in the character sketch.
  • Create a voice for the character. Take your character sketch, put the points into first-person perspective (“My name is Sue Jones, I’m 29 years old, and I love Royale Toilet Paper”) and read it aloud, either live or using a voice recording app. Try different voices that might work for the character. Does the character speak quickly, with a high-pitched voice? Or do they speak softly and languidly? Maybe they have an accent?
  • What adjectives that describe the character’s appearance make them a good choice to sell that particular product or service? How does that relate to the product or service? Why is having an appropriate or interesting advertising character/model important for a product or service?
  • Think about a different character that might sell the same product or service. Write a description of that person, as well as a physical description of the person. If possible, make a sketch of that character or select a famous performer to portray the character. Why did you choose them?

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