Tag Archives: the new rhetoric

Bad Commercials: I Keep Hearing It Twice

I’ve been irritated by commercials before in the past, but over the past year, I’ve become better at analyzing why certain commercials annoy me.

The most recent commercial to raise my ire is one for Rogers TV. Since the primary radio station I listen to is 570 News, which is owned by Rogers, this gets played far too often. Here is a transcribed version of the commercial, between “Roger” and “Bill”. An audio version could at one time be found here.

Welcome to Rogers Tech Talk, I’m Roger and I was just telling Bill that Rogers has the most HD programming.

The most HD programming?

Plus you get a free Rogers HD box.

A free Rogers HD Box?

When you trade in your satellite receiver.

When you trade in your satellite receiver?

Yup.

Are you sure about this?

I keep hearing it twice, so I’m convinced.

I keep hearing it twice, so I’m convinced too!

Well then, switch today and trade your satellite receiver for a free Rogers HD box. Visit a Rogers Plus store or an authorized dealer. Conditions apply.

While it is true that repetition is one of the most common elements of effective advertising, it is best used with care. In this commercial, there are 166 total words, of which roughly 40 words are repeated phrases. The commercial draws undue attention to this repetition, using the repeated phrases as a reason why the audience should buy into the message.

In The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, Chaïm Perelman argues that “the simplest figures for increasing the feeling of presence are those depending on repetition” (174, emphasis his). By presence, Perelman refers to the parts of an argument on which the audience is intended to focus, by bringing that element to the forefront of the speech.

In essence, the key elements of the commercial are as follows:

A) Rogers has the most HD programming.

B) You get a free HD box when you trade in your satellite receiver.

C) Visit a Rogers Plus store or an authorized dealer to sign up.

D) Conditions apply.

Using the terminology of Stephen Toulmin, elements A and B are unbacked warrants, leading to the claim of C, but with a rebuttal of D. The commercial is trying to suggest that elements A and B are sufficient to induce the audience to accept C.

This commercial utterly fails to provide any supporting evidence for these warrants. Instead, the commercial suggests to the audience that sheer repetition of these warrants should be sufficient.

As Perelman notes, “the weaker the arguments seem to be, the greater the doubt raised by the mere fact of arguing in favor of a thesis, for the thesis will appear to depend on these arguments” (480). One of the key elements of this commercial which irritates me is the suggestion that since these statements have been repeated, that I should be convinced that this is a great deal.

This use of repetition only serves to highlight the weakness of their argument for me, and suggests a strong sense of disregard for the intelligence of the listening audience. If this commercial is intended to persuade people, I’m insulted.

If the purpose of the commercial is instead to remind the audience that if they trade in their satellite receiver, that they can get a free HD box, it’s slightly less offensive. I’m aware that commercials can work at different levels, and not all of them are intended to work as a direct sale. As Lavidge and Steiner note, “the ultimate function is to help produce sales. But all advertising is not, should not, and cannot be designed to produce immediate purchases on the part of all who are exposed to it”. They further provide a series of seven steps in advertising which lead towards an eventual sale.

In a sense, I can see how this commercial could provide support to Lavidge and Steiner’s theory, the rhetorical effects used seem insulting to myself. They’re really quite weak in the three elements of Aristotle’s rhetorical modes of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos.

In my view, the argument starts with a lack of ethos: As a commercial advertisement, there is a vested interest in the outcome. While there is an attempt to speak from a position of authority (“Roger” from “Rogers Tech Talk”), it really lacks authenticity. The logos, or logic of the argument is admittedly weak. Finally, there is no real sense of an emotional appeal. If anything, I feel negative emotions based on my reception of the arguments.

Adding to the problem, at least for myself, is that this commercial is played on a heavy rotation. It’s not uncommon for it to be played in consecutive commercial breaks, intensifying my sense of outrage.

Is this an effective advertisement? I have now spent time and effort responding to it, although in a negative way. Does this reinforce the intended message?