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Fallacies in Advertising
According to Bassham et al. (2002), a logical fallacy is “an argument that contains a mistake in reasoning” (p. 140). There are two types of logical fallacies, fallacies of relevance, and fallacies of insufficient evidence. Fallacies of relevance happen when the premises are not logically relevant to the conclusion. Fallacies of insufficient evidence occur when the premises do not provide sufficient evidence to support the conclusion. Though there are several logical fallacies, four logical fallacies commonly found in advertising are amphiboly, appeal to authority, appeal to emotion, and non sequitur.
An amphiboly is “a fallacy of syntactical ambiguity deliberately misusing implications” (Master List, p. 1). This occurs when the arguer misinterprets a statement that is grammatically ambiguous, and then proceeds to draw a conclusion based on this false interpretation. An example of an amphiboly is if someone said, “I shot the burglar in my pajamas.” One could interpret this sentence to mean that the burglar was wearing the pajamas when he was shot, while the real meaning is that the shooter was wearing pajamas when he shot the burglar. The commercial for the Sonicare Elite is a perfect example of an amphiboly used in advertising. The speaker in the commercial says, “Sonicare is professionally used by more US dental professionals than any other electric toothbrush brand” (www.optiva.com). This statement leads people to believe that the Sonicare is used by the majority of all dentists, when, in reality, the Sonicare is only used by the majority of dentists that Optiva surveyed.
Another fallacy seen all the time in advertising is appeal to authority. “Appeal to authority is committed when an arguer cites a witness or an authority who, there is good reason to believe, is unreliable” (Bassham et al., 2002, p. 162). Donald Trump endorses McDonalds, while Shaq endorses Burger King. Sure Donald Trump may be an expert in business, and Shaq may be an expert at basketball, but are either one of them an expert on fast food? Why should we buy products just because sports stars and famous people tell us to? Appeal to authority can also happen when the authority is an actual expert on the subject, but is bias toward one side of the issue. For example, a doctor makes a commercial supporting a new herbal supplement designed to help people lose weight. Then you find out the doctor works for the company selling the herbal supplement. Clearly, this doctor has a bias in favor of the position he is taking, which calls into question his objectivity.
Appeal to emotion, often seen in political advertisements, is a type of argument that attempts to arouse the emotions of its audience in order to gain acceptance of its conclusion. Although emotion is not always out of place in logical thinking, there is no doubt that strong emotions can undermine rational thought and playing upon emotions in an argument is often fallacious. The appeal to emotion fallacy persuades people to vote for a particular candidate or support the government’s decision to do things, such as go to war. Polling data shows that shortly after 9/11, only 3% of Americans believed that Iraq was involved in the attacks (Feldmann, 2003, para.5). Just before the United States went to war with Iraq, the government launched television ads showing pictures of where the World Trade Towers once stood. They showed the flag flying, people praying, and the faces of widows and children that had lost a parent. These ads also revealed a link between Iraq and the terrorist attacks. They stimulated emotions, and as of March 2003, polls showed that 71% of Americans supported the war in Iraq (Blanton, 2003, para.2).
Non sequiturs are also commonly found in advertising. Non sequitur, Latin for “does not follow,” is “an inference or conclusion that does not follow the premises or evidence” (www.dictionary.com). Any car or beer commercial that associates its products with scantily clad women implies that men should buy these products because they can somehow impress their friends or become closer to beautiful women. You can find an example of non sequitur on the Corona website, where you see a tropical beach with a bottle of Corona sitting in the sand (www.corona.com). What does the beach have to do with Corona? The beach is a distraction and is supposed to make customer associate drinking a Corona with relaxing in paradise.
The logical fallacies of amphiboly, appeal to authority, appeal to emotion, and non sequitur are often found in advertising to persuade us to purchase certain products, whether we need them or not. In order to think critically, we need the proper skills. Whether reading advertisements, deciding which politician to vote for, or buying a new car, we need to know how to carefully examine the statement to determine the validity of the content or structure. When a person’s argument is flawed, it is usually from a fallacy. Fallacies are defects in an argument, which cause the argument to be invalid or weak. By understanding what fallacies are, we can avoid making them and detect when other people use them.
Bassham, G., Irwin, W., Nardone, H., & Wallace, J. (2002). Critical Thinking. [University of Phoenix Custom Edition e-text]. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies Publishing. Retrieved August 25, 2004 from University of Phoenix, Resource, MGT/350–Critical Thinking: Strategies in Decision Making Web site: https://ecampus.phoenix.edu/secure/resource/resource.asp
Blanton, D. (2003, March 13). Poll: Steady support for action against Iraq. Retrieved August 28, 2004, from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0%2C2933%2C81023%2C00.html
Feldmann, L. (2003, March 14). The impact of Bush linking 9/11 and Iraq. Retrieved August 28, 2004, from http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0314/p02s01-woiq.html
Master List of Logical Fallacies. [University of Phoenix Custom Edition e-text]. Retrieved August 25, 2004 from University of Phoenix, Resource, MGT/350–Critical Thinking: Strategies in Decision Making Web site: https://ecampus.phoenix.edu/secure/resource/resource.asp
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"Fallacies In Advertising." 123HelpMe.com. 08 Mar 2014