Analyzing Arguments With Commercials

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13933

From what we eat for breakfast to the sneakers we wear, many of our choices are formed by the advertisements we see. But how much do we analyze the claims made in those ads?


Verbal Communication, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Have you ever been captivated by a TV commercial?

The puppies from Disney's 101 Dalmatians were enthralled by an ad for a dog food called Kanine Krunchies. They could not resist the catchy music and the claim, "You can be a champion, too, if you eat Kanine Krunchies!"

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In this lesson, you'll learn how to zero in on the arguments presented in an ad and evaluate whether those claims are supported by evidence or not.

Whenever you see a commercial, you hear an argument for a particular product. To make an argument means to make a claim and, usually, to back it up with evidence.

However, commercials often lack strong evidence to support their arguments. Sometimes, the arguments are completely false!

Advertisers discovered long ago that there are several ways to persuade people to try their products. These are noted below.

  • ⇒ appeal to logic and reasons
  • ⇒ appeal to emotions
  • ⇒ appeal to authority

Look at examples of each kind and evaluate them.

First, watch an ad for the hazelnut spread Nutella.

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This ad makes it seem like Nutella is a healthy food to add to your breakfast. This is an appeal to our logical mind. If it's good for you and delicious, you should eat it!

However, examine that claim.

If you take a jar of Nutella and look at the ingredients, you'll see sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, etc. The first ingredient listed on the label is always the one that is the most plentiful. So you know that Nutella's main ingredient is sugar. Not exactly the best thing for your body first thing in the morning!

  • Is Nutella a healthy addition to your breakfast?

No, not really.

Maybe you like to eat cereal in the morning.

  • Did you ever think it could increase your ability to pay attention at school?

Look at a commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats.

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Here's another appeal to logic. This commercial claims that students who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast had 11% better attentiveness.

That's great! Notice, though, it says they have 11% greater attentiveness than those who had no breakfast at all!

  • Does this mean that this cereal makes kids more attentive, or could it be that eating anything is better for our brains than eating nothing?

Some commercials make you wonder what their argument is or if they even have one! Watch this ad from Publix Super Markets.

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  • Was Publix trying to sell anything with this ad or make the viewer feel an emotion?

Yes, that was an appeal to emotions. Publix wants you to consider their company an important part of your life.

Look at an appeal to authority next. This technique makes you think that because someone famous uses a product, you should use it too.

  • For example, Ed Sheeran is a singer and songwriter, so he knows a lot about ketchup, right?

He had an idea for a ketchup commercial, and the company gladly went along.

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You could say that this ad claims Heinz Ketchup is used by cool, relaxed people like Sheeran and not by stuffy, fancy snobs like the others at the restaurant.

That means, if you use it, you can be cool like Ed! That is an appeal to authority.

Now that you've learned a bit about persuasive arguments and evaluating claims, head over to the Got It? section to see if you can evaluate some advertisements on your own!

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