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 that: "You can be a champion, too, if you eat Kanine Krunchies!"

Watch Kanine Krunchies from Kidd Magneto:

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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'll 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, many times commercials do not have strong evidence to back up their arguments. In fact, sometimes, the arguments are completely false!

Advertisers discovered long ago that there are several ways to persuade people to try their products. They are:

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

We'll look at examples of each kind and evaluate them.

First, watch an ad for the hazelnut spread Nutella.

NUTELLA from Ashly Covington:

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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 us and delicious, we should eat it!

However, let's examine that claim.

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

  • Is Nutella really 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?

Let's look at a commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats:

Frosted Mini-Wheats | Television Commercial | 2009 from Analog Indulgence:

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Here's another appeal to logic. The claim this commercial makes is 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 over those who had no breakfast at all!

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

There are some commercials that make you wonder what their argument even is or if they have an argument at all! Watch this ad from Publix Supermarkets.

Another Day Brought to you by Publix from Abigail Zoe Lewis:

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

Yes, that was an appeal to our emotions. Publix wants us to think of their company as an important part of our lives.

Let's look at an appeal to authority next. This technique makes us think that, because someone famous uses a product, we should use it too.

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

Well, it seems he had an idea for a ketchup commercial, and the company gladly went along with it.

Ed's Heinz Ad from Heinz:

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We could say that the claim of this ad is that 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 we use it, we 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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