EM SC 470
Applied Sustainability in Contemporary Culture



Please watch the commercials below before continuing.

McDonald's Baby Commercial
Click Here for Text Alternative of McDonald's Baby Commercial

This Commercial shows a man with a baby driving around the McDonald's drive-thru early in the morning. Instead of stopping at the drive-thru window as someone would normally do, the man continuously drives around the McDonald's in the drive-thru lane without stopping. The reason that he does this is because there is a sleeping baby in the back seat, and he does not want the baby to wake up. The McDonald's employees don't understand what is going on at first, but eventually, they catch on and try their best to help him. The steps the employees take to help them include talking really fast and quietly into the intercom when the man drives by the intercom and making a sign that shows his total at the front of the store so he can see it as he drives by. Eventually, the employees make his order, and he swaps it really fast with the money that he uses to pay for the order. He then fist pumps in front of the restaurant before he drives back onto the road.

Credit: McDonald's
PlayStation Vue - Menace:60 Commercial
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This commercial begins by showing a man getting his mail. It also shows a guy working on a cable line that takes off his sunglasses to reveal that he is a robot. Once he takes his mail inside he pulls out his cable bill. He tries to pull his bill out of the envelope, but the bill is very long and continuously comes out by itself. The man is noticeably startled by this. The commercial then cuts to a woman in bed woken up by an alarm. She then picks up the phone and begins crying into it. She then grabs the phone and rips it from the wall where it is plugged in and throws it on the floor and begins hitting it and crying. The commercial then cuts to a screen that says "It's time for better TV," and then it cuts to a screen that says PlayStation Vue.

Credit: Kripton84
Children See, Children Do Video
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This video shows how children copy adults no matter what they do. The video starts out with more harmless things and then it gradually gets to very concerning, evil things. The video starts out showing a little girl copying and following an older man talking on his phone while walking. Then it shows a woman with another little girl copying her on a payphone. Next, it shows a man waiting for the train with a little boy copying him. After that, it shows a woman going up an escalator smoking a cigarette with a little girl following her also smoking a cigarette. Then it shows a man drinking and then littering with his can and a little boy follows and does the same thing. Later, it shows a girl stumbling in an alleyway about to throw up with a little girl following her and copying her. After that, it shows a woman sticking her middle finger up at another driver while driving and a little boy in the back seat is also sticking up his middle finger at the other driver. Then it shows a man pointing and yelling at a dry cleaner employee and a little boy next to him does the same thing. After that, it shows a man and a little boy throwing rocks at an animal. Then it shows a woman and a little girl drunkenly yelling at a baby in a crib. Finally, it shows a man getting into an argument with a woman that turns physical, and the video stops as the man and a little boy following him are about to throw a punch. The video then says "Children See, Children Do", and then it shows a man helping another woman pick up her things after dropping them. The screen then reads "make your influence positive, "and then the commercial ends.

Credit: NAPCAN

What was your reaction to each of these videos? Was your reaction to each similar in any way? Different? If you have not already, take a moment to think about how each commercial tried to persuade you through its emotional content.

Optional Viewing

Please click on the link below for an explanation of pathos.

As noted in the video, pathos can be defined as "the emotional quality of the speech or text that makes it persuasive to the audience." Though most often associated with sympathy, sadness or similar "sad" emotions, pathos can utilize the full range of human emotion, including anger, joy (e.g., through laughter or inspiration), frustration, suspicion, curiosity, scorn, repulsion, jealousy, desire, compassion, hope, love, and more.

Please take a few minutes and think about all the ways that the commercials at the top of the page attempt to elicit an emotional response. Do these attempts make the commercials more persuasive? Why or why not?

Click here for a discussion of pathos found in the McDonald's commercial.

The McDonald's commercial uses one of advertising's favorite pathos tools - the baby. Babies tend to elicit all kinds of positive emotions - e.g., happiness, sympathy, love, and compassion. When in doubt, find a way to put a baby (or puppy) in your advertisement! (No, seriously. Next time you see some advertisement, see how often a baby or puppy appears.) The commercial also uses humor and (for parents, anyway) empathy. Even the music evokes pathos. Note that the baby is essential to the plot of the commercial, but I submit that (s)he has absolutely nothing to say about whether or not I should eat at McDonald's. Pathos does not need to be logically consistent with the rest of the work. It is meant to play on the audience's emotion(s). This is one thing that distinguishes the first ad from the second.

Click here for a discussion of pathos found in the second commercial.

The second ad uses kind of an odd mixture of suspense, dread, and humor to get its point across. The humorous aspect in and of itself has little connection to the product. (It should be noted that there is some humor in the first commercial as well, e.g., the girl hurriedly sliding over the counter in the middle of it.) However, the negative emotion created by the man's reaction to the cable bill and the woman's to the telemarketer could be said to have a direct connection to the real-life experience of issues related to cable TV. Of course, this is all seriously overdramatized (at least for me, but I suppose everyone reacts to their bills in their own way), but milder versions of the emotions expressed are not far-fetched.

Click here for a discussion of pathos found in the third commercial.

The third ad uses pathos (sympathy, sadness, anger, etc.) to get its point across, but the pathos is very much consistent with the message of the video. Speaking for myself, the imagery used in the third video makes it much more impactful than an article providing statistics about how parents' behavior can negatively impact children. In other words, the pathos served its purpose.

I consider the pathos in the McDonald's ad to be "fake pathos," which was described in the video from Purdue. From my perspective, the McDonald's ad is a clear attempt at emotional manipulation (though I don't think they want the viewer to think that), and thus compromises the ethos of the company because it calls into question their credibility. Call me a cynic, but I don't think that the goal of making the ad was to spread joy and laughter. As the folks from Purdue mentioned, that is the risk you run if your pathos is not genuine. The Sony commercial is overdramatic, but it's so "over the top" that it's quite clear that it is done in jest and (again, speaking for myself) does not compromise ethos. Regardless of how genuine or fake the pathos is, it is still used to create an emotional response. To a large extent, the impact on ethos is subjective.

Pathos in Writing

Pathos is the most commonly used rhetorical strategy in advertising (both print and video) because it is often relatively easy to do with imagery. See below for an interesting example from the World War II era.

Poster from World War II showing an image of Hitler in the passenger seat of the car being driven by a solo driver
Figure 4.6: This is a poster published by the U.S. government. Who would have thought that driving alone could be equated with supporting fascism? Yikes. The goal was to reduce fuel use in order to have more supply for the war effort. A clear, and from where I'm sitting, effective use of pathos.

Pathos can also be conveyed in writing. As noted in the video, this often boils down to word choice, in particular, adjective choice. In fact, word choice often provides the reader with insight into the motivations of a writer.

Suggested Reading

The two articles below are about the same issue - the revised "Clean Power Plan" announced by the Obama Administration in August of 2015, which has since been revoked by the Trump Administration. This plan was designed to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants in an effort to "take real action on climate change" by requiring states to meet emissions standards set by the federal government. This would impact some states more than others - states who get a high percentage of their electricity from coal would be particularly impacted. As you can well imagine, this is not without controversy. When reading the articles below, pay special attention to word choices that can elicit emotion, especially when other, more neutral words could have been used. Note that both are from reputable websites, but that both are opinion pieces.

Click here for a discussion of pathos found in the Wall St. Journal article.
  • The pathos flies off the page before the article gets started! Note that the subtitle is "States should refuse to comply with Obama's lawless power rule." The use of the adjective "lawless" is very evocative. It is not necessary to the facts of the article (though it does coincide with the author's opinion), but does set the emotional tone of the article nicely.
  • Note the highlighted text. All of these word choices are examples of pathos, meant to "get a rise" out of the reader. Comments are in parentheses: "Rarely do American Presidents display the raw willfulness (meant to elicit disgust at power-hungriness) that President Obama did Monday in rolling out his plan to reorganize the economy (a common conservative talking point, and not a compliment) in the name of climate change. Without a vote in Congress or even much public debate, Mr. Obama is using his last 18 months to dictate (again, suggests power run amok) U.S. energy choices for the next 20 or 30 years. This abuse of power (power monger!) is regulation without representation. The so-called (suggests skepticism) Clean Power Plan commands (power word) states to cut carbon emissions by 32% (from 2005 levels) by 2030. This final mandate is 9% steeper ("higher" or a rephrasing could be used) than the draft the Environmental Protection Agency issued in June 2014. The damage (suggests assault) to growth, consumer incomes and U.S. competitiveness will be immense (especially strong adjective)—assuming the rule isn’t tossed by the courts or rescinded by the next Administration."
  • More highlights: "States have regulated their power systems since the early days of electrification, but the EPA is now usurping this role to nationalize (suggests power-grab by the government; suggestive of socialism) power generation and consumption. To meet the EPA’s targets, states must pass new laws or regulations to shift their energy mix from fossil fuels, subsidize alternative energy, improve efficiency, impose (suggests forcing against one's will) a cap-and-trade program, or all of the above. Coal-fired power will be the first to be shot (suggests violence), but the EPA is targeting all sources of carbon energy. As coal plants have retired amid seven years of EPA assault (violent word again), natural gas recently eclipsed coal as the dominant source of electric power. This cleaner-burning gas surge has led to the cheapest and fastest emissions plunge in history, but the EPA isn’t satisfied."
  • Other word choices include "central planning," "punishing" states, "bull-rush" states, "distorting the law" beyond recognition, "intimidate" the states, global warming "stampede," and climate change is too important to "abide by relics like the rule of law or self-government."
Click here for a discussion of pathos found in the Union of Concerned Scientists article.
  • “We congratulate President Obama and Administrator McCarthy for their bold and visionary leadership (elicits respect and admiration), and EPA staff for a final plan that is fair, cost-effective, and builds off of proven, successful policies (indicates the correctness of policies) that many states have already put into action."
  • “The Clean Power Plan provides us with our best shot (again, implies correctness) to meet our international climate goals and lead (indicates good leadership) the rest of the world towards a strong international climate agreement. This will also be a catalyst for a clean energy economy at home that will benefit all states through a more diverse energy supply, cleaner air, and homegrown job growth."
  • “We are pleased the facts (implies that they are correct) about cost-effective (very positive term) carbon reductions won out, as evidenced by the increased role of renewables in the plan. UCS has said all along that rapid growth in renewables is feasible and affordable, a fact that is supported by the shift to clean energy already underway."
  • “And as a former RGGI chair, I know first-hand that states can cut carbon pollution and grow their economies far more effectively when they work together rather than if they act alone. With the final rule, EPA encourages states to collaborate, which makes perfect sense (a clear suggestion that they are right) — the electricity market crosses state lines, therefore the best solutions are regional in nature."
  • “We also note that the final rule wisely (Hey, they are doing smart things!) includes measures—such as early action credits for investments in renewable energy and an extended initial compliance date—to limit the risks (negative connotation) of a rush to gas. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, with risks of methane leakage in its production and distribution, therefore a large-scale shift to natural gas will make it more difficult for the United States to make the deeper emission reductions needed by mid-century. The rule also takes significant steps to help low-income communities cut their energy bills and join in the benefits (very positive terminology) of a transition to a low-carbon economy."

Optional Reading

Here is another short article about the Clean Power Plan. See if you can pick up on any use of pathos from the author, or not.

Was pathos used by the author? The only instances of pathos are used to describe what other people are saying - e.g., "slashing jobs," "driving up prices" - the author himself writes dispassionately about the topic. This demonstrates good reporting, using more ethos and logos (see next section) to persuade the audience.

Optional Activity

Add and/or change some words from the Time Magazine article to evoke more pathos in the following paragraph. Have some fun with it!:

"In a report released last week, public policy professor Marilyn Brown found that boosting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power would reduce energy costs in the long run as they become more readily available. Even if energy costs did go up in the short run, she argued that would cause consumers to invest more in things like energy-efficient appliances, which would again lead to lower electricity bills over time."
Click here to see my version of a pathos-filled report from someone against the policy
"In a report released last week only days after Obama's massive 600-page regulatory overreach was released, public policy professor Marilyn Brown alleges that forcing the increased use of unreliable energy sources such as wind and solar power would reduce energy costs, but only in the long run and only if they become more readily available. Even if energy costs did skyrocket in the short run, she argued that this increased burden on consumers would be a good thing, because it would force them to invest more in things like energy-efficient appliances out of desperation. This, according to the author, would result in lower electricity bills over time."

Please note that I am not advocating one opinion over the other on this topic, nor am I saying that either of the authors is telling untruths. I am merely pointing out word choices that convey pathos. Perceptive readers will pick up on such word choices, which may compromise ethos. Pathos can be an effective persuasive technique, but generally only if the reader agrees with the author's arguments. As critical thinkers, you should be skeptical of anyone that uses pathos in such a way that appears to try and persuade you to believe one thing or another, whether or not you agree with the overall point.

Finally, back to the statements at the beginning of this lesson. Which one is most pathos-filled?

  1. I think solar panels are a wonderful technology, don't you?
  2. I have been in the energy business for almost 40 years, including 30 in the oil and gas industry. But like you, I'm a cost-conscious homeowner with bills to pay. I've never seen technology as potentially game-changing as solar panels. Those things are going to change the world, and better yet they will save you money.
  3. Did you know that Tesla Energy will install and maintain solar panels on your roof at no extra cost? You don't have to lift a finger, and you will end up paying less for electricity than you do now. You can save money and get inexpensive, clean electricity. And all of it is guaranteed by contract! I had them install panels on my house, and couldn't be happier. They'll do the same for you.
  4. You know, every time I see that old coal-fired power plant I think of all of the innocent children living nearby that are probably having asthma attacks because of the pollution. That's why I added solar panels to my roof.

Of course, the last one is the correct choice. The use of children's suffering and in particular the use of the word "innocent" are both meant to elicit pity, and ultimately sympathy. Even if it is true, the statement is unnecessarily emotive. I could have just kept to the facts and stated that said power plant has been shown to cause asthma problems for children. This is a strong reason to be concerned. It is still an example of pathos but does not lay it on quite as thick.