Ted Yu

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Ted Yu

Professor Hackelton

English 1C

12 June 2006

                 Controversial Advertisements are Not Easily Marketable

       The inability for Americans to save money is reflected through the carnivorous

purchasing of commodities in any given day. Americans don‟t just spend money, they

exude it. However, it isn‟t just because of natural desire that Americans decide to

purchase things, it because of the indefatigable nagging of advertisements that influences

or gives suggestions on what to spend their money on. It is because of this that

advertisements reign heavily on American‟s lives; imagery created by advertisements

work in conjunction with one another to stimulate consumers into having an internal

desire or even an obligation to buy a service or product. Advertisements are so

interwoven into the modern American society that most Americans hardly remember the

products that they advertise. As such, the creators of advertisements utilize often utilize

pathos, the power of emotions, and logos, the appeal to facts and reason, to connect

emotionally with its target audience so that its product can find a new source of income.

Target audiences are chosen for specific products based on criteria such as price and the

appeal of the product based on the age of the consumer. The medium in which

advertisements are displayed in are important as well because niche groups of different

products are unreachable unless the advertisers know where to find them.

       Not all advertisements are for tangible products, but the normal rules of

advertisements still apply to them. The product that is being advertised is intangible but it
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stimulates consumers into spending, invokes emotions, has a target audience, and has

specific mediums in which a created audience should be reached in. The advertisement

features a powerful image of a child holding a gun to his head with tears streaming down

his face advertising the non-profit organization Feed the Children. The image of this

advertisement is what attracts the audience‟s attention but its words sell the product. The

advertisement therefore utilizes pathos and logos together to appeal to an audience. The

advertisement would be shown on mediums to specifically target the niche group of

Believers and also to females over the age of thirty-five because the product relates to

humanitarian services and these two groups typically respond more readily. In order to

target these groups more effectively, the mediums that the advertisement would appear in

would be in daytime television and in ad-space timed around shows like The 700 Club, in

newsletters of predominantly Christian communities, and in internet sites for news and

current events. Ironically, some of the mediums that would probably see the most

response, like current event news magazines and women‟s magazines would probably not

display the advertisement due to its negativity. The advertisement appeals to the public

because it has a powerful image backed up by strong rhetoric, initiating public attention

in a way such that the product being advertised would be controversial and ultimately

garner enough attention to be successful.

       Advertisements often use pathos and logos to obtain the attention and attraction of

a consumer to whatever it‟s advertising. The advertisement uses pathos by stimulating

feelings of pity and curiosity from the viewer. Upon the initial glance, one instantly

wonders where the gun came from and why the child is pointing it as his head as if he‟s

ready to blow his head in. The despite the fact that the image is in color, the colors are
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not bright and cheerful, and uses dull colors. It is because of this that the use of colors in

the text and the differentiation of font size attracts ones eyes into the words, forcing the

audience to absorb the words as well as the horrific image of a child that‟s ready to

commit suicide. The red-colored font used in the description is used to symbolize blood

while the black text upon the boy‟s shirt is used to starkly contrast the white on the shirt

in order to draw the eyes of the audience to it. The information provided by the

advertisement also helps stimulate its audience into having more interest by using key

words that pertain to current events and to the history of the United States. The first word

that strikes a nerve is hurricane. Due to Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005 and the

damage that it caused to America, Americans are now readily aware and afraid of

hurricanes. On a personal observation, I have noticed that hurricanes all over the world

are now reported more on American news outlets like CNN and Fox News exponentially

more so than in the past which says that Americans care, or at least that the media wants

the American public to care. Therefore, the fact that the child in the advertisement is

suffering because of a hurricane probably would strike a nerve to most Americans.

       The ad also uses phrases to give it deeper implications for the audience to

think about. One phrase that is noticeable is the use of „quick death over starvation‟.

Starvation, by itself, is a cause for an eventual death. Quick death is therefore used in

order to reiterate the fact that the child was suffering tremendously and opted to end him

life instead of suffering a slow death. This kind of rhetoric is used so that the audience

not only pities the boy because he suffers, but also so that the audience could understand

better the pain of starvation. Suicide is the ultimate testament to the inability to cope with

the inequities of life. Another key phrase is “spare the lives of other children in
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Vietnam.” Vietnam is specifically referenced because the country has a special place in

the history of the United States. Vietnam could be purposely stated in order to invoke

guilt, especially amongst older Americans because of the loss of the Vietnam War which

allowed communism to take over Vietnam, creating the poverty that the boy lived in

which ultimately led to his suicide. However, the recognition of the country also might

imply that culturally, Americans are less knowledgeable about geography and need the

aid of verbal recognition to prevent ignorance. Obviously, any other coastal country in

Asia or South America has similar issues, but Vietnam is still mentioned because

American males need to see where the country is and how it relates to them before they

care. American women would probably respond to the advertisement nevertheless. The

final key phrase—the most powerful phrase, is “will you help?”. The centrally placed

phrase is the only one that utilizes italics. The use of italics on the word you creates

unimaginable power because the word then specifically targets the audience on a viewer-

to-viewer basis. The phrase creates a guilt that should reverberate through the reader,

invoking action. This, of course, is not effective for all groups, but for the Believers and

women of thirty-five, this phrase should be the one that guarantees action.

        The primary targeted audience consists of believers. Believers are, “…people

[that] support traditional codes of family, church, and community… As consumers they

are predictable favoring American products and recognizable brands. They regularly

attend church…” (Twitchell 205). The Believers would be the primary targeted group

because this group is the group that is the most caring for community service and

volunteer-oriented activities because they are principle oriented. The advertisement

doesn‟t try to sell a product, but rather an idea to help others. It is because of this that the
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pity generated by the advertisement would force the Believers into action. It is also

notable that the company being advertised is Feed the Children, an American Christian

non-profit organization ( meaning that the Believers would support it

even more. The other targeted audience would be women over the age of thirty-five.

Women are often governed by their emotions, and as such, women react when

emotionally satisfied or traumatized. The advertisement is would definitely traumatize

women into action, causing many to visit the site to do whatever they could to prevent

other children from suffering the same cruel fate as the child in the advertisement. This is

due to the fact that women in this age-group often also have children of their own,

inciting additional pity because they understand what it‟s like to see their own children in

pain. Younger American women would most likely not understand the complexities of

poverty and sadness of a young child that only a mother could understand.

        The medium of print in which this advertisement would succeed the most would

be in Christian newsletters but ironically, despite the fact that magazines are a central

medium for advertisements and would be better than a Christian newsletter; this

advertisement would most likely be banned from most magazines because of its

controversial imagery and message. The most obvious place that the advertisement would

thrive is in women‟s magazines. However, Gloria Steinem says of women‟s magazines,

“Clothing advertisers like to be surrounded by editorial fashion spreads… and shampoo,

fragrance, and beauty products in general insist on positive editorial coverage of beauty

aids… for particular products and nothing too depressing; no bad news. That‟s why

women‟s magazines look the way they do: saccharine, smiley-faced and product-heavy,

with even serious articles presented in a slick and sanitized way” (Steinem 188). Since
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most magazines targeted towards women are for fashion, it‟s not hard to conclude that

this advertisement could never appear because of its depressing message. There are other

women‟s magazines like Home and Gardens but the advertisement would likely share the

same fate as with fashion magazines. Since the targeted audience is not widely available

within the readers of Time and Newsweek, two magazines that traditionally write

editorials full of colored photos of dead bodies and war, it wouldn‟t be strategic to place

the advertisement within its page. This is because, “Among the big three news

magazines, readership tends to be male. Time and Newsweek each have about two million

more male readers than female, and U.S. News has three million more men than women

thumbing through its pages” (Magazines: Audience). Readers of news magazines are

typically not part of the Believers and as shown, there is a heavy imbalance between male

and female readers, making this magazine an unlikely base for the advertisement. There

are magazines that would probably allow the advertisement. Magazines like The

National Geographic and O, Oprah Winfrey‟s magazine, cover all topics, but it is

unfortunate to conclude that most magazines would not allow the publication of the


       Television and the internet are the two electronic media that would be used to

target audiences. In order to reach women over thirty-five and the Believers, the

advertisement would be placed in different times and in between different programs to

target each group. As previously stated, women over thirty-five are specifically targeted

because they have children. Many of these women are housewives due to having to take

of the children and as such, are the largest group of people that watch television in the

daytime. Steve Craig, of the University of North Texas says, “A general rule of thumb in
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television advertising, then, is that daytime is the best time to reach the woman who

works at home…Older women, who also make up a significant proportion of daytime

audience, are generally considered less important by many advertisers in the belief that

they spend far less money on consumer goods than young mothers” (Craig 162). The ad,

however, is not for a consumer product. Older women are more likely to respond to this

ad than to younger women because it applies to their lives more. Also, this advertisement

would also be placed here because women would be already emotionally charged from

watching their soap operas. Showing this advertisement during that time slot would

definitely be appropriate if one wants to invoke a reaction because women could

potentially be ready to sob due to the drama anyways. The other important television

programming block is the kind Believers might watch—Christian shows like The 700

Club. These kinds of shows attract very generous people that are willing to donate to

humanitarian causes as well as raise funds to help with crises. Christian shows are often

placed at different times, but it is not the time the program plays that matters, it is when

the program is on that matters. The advertisement would need to be placed during a

commercial segment while the program is on in order to obtain maximum viewership.

       Unlike in television, ads in the internet have more channels in which they can

appear and also have no time restrictions. There are millions of websites that all fight for

web-traffic. The advertisement would probably be best placed in sites that advocate

finding volunteers and disaster relief because then it would reach its niche market without

trying. However, the ad could also be strategically timed to appear in heavy-trafficked

sites such or These times would have to be strategically placed

during the weekday hours at the same time as when the soap opera women are home, or
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at night after primetime to avoid heavy controversy from parents who deem the ad unfit

for children to see. However, the placement of the ad in a peak-traffic time could also be

good as well because it insures that every audience sees the ad.

       One apparent flaw that the advertisement may have is the understatement of the

brand. The brand of the company being advertised is overshadowed by the powerful

imagery and words. However, it‟s because of this that the branding might be noticed

better than if it stands by itself without the image of the child. This tactic is used because

the image itself is already enough to create curiosity, action, and initiative from the

viewer. Consumers are becoming oblivious to branding; people no longer remember what

advertisements are for unless the advertisement grabs the attention so much that

additional action is taken to research upon a topic. The ad doesn‟t use many words; it

only uses words to provide a short story and a way to solve the problem within the story.

All the text it needs is therefore stated and attention should be easily given. If a viewer

truly looks at the advertisement, then it‟s not hard to spot that the brand is “Feed the

Children”, but the branding might not have been noticed without the outrageously

powerful image and text.

       The outrageous imagery and its accompanying text attract the attention of the

viewer by being emotionally-powerful; as such should attract attention to the label of the

company as well as the cause by being controversial. The target audiences of the ad are

the Believers and women older than thirty-five due to the likelihood of a response from

these two niche groups. Magazines would be utilized to advertise Feed the Children, but

this ad would appear at the highest frequency in daytime television hours because that‟s

when many housewives watch television, and also during Christian programming
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because the Christian and Believer audiences are the most likely to create funds in

response to the advertisement. The internet would also be used because it can advertise at

anytime to be the only outlet for the general public. The branding might not be too

noticeable at first, but this is a strategy; the allowance of more space for outrageous

imagery garners more attention from the viewer, thus allowing more attraction and

possible purchase of the product.
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                                      Works Cited

“About Feed the Children.” 11 June 2006. <http://www.>.

Craig, Steve. “Men‟s Men and Women‟s Women.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on

       Popular Culture for Writers. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston:

       Bedford/St. Martin‟s, 2006. 161-72.

“Magazines: Articles.” 11 June 2006 <http://www.Stateofthe asp?cat=3&media=7>.

Steinem, Gloria. “Sex, Lies, and Advertising.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on

       Popular Culture for Writers. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston:

       Bedford/St. Martin‟s, 2006. 183-202.

Twitchell, James B. “What We Are to Advertisers.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings

       on Popular Culture for Writers. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston:

       Bedford/St. Martin‟s, 2006. 203-7.
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