Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rhetoric of Political Advertising

When talking about rhetoric, we think ethos (appeals to authority), pathos (appeals to emotion), or logos (appeals to logic). Advertisers are the kings of exploiting rhetoric to get you to do something, from buying cars or fast food to electing a president.

Political advertisements often use pathos to scare the electorate into voting for a canditdate who will make things "better." Or, they may rely on hope, the way President Obama did in the last election. Today many political advertisments ask, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" the way President Reagan did in 1984.

Constitution Daily has collected the 10 Best Political Advertisements since 1952.

Here's a couple:

’60 – JFK JingleM
Candidate: John F. Kennedy, Democrat
Did he win?: Yes.

Here's an election that turned Kennedy's youth into an asset with the slogan he's "old enough to know and young enough to do."

’64 – “Daisy”
Candidate: Lyndon Johnson, Democrat
Did he win? Yes.
The spectre of atomic annihilation haunted the American public and this ad (which supposedly only ran once) kept Johnson in the oval office.

’84 – “Morning in America”
Candidate: Ronald Regan, Republican
Did he win? Yes.
This is the first political advertisement that asked, "Are you better off now then you were four years ago?" At the beginning of President Reagan's second term, the answer was "Yes!" The voters took a look at their own lives, agreed, and re-elected Reagan.

’08 – Yes We Can
Candidate: Barack Obama, Democrat
Did he win? Yes.

While online political advertisements had been around since 2004, in 2008 President Obama effectively harnessed the communicative power of the internet to get elected.

How do these different advertisements use ethos, pathos, and logos to get their candidate elected? Are they trying to frighten the masses or convince the masses that their logic is correct? What do you think?


  1. I think that these few political ads are definitely employing pathos, mainly. While watching these clips, you could tell that the purpose is obviously to benefit the politician during their upcoming election, and judging by the results it was clear that putting these ads out was successful. The JFK jingle was so catchy, it makes you hum it automatically, perfect for a TV or radio commercial, sucking the viewer in with flashy images and an uplifting cheery son that will be on your brain for the next few days. Other ads, like the "Daisy" ad is clearly meant to disturb the viewers, enough that they vote accordingly. Small, innocent children are a surefire way to grab any viewers pathos. The Reagan ad is more closely associated with logos, asking simply if life is better now, or four years ago. The last ad, a recent Obama ad, uses the same tactics as the old JFk jingle, while also showing that Obama is being endorsed by celebrities. This is effective in American culture, because so many people look up to celebrities and keep up with them.

  2. Fear is indeed the greatest drive in a person's decision-making ability. With this in mind, 'pathos' becomes the primary tool used by politicians that help gain the upper hand in an election by creating a situation that only a certain candidate can solve. 'Ethos' becomes almost a negative reinforcement when 'pathos' does not work. Authoritative tools are employed to establish a particular viewpoint on the targeted audience (the voters). 'Logos', on the other hand, becomes a positive reinforcement to 'pathos' in the sense that, if a drastic situation is believable, a solution can be employed that is both achievable and effective.

  3. This video advertisement catches its audience by using a few of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous line. The song quotes him and by doing so creates the spirit and culture beliefs of the American people. It connects our past fights and yearning for change to the beginning. Using this technique, you can connect this with Ethos.

    It grabs your emotions by showing actors, singers and artists we are familiar with and in one way or another feel as if we have a connection with them through their work. This is a characteristic of Pathos.

    Logos was accomplished through the quote “Yes We Can.” It made the listener believed that change is possible of happening and having the artists saying, “Yes we can,” the listener believed it even more.

  4. Afsoon Osmani
    All of these political ads definitely use pathos to appeal to the emotional side of the audience's feelings. For example in the Daisy ad it shows an innocent child and a very bad catastrophe that could occur to that child, which definitely grabs people's attention and scares them into voting for that candidate. In the Reagan ad it shows weddinfgs, families and their devotion and love to each other and their country which also appeals to emotional side of the voters, especially women voters since they can relate more. In Obama's ad they use celebrities to sing in praise of Obama because they know that today's generation look up to celebrities, therefore again incouraging them to vote for Obama. So all of these ads fit the time and situation of that certain period. Whether they are scaring the voters or persuading them to vote for them, they are doing a very good job because it really fits into the people's emotional side. Therefore incouraging them to vote on behalf of that candidate.

  5. The advertisers use usual habits by familiarizing us with famous artists that we see or hear in our everyday lives; wheather on the television or the radio. This allows us to relate more to them just becuase we might look up to them as role models, favorite singers, or maybe just the most popular person in our lives.

    Definitely trying to gain a sense of sympathy within the audience and trying to grasp our feelings. Having artists that sing so elegently, smoothly and artistically, makes their voices touch our hearts in such a way that makes us want to vote or join with that paticular group. Its such a smart technique if you really think about it because people might not even know who Barack Obama is, but if someone sees their favorite artist belong side of the candidate, then its most likely that you will get that certaibn person to feel more towards the Obama administration then the other one.

    Using the logo such as "YES WE CAN" makes the people have a sense of hope and inner strength to rise up, get past their fears and face the obsticles within each of their lives. If you tell someone "you can do it" it gives that other person happy and strong at the same time because if other people realize their talents or unique attributes, it will only make them want to express those talents in a fashionable manner. Therefore, that would promote people to vote for this party and yes, that's why he did win.

  6. Its obvious that appealing to emotion is the most powerful way to win a vote, but it seems that appealing to negative emotion has become the most effective method. In all of these videos, although i cant hear them on this computer, they are telling you why you should vote for their candidate. Watching the election today, it seems that most of the advertisements are just telling you not to vote for the other candidate by putting down their record. Most people are annoyed by these negative ads, but they work.