Saturday, March 12, 2011

We interrupt this blog…

     Yes, that is an advertisement.  I’m actually going to ask you to have a close look at it.  Clicking on it should give you the full-size image.
     I should begin by saying that I am not associated in any way with Honda, I do not endorse Honda or its Odyssey, and I was not paid to publish that advertisement - it’s actually the subject of my assignment for this week.  I scanned that image from a magazine, and I have reproduced it here for the purpose of review (given that I just posted their ad here for free, I think they can hardly complain).

     Go ahead and click on it, and check out the full-size ad.  Look at it for about ten seconds.  When the ten seconds are up, close the image and think for a moment about what it was trying to tell you.  Then come back to this post.  I'll wait right here.

     In his treatise “Rhetoric,” Aristotle described three modes of persuasion:
  • Logos (logical appeal) is based on facts, information, data, etc., regarding the subject.
  • Ethos (ethical appeal) is based on the character of the party doing the persuading.
  • Pathos (emotional appeal) is based on the character of the party being persuaded, speaking to the wants, needs and emotions of the audience.
     These concepts outdate advertisements in any recognizable sense by a millennium or two, but, as we will see, they are still applicable today.

     Consider this advertisement for the Honda Odyssey.  A semicircle of water and a rainbow frame the subject of the ad, immediately drawing our eyes to the Odyssey itself.  The van is off-center overall, but the arcs surrounding it create the impression that it is in its own little world.
     Quite a world it is!  The pool of shining water around the Odyssey is in stark contrast to the asphalt around it…and, as our eyes travel outward, we see that the contrast continues between the mundane urban world and the fantastical world of the Odyssey.  Sunshine, rainbows and butterflies - beauty and elegance.  The lily pond and deer - nature.
     Compare that with the fading, out-of-focus city all around the Odyssey's bubble.  The only greenery outside of the bubble consists of neatly pruned shrubs enclosed in concrete.  We see a lamppost, with an exit sign attached.  More subtly, in the upper-left corner we can see what is apparently a corporate office building…or was.  It has evaporated, its outline vanished, its remains wafting into the heavens.
     The caption tells us that the Odyssey is "the van of your dreams"; this dreamworld appeals to a desire to escape from the dreary metropolis into a more pleasing plane of existence.  I hardly have to tell you that this is pathos through and through - and we identify easily with the woman staring, dumbfounded, at the natural wonders within the bubble.

     The display of nature, however, leads us into another mode of persuasion.  What's that on the deer?  28 miles per gallon - and the placement of this number is no accident: it equates the Odyssey's mileage with nature, telling you that buying the Odyssey is good for nature…and, by extension, it says that Honda cares about the environment.  This is, of course, an ethical appeal - ethos.

     I should add that the stated MPG is, more directly, a simple form of logos.  Indeed, once the artistic pathos has captured our attention, we find that the ad has plenty of straightforward logos, presented as the only text in the ad.  (Third row folds down; available Bluetooth; 28 hwy mpg; V-6 engine.)
     Finally our eyes fall on the largest word on the page, located in the bottom-right so as to be seen last: Odyssey.  "Introducing the all-new Honda Odyssey."  Ideally that word, "Odyssey," should resonate in the reader's mind when they are finished with the ad.

     I mentioned identification with the dumbfounded woman in the ad.  Who exactly is meant to identify with her?

     I found this ad in a cooking magazine, whose audience presumably consists mainly of women (I myself got it from my grandmother).  Well, the only human figure in the ad is indeed a woman.  Her clothing implies a sense of metropolitan fashion, but her vivid shoes, rolled-up jeans and especially her colorful shirt also imply a desire for something less conforming - which might explain why she is so impressed by the otherworldly bubble.
     We see that she has been shopping - and those are not cheap grocery bags she's holding, they obviously represent a more important (read: expensive) kind of purchase.  New shoes, perhaps, or a designer outfit.  She probably drove through quite a bit of the aforementioned mundane urban metropolis, to get to the store, and she probably spent quite a bit of time picking out whatever is in the bags, and quite a bit of money in purchasing it.  Now, however, the goods hang dejected at her side, completely forgotten in the wonder of the moment.
     So then what we see throughout the image is from this woman's point of view.  The exit is out of focus, the building behind her (perhaps her place of employment) is now naught but a fading memory.  She looks at this van and sees, in her mind's eye, all of the wonders that surround it in the image.  Since we are supposed to be identifying with her, we get a window into her imagination, and we see those wonders, too.

     All of this is meant to be assimilated in a glance, which is probably all that it's going to get from the average reader…but a glance is enough.  That glance will fall directly into the Odyssey's bubble, invoking the ad's pathos.  Then, as the reader turns the page, he or she will catch a glimpse of that one highlighted word: "Odyssey."  The rest will be absorbed subliminally - most of these details will never be noticed outright, but a reader who spends as much as two or three seconds looking at the intriguing image will completely understand the overall message conveyed.
     That's an awful lot of subliminal messaging - it took me over 750 words to explain everything that's going on in this ad, and so the magazine's reader is expected to absorb 750 words of information in just a few seconds.

     So, going back to your ten-second examination when we started: How much of this stuff did you glean from that quick look?  How much was readily apparent?  How much was there that you didn't really think about at the time, but were nodding your head in agreement when I brought it up?
     Take another look back at the ad.  This time, don't limit yourself to ten seconds - take as much time as you need to recognize and understand all of the subtle elements…and the next time you see an ad on TV or in a magazine, take a moment to think about the kind of appeals it uses.  Is its message dominated by logos, ethos, or pathos?  How much of the message is expressed outright, and how much of it depends on subliminal manipulation?

     The people who make these advertisements can be pretty tricky.  Perhaps all of this knowledge will make you a more savvy consumer; perhaps it was just an interesting read…or maybe I just bored you to tears with a three-page essay about a car ad.  If so, then I apologize, and I hope my next post will be more to your liking…and, if it was that boring for you reading it, imagine me writing it!


  1. Frankly, I found this post quite, quite far from boring. You did an excellent job of turning this assignment into an interesting post. I like your interaction with your audience -- inviting them to look, notice and ask questions themselves. You give a very detailed analysis of the elements in the ad and their appeals and I couldn't be happier with the overall effort. Very well done!

  2. Funny Conclusion Paragraph, but it isn't true, your post was awesome and did not bore me to tears. I liked how you described the two worlds. As "pinonknitter" said, you had good interaction through writing. again, Awesome post!

  3. This wasn't boring at all! nothing else to say good job!

  4. this post was far from boring and I very much enjoyed reading it.... i cant find anything wrong so ill leave it at that, AMAZING post!

  5. I just so happened to find you post EXTREMELY not boring! You analyzed every detail perfectly and interact with the reader in a pretty cool way! I also loved how you mentioned almost-subliminal advertising.

    One thing - I don't understand the paragraphing... sometimes you have one or two or three spacings between paragraphs. Maybe it's just me.

    GRAND job!