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12 Television Commercials to Prompt Discussion & Debate

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Television commercials are a great medium to spark discussion or debate in your classroom because they are generally short (so they won’t take up too much time that could be spent on discussion), and they usually contain a message or statement that can be discussed or debated. Television commercials are also a mirror of social landscapes, political climates, and social justice movements of their time, which lends nicely to deconstruction of these messages, but also requires discussion of context – when was the commercial released? What was the world like at that time? Here is a list of twelve thought provoking commercials for the classroom, and possible discussion points to explore with your students. 

1. Pfizer - "Sometimes It Takes More Than Medication"

Summary: This commercial opens with scenes of a young man spray painting in an alley. He arrives home to his worried-looking mother, and the assumption is that he is a delinquent. He enters a young girl’s room (presumably his sister), and we find out that she is quite sick, and the spray painting he had done was for a “Be Brave” mural for her to look at outside her window.

Discussion Points: 

  • Does it take more than medication to overcome an illness? 
  • What does this commercial teach us about stereotypes and assumptions? 
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2. Nike - "What Will They Say About You?"

Summary: This commercial begins with a young Arab woman going for a run and encountering disapproving looks from her neighbours. She ponders in Arabic about what they must think of her. It shows other women’s stories about boxing, soccer and fencing among others, and ultimately ends with the message that although people may talk about you, you shouldn’t let it stop you from pursuing your goals and passions because they may just be saying you’re the next great thing.

Discussion Points: 

  • Do you think men face the same fear of criticism as women in pursuing their goals and passions? 
  • Why is it important for women to push boundaries in pursuing typically male-dominated sports or other areas of society?

3. President's Choice - "#EatTogether 2019"

Summary: This commercial, inspired by British American philosopher, Alan Watts’ ‘The Dream of Life’ speech, shows various scenes of people living life to the fullest – mountain climbing, travelling, attending concerts – but ends with the realization that the greatest moments are the ones we spend together around the dinner table.

Discussion Points: 

  • What does it mean to live life to the fullest? 
  • In this age of technology, are we too disconnected from our loved ones?

4. Procter & Gamble - "The Talk"

Summary: This commercial shows different scenes with Black parents having “The Talk” with their kids – talking about the use of the N word, micro-aggressions, police brutality, racism, and hate crimes. The commercial ends with the statement, “Let’s all talk about ‘The Talk’ so we can end the need to have it.”

Discussion Point: 

  • With the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, White families are talking to their kids about racism and White Privilege. What other actions can be taken to help end the need for Black parents to have “The Talk” with their kids. 
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5. Apple - "Earth Shot on iPhone"

Summary: This commercial shows scenic images of Earth, shot by Apple users on their iPhones. It features the late Carl Sagan reading passages from his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot – A Vision of the Human Future in Space, and emphasizes the need for humans to take better care of our planet.

Discussion Points:

  • Do we have a responsibility to preserve our planet for future generations? 
  • How is climate change affecting Earth?
  • How do humans take out planet for granted?

6. Dove - "Evolution"

Summary: This commercial shows a woman going through a transformation of hair, makeup, airbrushing, and photoshop to look like the finished product on a billboard. It sheds light on all of the manipulation that goes into making models look perfect in advertising, and raises questions about our standards of beauty.

Discussion Point: 

  • How can the “perfect” images we see in advertising be harmful to our mental health and self-esteem?

7. Ancestry - "Declaration Descendents"

Summary: This commercial features a culturally diverse group of users reciting The Declaration of Independence. We find out that this group of people are all direct descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as they gather to recreate John Trumbull’s famous painting of the event. The commercial aims to show that we are more alike than we realize.

Discussion Point: 

  • How have attitudes towards diversity changed in North American history since contact (colonialism)? How do societal attitudes toward diversity still need to evolve? 
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8. Adidas - "Break Free"

Summary: This commercial shows an older man in a retirement home remembering his glory days as a track runner. After a few failed attempts at running outside, his friends in the home organize an escape for him. The commercial ends with him breaking free.

Discussion Points: 

  • Is it important to keep life-long passions? 
  • Should elderly people be given more freedom in retirement homes?

9. Google - "Loretta"

Summary: This commercial shows an old man using Google to help him remember his late wife, Loretta. He asks Google to show him different pictures and asks it to remember all of the details for him so he won’t forget. Whether he is dealing with memory loss, grief, or both, Google makes him feel like “the luckiest man in the world.”

Discussion Point: 

  • How does technology allow us to remember and preserve our memories?

10. Gillette - "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be"

Summary: This commercial explores the different ways that toxic masculinity has been accepted and supported in our society, showing scenes of bullying, fighting, man-splaining, and sexual harassment. The commercial ends with scenes of men stepping up as advocates of change. The commercial challenges men to do more in order to be their best, because the boys of today that are watching their actions, will become the men of tomorrow.

Discussion Point: 

  • Some men felt attacked by this ad. Do you think it’s a fair statement on the state of masculinity in our society? 

11. Momondo - "The DNA Journey"

Summary: This commercial shows various people being interviewed about their nationality and ancestry. The interviewees disclose their feelings of national pride, as well as biases and prejudices against other nations or parts of the world. After completing DNA tests, the people are shocked to receive their results and realize that their DNA proves there are more things uniting us than dividing us in the world.

Discussion Point: 

  • If everyone could see their DNA results, how would this help to unite the world and eliminate conflicts among nations?

12. Thai Life Insurance - "Unsung Hero"

Summary: This commercial shows the acts of kindness that a man does everyday, including giving money to a mother for her child’s education, giving food to a stray dog, and helping a woman get her food cart up the sidewalk. The commercial states that these acts won’t make him rich or famous, but they will make him happier and those around him happier. We then see the fruits of his good deeds – the child can now attend school, the stray dog is healthy and becomes his companion, and the woman with the food cart has a prospering business.

Discussion Points: 

  • What does this ad teach us about the true meaning of happiness? 
  • Do you believe the phrase that “money can’t buy happiness?”

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