“Right now, there is an animal that needs you. Your call says, ‘I’m here to help’, please call right now”. Sarah McLaughlin’s 2007 ASPCA commercial is arguably one of the most gripping, and most difficult to watch commercials. The ASPCA, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, was founded in 1866 with the intention “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.’ (ASPCA Website). The organization releases various fundraising campaigns commercials which have been proven extremely effective. Since the airing of the commercial in 2007, the pitch has raised over 30 million dollars for the organization (ny times). The two-minute long commercial, consisting of pictures, statistics and commentary successfully convinces viewers of the importance of their message. What makes this commercial so incredibly effect? Through the use of intense visual pathos, this commercial is able to place direct responsibility upon the viewers of this commercial and create a sense of guilt within the viewers. The presence of singer Sarah McLaughlin successfully develops the ethos of the commercial which is supported by simple, but effective statistical evidence.
The purpose of the commercial at hand is to not only receive valuable donations, but to gain awareness of the organization to improve national and international credibility. With this purpose in mind, directors of the commercial are very straight forward with their intentions towards the audience. They are here for donations and networking. It is as simple as that. They do not try and market the notion in a sideways or misguiding way. The directors are very clear in their attempt to reach their audience by directing this commercial to be applicable to a diverse audience. By providing images of both dogs and cats, any animal lover within the audience will feel sorrow and responsibility for the cause. In order to elicit additional donations and widen the targeted audience, the director targets fans of Sarah McLaughlin by designating her as the organizations’ spokeswoman. With cases of animal abuse reaching an all-time high in 2006, just months before the release of this commercial, the timing of this commercial could not have been more perfect. Publicity of this issues was beneficial by increasing not only awareness of the issue at hand, but also reaffirming the necessity for organizations like the ASPCA.
Opening with images of animals confined behind fences, suffering on the medical table, and struggling to walk, the director comes out strong with the use of pathos. Pathos is developed by the sorrowful images supported by the emotional Sarah Mclaughlin singing “Angel”. This initiates an immediate sense of sadness as the audience is overcome with emotions. With the images presented, the director takes a strong stance towards viewers with animals. Viewers with animals will feel an additional sense of obligation and sorrow as they similarities of their own animals in the pictures presented. Struggling to keep emotions in control, viewers are bound to feel the necessity to help these animals.
The choice of music in the singing of “Angel” by Sarah Mclaughlin is very effective in supporting the pathos throughout the commercial. The soft, melancholy tone of the song support the somber environment of the images, while the lyrics coincide to support the message of the ASPCA. With lyrics containing verses such as, “In the arms of an angel, fly away from here”, the directors create an imagery of the animals not only suffering, but “flying away” from their suffering. The “angel” directed in these lyrics is that of the audience members, inferring that by donating, one can become the angel for suffering animals.
Halfway through the commercial, footage transitions from images of suffering animals to Grammy winning Canadian singer Sarah McLaughlin sitting on a couch with a loveable Golden Retriever on her lap. By presenting McLaughlin as “ASPCA Support”, the commercial not only is confirming the charitable reputation of McLaughlin herself, but directors are successfully affirming the creditability of the organization with the logic that if McLaughlin, a positive public figure supports the cause, then it must be creditable. The use of celebrities is a very common, and effective rhetorical technique. When viewers see celebrities in which they look up to, a role in which Mclaughlin fits, individuals are more likely to accept the importance of the cause and donate to the fund. The casualness of this scene enables viewers to connect on a deeper level with the Grammy winner in their ability to possibly see themselves in this situation.
Logos or logical appeal, is utilized in this commercial to primarily assert the urgency of the cause. Intermittently placed between photos of suffering animals, the screen projects statistics such as, “Everyday in America thousands of animals suffer from cruelty or neglect”. Some would argue that the effectiveness of such statistics are too vague and therefore do nothing to contribute to the true logos of the message. However, within the context of this commercial statistics such as the one included are more effective. The use of the statistics are in place to simply reinforce the effectiveness of the images. I believe that the authors intentionally utilized this category of statistics to ensure that overly complex statistics do not take away from main message. By providing minimal simple statistics, the images are placed front and center and are not taken away from focus. In utilizing works like “every day”, directors are pushing the urgency of the cause, therefore eliciting immediate donations. By portraying the sentiment that an individuals’ immediate donation can lead to the saving of an innocent animal, their appeal is much more effect. The ease in donating is affirmed by breaking down the costs of donating. “For just 60 cents a day, you’ll help rescue animals from their abusers”. This aspect of the commercial is not just pathos in the portrayal of animals being abused, but it appeals to logos in demonstrating how minimal of a donation it takes to create a difference.
Often it is not the amount in which is being asked for donations which prevents individuals from donating. Frequently it is taking the step to actually donating which restricts organizations from receiving donations. The directors of the commercial acknowledge this flaw and therefore add additional incentive to take that step and begin donating to the cause. “Call or join online in the next thirty minutes and you will receive this welcome kit with the photo of an animal in the shelter right now, one who has been given a second chance thanks to you”. Along with the photo of the animal, ASPCA is offering a free t-shirt and wrist band as added incentive to donate. Therefore, individuals will receive more than just the moral satisfaction from donating. By receiving a t-shirt, photo, and wristband individuals will receive physical compensation for their generosity. This may seem as a minimal contribution and repayment, but for many individuals they need that physical compensation to make their contribution seem worthy.
While the ASPCA commercial with Sarah McLaughlin makes an extremely compelling argument, it is logical fallacies present in the rhetoric are undeniable. While pathos is the strongest rhetorical strategy utilized in this commercial, this form of persuasion is heavily fueled by the logical fallacy appeal to pity. Appeal to pity is the “The attempt to distract from the truth of the conclusion by the use of pity” (logical fallacy). By using photos of suffering animals guaranteed to elicit feelings of pity, directors distract viewers from the logical reasoning within the commercial. The commercial makes no attempt to show how the organization has been successful in saving the lives of suffering animals. It shows no statistics of the success of the organizations or how the money will be allocated. Viewers are so caught up in the emotions in which they feel that they are unobservant in the logical reasoning of the cause.
In addition to the appeal to pity, the slippery slope logical fallacy is heavily used in two ways throughout this commercial. The slippery slope fallacy is defined as, “When a relatively insignificant first event is suggested to lead to a more significant event, which in turn leads to a more significant event, and so on…” (Logical fallacy). This fallacy is found in the way which the directors of this commercial present the importance of donating. They assert that by making a small donation, the organization will be able to save the lives of thousands of animals. Can $18 per month really save the lives of thousands of animals? No. The organization develops this premise on the assumption that many people will donate based on this commercial, with little to no importance of singular donations. This fallacy also exists on the other side of the argument. The directors present the assumption that if individuals do not donate, they will continue to allow animals to be harmed. Therefore, taking a relatively small event and leading it to a larger, more significant event. While these logical fallacies are present, they do not deter greatly from the effectiveness of the commercial.
Overall, the ASPCA makes an effective effort in asserting the importance of their organization and the necessity of donations.