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The (Selling) Powers of a Good Cry

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

Students will look at a series of popular, “sad” advertisements and discuss the ways in which certain commercials have successfully tapped into elements of rhetoric specific to viral videos. Through this, students will expand their understanding of argumentation to include the very relatable perspective of consumerism.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This assignment acts as a transition point from Unit 1 (summary) to Unit 2 (analysis), ideally introduced the day Paper 1.2 is turned in. Since this activity functions primarily as an introduction to Unit 2, students will be expected to apply Unit 1 concepts – such as summary and kairos – with an additional, analytical dimension. Though not all students studied rhetorical analysis in high school, a brief overview of ethos, logos, and pathos will suffice for this assignment. They will be paying particular attention to intended audience and the ways that it might impact choices in rhetorical strategies.

Media Requirements: 
Required Materials: 

As long as the instructor has access to a console/projector, that should be enough.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

This can be both an informal or formal exercise depending on the instructor’s preference.

 I split the students into two groups and showed students two video advertisements with vastly different strategies. Half of the class focused on visual rhetoric and the other half focused on verbal, written, and aural rhetoric. Each student was given a table where they would cite a piece of evidence from the text and then explain, in detail, how it contributed to the company’s persuasive effectiveness based on intended audience. Students presented their findings in a back-and-forth fashion between groups and eventually came to understand that rhetorical strategies often work as a cohesive unit rather than measurable, separated components (whether that’s ethos, pathos, and logos working together, or visual, verbal, and aural interactions).

 The first advertisement was Chipotle’s high-budget “The Scarecrow.” The ensuing discussion included not just the ad itself, but Chipotle’s situated brand, its parent company, and the smartphone game app associated with the video. In addition, there is an edited version of this same advertisement,“Chipotle Scarecrow (Honest version),” which critiques the hypocrisy and consumerist qualities of the original; this commentary is a nice complement and is a good example of the analytical thinking necessary to writing Paper 2.1.

The second advertisement (“Giving is the Best Communication”) is from Thailand, funded by a massive communications company (True Move H) and contains very little dialogue and text, but makes great use of lighting, music, camera angle, etc. Students have to think a little more creatively to truly analyze it. Many of the students enjoyed viewing and discussing this one and even offered suggestions for further videos to dissect, including “Silence of Love” – a Thai advertisement for life insurance. Life insurance is obviously a sensitive topic which makes this commercial even more interesting. Be warned, half of my class teared up/cried after viewing it.  


Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Watch through all of the commercials so you have a sense of what overlapping strategies are used, how cultural relativism may tie in, etc. There are too many points to cover with these commercials, so be sure to prepare and pick out what you think is most important and relevant to your syllabus.

Instructions For Students: 

Watch and take notes on each commercial.

Decide on the intended audience

The notes should be detailed and organized as follows:

Evidence from the commercial – corresponding analysis

Prepare for a discussion about the advertisements’ effectiveness based on audience/kairos

Evaluation Suggestions: 

Participation and/or worksheet completion

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

Students really took to this, which is unsurprising. The advertisements chosen above went viral because they’re engaging to watch. This eventually grew into a larger conversation about advertisement tropes (in particular, those involved in car commercials).

Course Description: 

Rhetoric 306 is a course designed to introduce students to the fundamentals of research and argumentation.  They are asked to research a controversy, summarize and analyze the arguments of the major stakeholders in that controversy, and then develop their own arguments.

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