The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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The art of commercials

You may have seen the title of this article and wondered, “How could commercials possibly be an art?” For a couple years now, commercials have held a nostalgic memory in my heart. In an effort to teach us the importance of rhetoric in all forms, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Record, did an assignment where we had to analyze the rhetorical devices that made certain commercials effective. While I initially struggled with the assignment and feared the red pen marks of high expectation on my paper, I saw the unique art in commercials after being pushed to look closely and analyze them. Instead of paints and pencils, commercials utilize rhetorical devices through a different medium, carefully crafting a curated image to capitalize on the emotion and attention of the viewer. I realized how the credibility (ethos) and recognizability of having celebrities advertise the product was a strategy and how the emotional appeal (pathos) of seeing odd scenarios like Gwyneth Palthrow eating a candle for Uber Eats evokes a reaction, building a lasting memory of the product.  

In honor of Super Bowl LVIII, in true AP English Language fashion, I’ll be analyzing a Super Bowl commercial to see how effective it is in its use of rhetorical appeals. 

Dove’s “It’s the Hard Knock Life” relies heavily on emotional and ethical appeals to promote the company’s brand through a specific social justice initiative. Within the first twelve seconds of the commercial, multiple short video clips of girls playing sports and falling in their attempts enter the screen, paired with the well known song “It’s the Hard Knock Life” from the musical “Annie.” It isn’t until the fifteenth second, exactly halfway through the commercial, that the argument of the advertisement is delivered: “the knocks don’t stop girls from playing sports / low body confidence does,” with the image of a girl looking at herself in her swimsuit. With these words, the intentionality of the song choice, “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” is revealed. The song is a nostalgic reference as those who know the musical know that Annie and her friends persist with grit and determination in life despite the harsh and unfavorable circumstances that they face as orphans. 

In the same way, growing up, girls naturally face societal standards beyond their control—one has to be “thin” enough to be considered pretty, but it’s also frowned upon to be too “thin” because then one wouldn’t have the desirable curves in their bodies—and endless double standards. Women and girls alike confront constant pressures and commentaries about their bodies, which can lead to insecurities, bullying and eating disorders, something that many of the women and girls in the audience watching the Super Bowl can relate to, thus evoking  an emotional appeal through empathy. With those mere twelve words about body image, most people would agree that affirming positive body image is a moral to uphold, thus, citing an appeal towards ethics and morals. At the twentieth second, the last appeal comes in, an appeal towards logic (logos). Here, Dove puts in a fantastically effective statistic: “45% of girls quit sports by age 14”, evoking another emotion of anger and discouragement backed by reasoning and logic. In mere seconds, the build up in appeals leads to their final call to action: “together we can keep them in the game / Join the body confident sport program.” With this final line, we, as the audience, are entranced by another ethical appeal as we will naturally desire to root for Dove, a company that shares our values. 

Story continues below advertisement

Rhetorically, the commercial is emotionally calculated in targeting the three biggest appeals in humans—our emotions, our morals and our reasoning and logic. While this is only a thirty second commercial, without a doubt, the minds behind the commercial know their way not only to our heads, but to our hearts—through the power of rhetoric.

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Esther Zhao, Arts & Culture Co-Editor

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