FTC’s Admongo Promotes Surface-Level Advertising Literacy

Katie Donnelly 

As digital and media literacy education efforts continue to expand throughout the country, even governmental agencies are getting in on the action. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission launched Admongo, an online gaming initiative aimed at helping eight-to-twelve year-olds “become more discerning consumers of information.”

According to the Admongo site: 

The goal of the campaign is to boost advertising literacy by:

  • Raising awareness of advertising and marketing messages
  • Teaching critical thinking skills that will allow tweens to better analyze and interpret advertisements
  • Demonstrating the benefits of being an informed consumer

The centerpiece of the Admongo campaign is a single-player online game. Users create avatars and employ simple gaming functions to navigate everyday settings, searching for hidden advertisements and collecting rewards along the way. All of the ads in the game are fictional, although they closely resemble real ones. Each ad is coupled with a short explanatory video that provides additional insight into the techniques behind ad creation and placement. While the game itself provides a fun new route into advertising analysis in the classroom, it is lacking in meaningful engagement. Users don’t create anything except for their avatars, nor do they interact with one another.



In addition to the Admongo game, the website includes a page for teachers, which features lesson plans for fifth and sixth graders, teacher videos and connections to national educational standards. There is also a page for parents, which provides advice for parents in incorporating advertising literacy into family conversations.

The Admongo curriculum, developed by Scholastic, is divided into four lessons: Ad Awareness, Ad Targeting and Techniques, Ad Creation, and A Smarter Consumer (a final wrap-up lesson that includes a reflection and a quiz)The lessons invite students to consider three questions:

  • Who is responsible for the ad?
  • What is the ad actually saying?
  • What does the ad want me to do?

The curriculum picks up where the game leaves off — here, students have the opportunity to do some creating on their own. While the curriculum moves on beyond the game’s realm of ad awareness, it doesn’t empower students to critically analyze (and accept or reject) the deeper issues involved in advertising, including underlying values regarding consumerism, lifestyle, beauty, age, race and ethnicity, etc. In addition, the final reflection activity is currently the only assessment tool in the curriculum. It includes a 10-question quiz that asks students to identify specific advertising strategies. Only the final question, “Is it important to educate people about advertising? Why or why not?” addresses anything beyond advertising techniques.

See how Admongo can be used in the classroom in the video below:


Admongo has been criticized for its reluctance to take a critical stance, its use of phony advertisements and its partnerships with Scholastic and publics relation firm Fleishman-Hillard  to develop educational materials and promote the project. Admongo’s purpose is for users to become aware of ads and advertising techniques; there is no emphasis on examining the content or the values implicit in the ads themselves. While it doesn’t make for the most powerful digital and media literacy learning experience, this philosophy is in line with the FTC’s role as a regulatory agency (as opposed to an organization dedicated to media literacy education). There are also many compelling reasons why the FTC would not use real ads in this game, including the real criticism that it could be seen as promoting certain brands. However, using real advertisements that students actually encounter in their everyday lives would almost certainly provide for a more meaningful connection to the subject matter. (Admongo does acknowledge this tension by suggesting that teachers bring in real advertisements for analysis as a supplemental classroom activity.)

While it is notable that a federal agency is taking the first steps to address the need for digital and media literacy education on a national level, Admongo does not provide the kind of community-based digital and media literacy programming that is truly necessary in a public media 2.0 world. However, it does provide an entry point for more critical discussions about advertising.  For savvy teachers, Admongo — including its controversial partnerships with Scholastic and Fleishman-Hillard — provides a pretty interesting advertising literacy lesson in and of itself.

This article is part of our series on digital and media literacy education initiatives. Read last week’s article: PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Lab Program Ready to Expand.