Being fresh out of college with a major in graphic design and a minor in English, I have discovered that I have a unique way of looking at the world. I can share whatâ€™s in my head pretty effectively through both written word and imagery, and I can analyze an ad from both a rhetorical and visual viewpoint.
Rhetoric covers a very broad spectrum of fallacies and appeals, and is â€œthe art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing,â€ as defined by Dictionary.com. Advertising deals a lot with rhetoric because the goal is to persuade the viewer to want your product. Many ads use different kinds of persuasion to their advantage, whereas others misuse them and create a shallow ad that doesnâ€™t make a whole lot of sense.
Things to Avoid
Everyone wants their ad to be memorable and they sometimes do so by making bizarre comparisons, doing something a little bit random or playing on the viewerâ€™s emotions. Examples of these would be Heftyâ€™s â€œWorldâ€™s Strongest Manâ€ commercial, Comcastâ€™s â€œSave Big Bucksâ€ ad, and the animal cruelty commercial featuring Sarah McLachlan.
One of the fallacies that is often used when making comparisons is the false analogy fallacy. This fallacy essentially takes two things that arenâ€™t comparable, and compares them (like apples and oranges). An example of this is Heftyâ€™s â€œWorldâ€™s Strongest Manâ€ commercial, where the worldâ€™s strongest manâ€™s hands are compared to a Hefty slider bag. His strength is not what is preventing him from holding more chili than the bag; the fact that he doesnâ€™t have gallon-sized hands is. While we understand that theyâ€™re just trying to exhibit that the bags are strong and can hold a lot, itâ€™s just not a valid comparison.
Another example of this is Geicoâ€™s â€œTaste Testâ€ campaign, where they have two cups with a different beverage in each, one representing Geico, and the other representing all other car insurance companies. This isnâ€™t a valid comparison because the way something tastes doesnâ€™t reflect how well it functions (unless, of course, itâ€™s food). My desk might taste bad, but it still functions very well as a desk.
Another common fallacy is the either/or fallacy, where the viewer is only presented with two options. Rather than just advertise the product, it is compared to something else to show how great it is. We do this a lot in our personal lives, but itâ€™s not always very rational, because we all have certain biases and experiences that cause us to choose differently. This fallacy is very strongly portrayed in the Kia Soul â€œThis or Thatâ€ hamster commercial from 2010, where they sing/rap, â€œyou can get with this, or you can get with thatâ€ throughout the entire commercial. It shows that the Kia Soul is a really cool car and that everything else is essentially as good as a cardboard box.
This fallacy can be tricky to avoid because you want to show off how great your product is, so you have to be careful.
Knowledge Really is Power
You might be fully aware that these fallacies exist and you may use them on purpose. They can be used effectively, like the way Stride uses the either/or fallacy in their, â€œSpit out your gum or weâ€™ll find youâ€ campaign. Â Itâ€™s funny, a little ridiculous, and they get the point across that their gum is long-lasting. Mercedes Benz uses the false analogy fallacy in their ad comparing a car to ice cream, but it works because the ice cream is more of a metaphor for the car rather than a comparison. Just make sure that if you do use these fallacies, you use them well.