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?


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?

News Radio and MMR

I have a love/hate relationship with my local news radio station, 570 News.

The traffic and weather reports are great, although I tend to avoid the major routes in town. Instead of taking Homer Watson to the expressway, I follow Trussler and Ira Needles up the other side of Kitchener and Waterloo.

Their news coverage can be hit or miss. All too often, a breaking news alert is aired, detailing the next iteration of some celebrity scandal. When so little time can be spent on individual stories between breaks, it’s sad to see such brief coverage of events that truly matter.

I suppose this is where I differ with the general public about what is newsworthy. I would much rather hear about the return and subsequent arrest of previous dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, than any news about Lindsay Lohan’s stay in rehab.

The news reports also tend to gloss over all but the most basic elements of a story, which is unfortunate. Again, I blame the format it’s presented in. It’s difficult to provide in depth coverage on more than one item in eight minutes before the next weather and traffic update. It’s unfortunate though that the 570 News website doesn’t provide any additional details. Their 570 News email alerts are useful ways to notify me that something potentially newsworthy has occurred, but I generally have to go elsewhere for specifics.

Next up, the talk shows. I love Gary Doyle’s show in the afternoon. He has a nice, laid back manner, and while he usually covers lighter features, he always sounds interested in what his guests have to say. Then there’s the Jeff Allan <strike>show</stroke> circus. His show is best when he is covering a political event, and has sitting members of parliament on the show. At the worst of times, Jeff loses control of a call, and starts a yelling match with a caller too intent on following their own agenda, before he cuts their call off. It’s obviously frustrating for the talk show host, but his own combative attitude is often part of the problem. Probably the one thing that most disturbs me about the Jeff Allan show, is when he riles up the audience about a particular issue, such as the MMR vaccine.

As reported in various respectable media outlets, former British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s was found by the British General Medical Council to have acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in his research. A further report in the British Medical Journal, upon examination of the 12 children in Wakefield’s original report, found not only that “patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation”, but that the autistic diagnosis of the children was severely misrepresented. Only one child has regressive autism, while three of the children had no autistic diagnosis whatsoever. The time-frames of the diagnoses were also grossly misrepresented, even to the extent that some of the children “had developmental delays, and also facial dysmorphisms, noted before MMR vaccination.” Essentially, the original Lancet article was a carefully fabricated fraud, based on what Wakefield’s financial backers believed would win lawsuits.

570 News even carried an article by the Associated Press, with the headline “‘Hard to unscare’: Experts doubt latest debunking of vaccine link to autism will change minds” the day before. During Jeff’s commentary, brings this whole commentary, after noting the evidence against Wakefield and his research, Jeff asks “Is Dr. Wakefield’s research a fraud or fraudulent, or is big pharma trying to discredit him?”

One of the interesting things about this statement is that it isn’t even “big pharma” that was responsible for the BMJ article. Brian Deer is an investigative journalist who looked deeper into the original research reports, obtained through the British Freedom of Information Act. This isn’t something written up by other medical researchers. It’s been researched by the media itself. Jeff’s opening commentary is completely leading the listener to think that it’s a big coverup. If someone continues to listen to the interview, all this information comes out, but Jeff still leaves the question open for debate.

While it’s important for journalists to present a balanced view, when something is this cut and dry, does it really merit a discussion? Should we allow hypothetical flat-earthers equal time to dispute that the Earth is roughly spherical, despite the fact that circumnavigation of the globe by sail and by air has proven without a doubt that the earth is round?