Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ethos, Pathos and Logos in Ads

Before the holiday break, I was teaching persuasive writing techniques to my students. This last week, I was laid up and couldn't do much but watch TV. Out of boredom, I began deconstructing commercials to see which persuasive techniques, ethos, pathos and logos, they used.

The most overt were the pathos-based ads soliciting money for abused or abandoned animals. Just try not be emotionally sucked in by a shaking puppy with big, sad eyes with Sarah McLaughlin singing "Silent Night" in the background. The name of the organization could have been "Creepy Guys Who Don't Really Care About Animals" and people would still open their wallets.

I was also struck by the number of actors in white doctor coats (ethos!) touting this or that. It must work, because apparently even prescription drug ads where the "doctor" tells you (as an older couple strolls through a wildflower field) that your tongue might turn purple and your eyeballs might fall out if you use the drug, are plentiful.

This could be a useful exercise in the classroom, using magazine ads for simplicity's sake if showing commercials aren't an option. After a review of ethos, pathos and logos, (I'll have a free lesson plan on this coming soon) you could divide the students into groups and have them watch commercials or go through a magazine and find and discuss examples of all three persuasion techniques.

I just completed a persuasive essay unit, and I asked my daughter to do illustrations to represent ethos, pathos and logos. When I got the one she did for pathos, I cracked up. I don't know if squirrels actually need saving, but who could resist those chubby little squirrel cheeks?


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  2. Love that idea! I totally know what commercial you are talking about with the sad animals...kills me! And the squirrels...adorable! Thanks for sharing.
    Secondary Solutions

  3. Yes, I saw that one with Sara McLaughlin singing. They killed it with sadness. I like this topic!