Analyzing Advertisements: Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Analyzing the rhetoric of advertisements is a mode of rhetorical analysis. This means…

  • …we are treating the advertisement as a text.
  • …in writing about the advertisement, our thesis will be an interpretive argument.

Very often, ads rely more heavily on implication than they rely on direct communication.

In large part, when we analyze the rhetoric of advertisements we are looking for ways that advertisements create implicit suggestions to viewers as much as they might also convey explicit claims about the benefits of a product.

Thus, we are looking at the ways these texts communicate clear ideas but find a way to do so indirectly.

Analyzing the rhetorical strategies of advertisements is a convenient way to learn how the rhetorical appeals of ethos, logos and pathos are used as tools of persuasion.

The Big Three of Rhetorical Appeals

Ethos – appeal to authority or credibility

Logos – appeal to reason or logic

Pathos – appeal to emotion

These are the categories of persuasive tools that we typically discuss when analyzing the rhetoric of advertisements (and other texts too).

Let’s take a look at an example.

Pathos – The most prominent rhetorical appeal in this vintage advertisement is pathos, the appeal to emotion.

The ad features a scantily clad woman who appears to be on the verge of becoming even more scantily clad. This sexual appeal is one example of how advertisers attempt to persuade the viewer through emotional appeals, creating an implicit suggestion that if we buy this product we will experience the emotional excitement and sartorial satisfaction that this woman’s state of dress and facial expression promise.

This rhetorical appeal is distinctly different from an appeal to our sense of logic. That means logos is not an active rhetorical element at work here.

Ethos – The ad also utilizes the rhetorical appeal of ethos, the appeal to credibility. It does this most obviously with the statement of the company’s age. If the ad was published in the early 1900s, the company would be one hundred years old. This fact implicitly suggests that the brand has some expertise and can be trusted to provide a quality product.

Additionally, if we presume that “Beecher’s” is a brand that would have been well-known when this advertisement was published, we can say that the ad is using the brand name as another means of persuasion through ethos.

One of the ideas behind branding is to associate a company name with the idea of quality – making the company familiar to the viewer, a known entity. This naturally generates a certain credibility.

Let’s take a look at another example.

This advertisement utilizes ethos, logos and pathos.

Logos – The advertisement makes a direct statement about this product that appeals to the viewers sense of logic – a logos appeal.

The ad claims that this product will make washing easy. Less explicitly, yet still effectively, the ad also implies that this product makes washing so easy that even a cat could do it.

While the idea of a cat doing laundry is not in itself a logical idea, the point of persuasion is actually quite logical. Buy this product because it will make laundry an easier chore.

Ethos – The advertisement here is situating the brand name of the product to amplify the ethos appeal of the company name.

The inclusion of “David Thom & Co., Ltd., Pendleton Manchester” also works as part of the ethos appeal, enhancing the apparent credibility of the company and therefore also enhancing the credibility of the claims being made about the product.

The additional tag-line claim that this product is the “best soap in the world” can also be seen as an example of an ethos appeal, attempting to convince the viewer that this product has stature or status.

Pathos – The cat is having a great time. This is a blatant and straight-forward appeal to the viewer’s emotions.

Thus the cartoon cat is an example of a pathos appeal, implicitly associating this product with happiness and fun.

Writing about Advertisements as Arguments

The examples above demonstrate how to apply the terms of ethos, logos and pathos. In an academic situation, you may be asked to develop ideas along those lines into an essay.

What goes into an essay evaluating rhetorical appeals (ethos, logos, pathos)?

You will do a few things:

  1. Explain the content and message of the advertisement.
  2. Identify the use of ethos, logos or pathos as a means of persuasion in the advertisement.
  3. Comment on the effectiveness of this rhetorical appeal.
  4. Comment on what kinds of rhetorical appeals or persuasive tactics are more successful, most remarkable or most central to the advertisement (and what kinds of appeals or persuasive tactics are present but subordinate to other, more salient devices).
  5. Evaluate the overall success of the advertisement in terms of its aims and its methods for achieving those aims.
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