Emotion-filled advertisements: ineffective and vapid

Photo by Casey Gomez

I remember being taught about the three modes of persuasion in my high school English class. Essentially, there are ethos, logos and pathos, where ethos is an ethical appeal, logos is a logical appeal and pathos is an
emotional appeal.

We were taught that logos is the best way to persuade someone because it is based on reason. You establish yourself as credible and your argument stands up better. Advertising can be seen as a method of persuasion. There is a company behind the ad that is trying to persuade you to buy their product, be it food, cars, insurance or an app.

I like to think I am pretty immune to advertising at this stage in my life. I have AdBlocker for my browser and annoying pop-ups are a thing of the past. Streaming services, like Hulu, play with limited commercials and I can usually tune them out until the show returns. If I am playing a game on my phone and an ad comes up, I watch the corner for the little ‘X’ to pop up rather than watching the ad itself. I think in general people do not like ads, which is why we have got all these methods to get around them.

Then, something like the Super Bowl comes around, and people enjoy watching these ads. It has become sort of a pop-culture phenomenon to watch the commercials in the Super Bowl. Since there are so many viewers, the advertising slots are more expensive, and companies put more effort and money into their commercials. In turn, the commercials get hyped up and can often be heard the next day in conversation right next to the football game itself.

The trend with these hyped up commercials seems to be that they make emotional appeals to the audience. Whether it is a phone company ad full of babies or a commercial about families that is actually about a car brand, the focus is on the emotion. Sometimes this focus leads to funny commercials or heart-wrenching ones, but these are the commercials that often catch our eyes and hold our attention.

The problem is that these attention-grabbing stories offer little to tell us why we should buy the item. You can watch a full commercial and not even know what it is for until they flash the company name next to their product in the last five seconds. As a consumer, this makes me less interested in the product. Why would I want a specific car brand if a commercial tells me nothing about it?

Part of the problem is that logical appeals are often boring. I do not care how many awards your car has and I am not interested in the statistics. This is especially true of viewers who are skeptical, which many of us naturally are. I do not know the basis of the award or how you got your statistics, so I cannot trust them. You are going to make the studies and surveys say whatever you want to, and I am sure that nine out of ten dentists recommend it.

The other part of the problem is that logos appeals do not work particularly well when the products are all essentially the same. Cars, toothpastes and phones all do the same job. While there are differences between the products, there is usually not enough of a difference to get across in a 30 second ad spot.

So what is the solution? There is not one really. Advertisers will keep churning out ads because they work. They will keep developing ways to get people to pay attention to them. Just look at social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram that show you “suggested posts” disguised to at first look like something your friend shared (but often are based on your previous
internet searches).

Advertising is not inherently bad. We live in a consumer-based society and ads open our eyes to what is out there. But at the same time, ads could be more effective by appealing less to emotion and more to logic in order to create a solid customer base. With technological advancements, who knows — maybe we will be seeing ads for products before we even think we need them.