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Persuasion is the cornerstone of advertising. Using the classic rhetorical devices of pathos, ethos, and logos, advertisers create emotionally powerful campaigns designed to change the ways consumers—or voters—think, act, and feel. The goal of advertising is ultimately behavioral change. With public service announcements like those for gun control, advertisers use the same principles used to market goods and services. As with commercial product advertising, public service announcements are created to invoke a cognitive and emotional response, to change social norms, and to induce meaningful and lasting behavioral change. One print advertisement by the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America demonstrates the deft implementation of pathos, ethos, and logos in a striking visual campaign.
In one Moms Demand Action ad, for example, two school children—both girls—sit cross-legged on the floor of their school library. An American flag is clearly visible in the background. The girl on the left holds up a picture book of the classic story “Little Red Riding Hood,” a version of the story that was apparently banned because the illustration of the title character depicts the young girl carrying in her picnic basket to Grandma’s house a bottle of wine (“Gun Control PSAs By Moms Demand Action Are Striking And Powerful” 1). The girl on the right holds an assault rifle. The text of the ad reads, “One child is holding something that’s been banned in America to protect them. Guess which one.” The latter line, “Guess which one” is rendered in red text. The “Little Red Riding Hood” advertisement is effective because of the skillful combination of pathos, ethos, and logos.
Logos refers simultaneously to the use of logic and language in persuasive advertising campaigns like the Moms Demand Action “Little Red Riding Hood” ad. The language used in the Moms Demand Action advertisement is concise and clear, including the name of the organization. Moms “demand action,” with the word “demand” underscoring the urgency of their issue. Moreover, the moms are demanding action for “gun sense” in America. The use of the phrase “gun sense” instead of gun control achieves the persuasive goal of the advertisement, which juxtaposes the American flag with a clear reference to how gun sense does not conflict with the Second Amendment. The term “gun control” is value-laden and threatens gun proliferation advocates, whereas the term “gun sense” points more to how guns need to be taken seriously and that gun policy needs to be based on common sense and reason, not on mythical interpretations of the American constitution. Placing a flag in the background of the advertisement…
…highlighted in full color. The two girls therefore stand out from the background of the image, drawing the viewer’s attention to them and the objects they carry. Furthermore, the two girls are centered, and the textual part of the advertisement is kept to a bare minimum so as to keep the viewer’s attention solidly focused on the primary subject: the safety of children. Symmetrically composed, the visual elements of the advertisement parallel its strong, logical focus, thus drawing together pathos, ethos, and logos in one single advertisement.
Because it combines pathos, ethos, and logos in an ideal balance, the “Little Red Riding Hood” advertisement is far more successful than most gun control ads. For one, the text of the ad does not even use the word “control,” which signifies authoritarian command and not the American principles of freedom and personal liberty. To promote dialogue on sensible gun policy to potentially hostile audiences, groups like Moms Demand Action need to appeal more to the logic and ethical tenets of the American Constitution, and less to the partisan politics typically invoked in gun control public relations campaigns. Similarly, most gun control ads rely too heavily on pathos, without using logic, language, and ethical tenets strongly enough to stimulate a paradigm shift. This advertisement achieves its goals of policy…
“Gun Control PSAs By Moms Demand Action Are Striking And Powerful.” HuffPost. April 15, 2013. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/gun-control-psas-moms-demand-action-for-gun-sense-in-america_n_3082504.html
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