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How I Taught Advertising and the Syllabus for It

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How I Taught Advertising and the Syllabus for It
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"I wanted her to know that a copywriter who does not know the world of the masses, the daily grind, their dreams and aches, the smoothness of the handrails of a jeepney, is a copywriter with an incapacitating disability.”

By Vincent R. Pozon

Firstly, why I wanted to teach

A deep ache of mine is to see our country prosper. Advertising is core and crucial – not just to business – but to a nation’s economy. After a career prospering multinational corporations, I decided to dedicate my efforts to local industrialists, help install local products as market leaders in their categories.

Now since it is an advocacy requiring many hands and minds of similar persuasion, I thought of affecting and infecting the young with better values so they would prefer to work in the country, and help influence the economy.

And so I repaired my lack of academic credentials, and taught, in school, in St. Scholastica's College in particular, to help inject values in the industry, and, yes, to help create a better crop from which to hire.

A semester comprised of 18 3-hour classes is hardly sufficient to produce what I had sought. I touched on points that I believe are important, albeit briefly.

STUDENTS BEAMING after presenting for their finals.

Template for life

I devoted the first class of every semester to teaching visioning, specifically on how to make a mission statement, in the hope that it could help students find why they're on earth early in life. I wanted to make sure they wanted to be in advertising for the right reasons. I conducted a lecture, one that has evolved and burgeoned over the years, emphasizing the significance of self-discovery for both professional fulfillment and personal contentment.  The homework was to hie off somewhere, sans cell phones hopefully, to delve into their innermost and identify significant events in life, skills, likes and dislikes, aches and fears, which – when put together – could indicate a clear roadmap of a future, and a mission in life. And since all successful mission statements, personal and corporate, have beneficiaries, I wanted them to identify who or what theirs would be.

This is important to me, as I know far too many colleagues and former employees riding chance and being led by accident deep into careers they did not have the desire or skills for.

Understanding the industry and its instruments

I wanted to give students a working familiarity with the environment of an advertising agency and a general awareness of the expected demands; to help them understand what a creative brief is; appreciate the account manager’s role in the creation of advertising; know how to read a creative strategy; know the principles of writing copy for a variety of media; and learn how to differentiate strategy from craft. I know far too many practitioners who cannot distinguish strategy from execution. Senior ones at that.

I sought to enlighten them about the industry they intended to join, understand the business and not just craft.

One goal was for them to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the various media, and the intricacies of Integrated Marketing Communications, to know when the counter standee is more effective than the television commercial. I wanted them keenly aware of how they were being sold to, from the radio commercials they wake up to, the billboards and tarpaulins along their route to school, the merchandising materials in the corner store, to the banners they encounter while scrolling through their devices. I wanted them to notice every plug, ad, merchandising material, blurb, and caption until bedtime. Their assignment was to observe and record the diverse forms of advertising present in their corners of the world.

Discerning the intentions of the advertiser

I had them examine ads and try to decipher the objectives and strategies of the manufacturers. Beyond wanting sales, what is the manufacturer asking for? Own a price advantage? Make the customer think of his product foremost or first? Cement ownership of a superiority? My objective was to build discernment so they could evaluate what constitutes good and effective advertising and, should they be in a position to commission work from an ad agency, request it intelligently.

Listening skills

I aimed to cultivate their intuitive and attentive minds, emphasizing the significance of proactive listening, a vital skill in advertising, and in life.

For homework, they were tasked to spend time with a relative or friend, “to keep quiet and listen until they have learned something new about that relationship or person, and come to class with that learning.”

The girls came back with touching stories, full of tears and wonderment, as if they had found new friends in their mothers, boyfriends, best friends.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Excerpts from homework:

"She suddenly interrupted me and said 'I’m not happy'.  I was stunned. She suddenly sobbed. I froze. That’s when I got it. I realized, I never really asked how she was. I hugged her and told her I love her. This was definitely the hardest homework I’ve ever had to do."
"He doesn’t remember who people are anymore. As I turned my head towards his direction, his facial expression changed, muscles tensed, tears came rolling down his cheeks. Tears. I couldn’t believe it. Then he started apologizing for crying and I started crying, too."
"I realized that everything starts at home. The family is a foundation. Just like what my mom used to say, “nakakatakot ang earthquake, kasi tinatamaan nya ang foundation. Kapag tinamaan mo ang foundation, masisira lahat.”


I sent them to the wet market, where many, being colegialas, had never set foot in. On another day, I sent them to the supermarket.

I encouraged them to linger, hopefully to begin to enjoy being there, observing shoppers, scrutinizing merchandise, and absorbing the ambiance of these selling venues. And to eavesdrop. Their homework was to narrate something new and interesting that they had seen at the market, and, perhaps, to have an insight that could be of relevance to an advertiser.

“Remember, you're in advertising, and the supermarket and the palengke are where all the science and strategies, all the marketing and advertising efforts are put to the test, to see if they can influence people to buy”.

Excerpts from homework:

"Nakakatuwang isipin na nakakatulog pa sila sa palengke, sa ganitong paligid. Malansa ang amoy at maingay. Uulitin ko, bilib ako sa mga Pinoy."
"I felt awkward. People were staring at me as if they’re saying that it's not right for me to be there. I also saw some vendors together with their family. It was so inspiring to see how happy they looked in spite of the hard work they do everyday. "
"I noticed that when a buyer buys for a sari-sari store, they always buy sachets and not the big packs."
"I noticed a couple arguing about which vinegar to buy. I was walking around, holding a basket in my hands and went closer to eavesdrop. Apparently, the guy wanted to get the Del Monte vinegar brand while the female wanted Datu Puti, because according to her, “Mahal at hindi praktikal sa panahon ngayon ang Del Monte”. The guy seemed really pissed but they ended up buying Datu Puti."
"I only saw three men in the toiletries section and they went straight to the bar soaps aisle then the toothpaste aisle. Men… so simple."


My goal was to demonstrate the most effective ways of generating ideas. I emphasized that, any day, working together tends to be more fruitful than a solitary superstar burning the midnight oil. But instead of traditional brainstorming, I introduced our brainpicking method. It's simpler, gentler, more natural, faster, and, best of all, more harmonious. Instead of long, exhausting overnight sessions, brainpicking takes an hour or two at most.

When there was enough time after the lecture, I would have the whole class tackle a problem or sell a product.

Brainstorming versus Brainpicking
If you’re spending hours, nights even, trying to think of a campaign idea — you’re doing it all wrong.

The big picture and caption

All communication should emanate from a picture and caption, be it a press release campaign or an Integrated Marketing Communications Program. This quality is present in all successful advertising endeavors. I endeavored to teach them our methodology of crafting, evaluating, and presenting advertising messages.

One Sentence Check

This is the measure by which we determine if the complex and voluminous marketing brief was successfully converted into something persuasive. I wanted them to realize early on that they were entering a world of precious seconds: 30 seconds or fewer for a television commercial, 2 seconds for a billboard or a bumper sticker. In seconds, they would need to be clear and persuasive. To think blurbs that burn into minds instead of long-winded press releases. In seconds, work is judged.


I wanted them to carry a healthy respect for the vast influence wielded by advertising. I presented examples of where and how the industry had failed ethically. I wanted them to bring moral and ethical consciousness to the industry and display an exemplary work ethic.

I wanted them to be aware of what was happening around them, to understand that proficiency in craft was insufficient if they lacked curiosity and the desire to comprehend the psyche of their many customers. I wanted them to realize that a copywriter – or any person in the business of marketing – who does not know the world of the masses, the daily grind, their dreams and aches, the smoothness of the handrails of a jeepney, is an advertising person with an incapacitating disability.

After five years, the final bell rang. Has the experiment of 18 sessions per semester – a blink compared to the canvas of a career – yielded the outcomes I set out for? Beyond merely identifying talented individuals to hire, has my stab at being a teacher been productive? I planted seeds – of awareness, of empathy, and understanding. Were there enough seeds? Did they take root? I suppose only they can tell.

If they can be of value to the reader, here are two of my syllabi.

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