Rhetoric in/and Advertising

Table of contents

1. Introduction

An advertisement (or ‘ad’ for short) is anything that draws good attention towards different products and things. Advertisements can shape our perceptions of our environment and of ourselves. While we might pay close attention to a televised news program that outlines the key ideas of a presidential candidate, we probably give very little direct attention to the life insurance commercial that airs during the show’s break. However, the catchy jingle and the humorous slogan used in the commercial may replay in our heads long after the commercial has ended.

Thus, the advertisers spend much time, money, and effort in packaging their brief solicitations into very effective and persuasive messages. Advertisers use many subliminal techniques to get the advertisements to work on consumers. Many people don’t realize how effective ads really are. Some of the adverts floated in the different information media are presented in a manner that appears to be authoritative when indeed they are not. In some cases, companies may get the services of print media writers and editors to shape opinion on certain products through articles, hence deceiving the audience and misguiding the consumer.

2. Appeal

We say that advertisements are persuasive because they attempt to move us to action. Advertisements want us to do something like these advertisements want us to buy a product or a service. Within the bright, intriguing images and the colorful, fun font lies a persuasive argument.

The argument attempts to persuade the consumer that a particular product or service will, in some way, make life better for the consumer. Think of a deodorant commercial that seems to provide a life of excitement, friends, and, perhaps, even attention from the opposite sex. Consider a clothing brand advertisement that seems to give innate style, confidence, and affordability to consumers. Think about all of the advertisements that we come into contact with in each day. Following are the common appeals used by advertisers:

  • a) Fear as a Motivator: Fear appeals focus on the negative outcomes that can happen because of an action or inaction. Advertisers use fear appeals to promote an immediate behavior change such as eating healthier or not smoking. Another fear tactic involves isolation. People will purchase a product to avoid isolation from others because of bad hygiene. Deodorant and toothpaste ads often employ this tactic.
  • b) Humor Creates Emotional Connections: Humor appeals make consumers laugh and create an emotional link with the product. A well-executed humor appeal enhances recollection, evaluation and the intent to purchase the product. Advertisers link the product with the humor. For example, a humorous insurance ad hits the mark when the humor shows the consumer why having insurance is beneficial.
  • c) Rational Appeals to the Practical Side: Rational or logical appeals focus on the consumer’s need for practicality and functionality in a product. Advertisers relay this message by focusing on product features and cost. These ads tell consumers the benefits associated with the purchase of a product. The advertiser then provides proof to back up the claims.
  • d) Sex and Sensuality Sell: Sex appeals capture attention, but seldom promote product consumption. Effective sex appeal ads convey a specific message to the target demographic group. Beer advertisers often use sex appeal to promote their product to men. The typical scene involves several young, average-looking men in a bar. The men purchase the beer and gain the attention of an attractive young woman. Fragrance products use sex appeal to convey romance to women by indicating the use of the product will help her find the man of her dreams. Generally done by showing the woman spraying the fragrance and then capturing the attention of an attractive male who passes her on the street. Overly overt images subtract from the overall message the advertiser wants to convey.

3. Rhetoric Approach

For a strong appeal, ads use rhetoric whose appeal can be strong or weak. A good advertisement has a strong rhetorical appeal. It has ethos, pathos and logos. Apart from being appealing to the eyes, ads must also appeal to the other senses. Effective ads connect with the hearts of the audience. They do not just use logos or the logical appeal but also ethos and pathos.

  • Ethos, or the ethical appeal, means to convince an audience of the author’s credibility or character. Ethos is the Greek word for “character”. These appeals work in ads by calling upon the credibility and the reputation of a particular company or spokesperson. Seeing the goodwill of the company could make consumers trust them and, therefore, this appeal helps to persuade consumers to purchase the products. The “Drink it to believe it” ad by Coca-Cola is a perfect example of “ethos”.
  • Pathos , or the emotional appeal, means to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions. Authors use pathos to invoke sympathy from an audience; to make the audience feel what what the author wants them to feel. A common use of pathos would be to draw pity from an audience. Another use of pathos would be to inspire anger from an audience, perhaps in order to prompt action. Advertisers use pathos to evoke specific emotions in the audience. Pathos tends to be used quite often in advertisements, as emotions are easily stirred in most target audiences through vivid images and touching stories. This is the most common rhetoric device used to persuade the Indian audience. An ad by an NGO against smoking says “You wouldn’t let your child smoke”, directly affects the audience emotionally.
  • Logos , or the appeal to logic, means to convince an audience by use of logic or reason. To use logos would be to cite facts and statistics, historical and literal analogies, and citing certain authorities on a subject. For example, we might see an ad for toothpaste that promises to make our teeth “40% whiter than the other leading brands”. This line appeals to our ability to reason. It seems to make sense that the toothpaste must be effective if it works that much better than other toothpaste brands. Therefore, this statistic helps to persuade us that we should buy the toothpaste.

The following are some more specific strategies that advertisers use. Often, they overlap with the rhetorical strategies above.

  • Avante Garde : The suggestion that using this product puts the user ahead of the times. A toy manufacturer encourages kids to be the first on their block to have a new toy.
  • Weasel Words:“Weasel words” are used to suggest a positive meaning without actually really making any guarantee. A scientist says that a diet product might help you to lose weight the way it helped him to lose weight. A dish soap leaves dishes virtually spotless.
  • Magic Ingredients: The suggestion that some almost miraculous discovery makes the product exceptionally effective. A pharmaceutical manufacturer describes a special coating that makes their pain reliever less irritating to the stomach than a competitor’s.
  • Patriotism: The suggestion that purchasing this product shows your love of your country. A company brags about its product being made in America.
  • Transfer: Positive words, images, and ideas are used to suggest that the product being sold is also positive. A textile manufacturer wanting people to wear their product to stay cool during the summer shows people wearing fashions made from their cloth at a sunny seaside setting where there is a cool breeze.
  • Plain Folks: The suggestion that the product is a practical product of good value for ordinary people. A cereal manufacturer shows an ordinary family sitting down to breakfast and enjoying their product.
  • Snob Appeal: The suggestion that the use of the product makes the customer part of an elite group with a luxurious and glamorous lifestyle. A coffee manufacturer shows people dressed in formal gowns and tuxedos drinking their brand at an art gallery.
  • Bribery: Bribery offers you something “extra.” Buy a burger; get free fries. Bandwagon The suggestion that you should join the crowd or be on the winning side by using a product—you don’t want to be the only person without it!

4. Some Real-Life Examples

Advertisers use all of these to construct their arguments. Many ads will use a combination of all three rhetorical appeals to construct their arguments. All ads will vary somewhat in their use of rhetorical appeals. Much of the strategy depends upon the target audience being persuaded and product being marketed. Ads are specifically designed to appeal to a particular audience, so advertisers take great effort in designing the ad’s to meet the desires, needs, and wants of the target audience.

Consider some of the popular magazines available to us: Cosmopolitan, India Today, Champak etc. If we read through this short list, we can quickly decipher the target audience of each publication. Women make up the target audience of Cosmopolitan; men consist of the target audience for India Today; children constituting the target audience of Champak(only looking at the major target audience). For example, we are unlikely to find an advertisement for lipstick in the India Today magazine.

Likewise, we probably won’t find advertisements for Life Insurance in Champak. Understanding the target audience of a magazine and, especially, of the advertisement, is vital to understanding how the advertisement works to persuade its target audience. When we consider the target audience of ads, we must also evaluate the values, beliefs, and attitudes of this audience.

Some famous examples of the use of Rhetoric devices in advertisements are:

  • Philips: Innovation & You
  • Raymond: The Complete Man
  • L’Oreal: Because you are worth it
  • LIC: Zindagi Ke Saath Bhi, Zindagi Ke Baad Bhi
  • Nirma: Washing Powder Nirma, Sabki Pasand Nirma!

All these ads have a persuasive language which directly or indirectly has a great impact on the customer’s mind. They use words and figures that affect the consumers emotionally and logically. The LIC ad quoted above is a life insurance advertisement and hence uses words such as Zindagi ke saath and Zindagi ke baad thus trying to assure the consumer about their future, hence pursuing them to buy the insurance. Similarly, the Raymond ad implies that wearing Raymond clothes guarantees style, confidence and “manliness” which is quite a subjective topic to talk about and can be perceived differently by different people.

Nike is known to have made some of the most interesting ads whose theme is mostly energy, courage and dreams. These ads are designed to appeal to people interested in sports. However, they appeal to a broader target audience and the reason is their use of creativity and imagination. Nike advertisements even if they primarily target sports lovers celebrate aspirations and victory. This is why a larger audience loves them. These ads are about ambition, achievement, success and goals.

5. Deceptive Advertisements

However, as consumers, we often do not stop and think about how these advertisements work and about how we are vulnerable to the deceptive messages that they send. We often want simple, easy solutions to our problems, after all. After we buy the product though, and realize it doesn’t do all that we thought it would do, we are left frustrated and, often, on the hunt for the next product that promises similar results. In addition to understanding how advertisements use rhetoric to persuade us to purchase products, we also evaluate the rhetoric of an ad to consider which values, attitudes, and beliefs the ad tends to perpetuate within our culture. In other words, in selling these products, how are the ads working to shape our perceptions?

5.1. Rhetorical Ad Analysis:

Let’s consider a typical makeup product ad that features a “beautiful” woman with a “perfect” complexion. She appears confident, happy, and desired. We have all seen these ads, and we recognize the women who are featured in them. Do these women seem to work to define “beauty” for our society? “Beauty,” is, after all, a subjective term that can be defined differently by different people. However, advertisers, overall, have worked to offer consumers a specific image in an effort to define “beauty” for us. They tell us how women should look to be perceived as “beautiful.” In this way, the advertisements not only work to persuade us to buy a specific product, but they also work to tell us who is (and, consequently, who isn’t) beautiful within our culture. Thus, advertisers often sell us ideas in addition to selling us products.


  1. http://www.indianhills.edu/_myhills/courses/ENG105/documents/lu05_rhetoric_advertising.pdf
  2. http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson1166/PersuasiveTechniques.pdf
  3. https://in.pinterest.com/jwilson3993/ethos-pathos-logos/
  4. https://pathosethoslogos.com
  5. https://www.yourdictionary.com/rhetoric
  6. www.google.com
  7. http://www.journalofadvertisingresearch.com/content/58/1/111

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