Ethos, Pathos, & Logos in Media
In 2015, Pantene signed popular pop artist, Selena Gomez, as a brand ambassador as part of an ongoing marketing campaign to attract the ever-growing population of Latina consumers. Gomez has since created videos using her music to advertise Pantene’s shampoos and conditioners. One of the videos Gomez made in 2019, English Pantene Commercial, provides an example of the effectiveness of visual text and advertising to achieve market share for Pantene (Pantene). A rhetorical analysis of visual text using appeals of ethos, logos, pathos shows the effectiveness of the English Pantene Commercial for targeting audience.
Understanding rhetoric begins first in understanding the intent of the messenger. Salena Gomez is the brand ambassador for Pantene which is defined as a person hired by a corporation to represent the company positively and to make expand brand awareness and increase sales (Wheeler 80). These individuals are not merely selling the product but are intended to reflect the company identity and values (Wheeler 80). Ultimately, these individuals are hired for the large audiences they represent that share similar values to the company (Wheeler 80).
Salena Gomez is a very popular musician and pop singer of Latin descent and has been extremely vocal in her support and pride of heritage when asked if she represents Latin Americans, “Selena Gomez said she “one thousand percent” feels she does. “I’m always very vocal about my background” (Valdez). Gomez’s dedication to the Latin American community provides a large point for Pantene to expand its sales into this community and brand itself with greater diversity (Wheeler).
Within this framework, the messenger is not Salena Gomez entirely but is rather Pantene using Gomez as a channel for communication. It is important to understand this idea because even if Gomez was chosen to represent the values of the company, this does not mean that the company is credible or authentic in meaning. The question of authenticity of the message is not important in the rhetorical analysis but does present the intent and focus for the message.
Understanding these points provides the foundation upon which to analyze the video. The intent of the video is to, ultimately, sell more product and to expand market to Latinas. All rhetoric within the video can be seen through the lens of this persuasive purpose.
The subtle use of ethos appeals in the Gomez video is extremely effective conveying a message to the intended audience of young Latinas. Ethos is defined as an ethical appeal intended to persuade an audience using the author’s credibility or character (Walker). Gomez’s presence in the video conveys, to a large degree, credibility for the product as she is a respected and well-known Latina artist who is trusted by many Latina fans. While this credibility, in terms of ethos, appears the weakest point of the visual rhetoric, it is actually the most important as it provides a foundation for persuasion.
Even though Gomez’s credibility is based on nothing more than likability and popularity, her credibility drives the video’s persuasion in a number of ways related with character. Character appeal is subtly embedded in the visual text in a number of ways, but most importantly, in the depiction of moral or character reference. For example, the video begins with Gomez awakening and seeing her daughter off to school which appeals to motherhood as a character trait (Pantene). This form of rhetoric or appeal to morality is further pronounced through images of Gomez preparing for a wedding (Pantene). Elements such as friendship and family appear in the interactions of girls preparing and the (assumed) father of the bride near the end of the video (Pantene). What these appeals to credibility produce is targeting of Latina consumers who shares these particular values of motherhood and the importance of marriage. As such the commercial taps the Latina market strongly based on values important to the culture reflected by Gomez.
The stronger and more apparent persuasion formed from the video’s ethos, is the emotional appeal or pathos. Pathos or appeal to emotion utilizes emotion such as joy, happiness, and other feelings to persuade audiences to a particular point or conclusion (Walker). The video, in its most simplistic understanding, feels good. This feeling is created through a combination of appeals to emotion starting first with Gomez herself who begins by awakening happy and smiling (Pantene). The video moves through a series of scenes of Gomez seeing her daughter off to school and then shifting to girls (assuming friends) either preparing their hair or being playful (Pantene).
The video’s narrative is not clear in terms of plot but a rough idea of the girls and importance of styling their hair is formed with constant shifting from girl to girl preparing for this wedding (Pantene). This narrative is not entirely clear as the audience must learn what is happening but attention is driven to the story by the positivity reflected in the action (Pantene). This is perhaps one of the clearest examples of an appeal to emotion as the scenes are loosely connected leading to a wedding, but the emotion driven by the playfulness and actions clearly gives the action a positive, upbeat appeal.
Strengthening this video’s positivity is Gomez singing her hit song “Back to You” which is perhaps one of the most powerful examples of appeal to emotion. The song, while upbeat and emotionally charged, has little or nothing to do with the video and may even be interpreted to be counter to Gomez’s character. This contradiction is clear in the lyrics of “Back to You,”
I wanna hold you when I’m not supposed to
When I’m lyin’ close to someone else
You’re stuck in my head and I can’t get you out of it
If I could do it all again, I know I’d go back to you (Genius Lyrics)
Yet, despite singing about thinking about someone while with another person, the video provides an upbeat appeal for a narrative of a wedding. This appeal to emotion is so strong it overrides the obvious contradiction between ethos (character) and pathos (positivity) by leveraging the emotion and feel of the song. As such, the emotion generated by the song and the positive upbeat of the video provides a transference of likability from Gomez, the song, and actions of the video to the audience intended to make Pantene likable to the target market.
The weakest form of persuasion in this video is logos which is the appeal to logic. Logos relies on arguments and the use of facts or logic to persuade audiences (Walker). The video possesses no strong logic and if anything, shows the irrational nature of appeals to credibility and emotion. The video provides no factual argument as present in other shampoo commercials such as Head & Shoulders which often uses the fact that the product effectively treats dandruff. To the contrary, there is nothing in the video to logically or rationally provide appeal to Pantene and the product is only shown twice in the video. This lack of logos is not surprising considering that logos is effective but requires a logical and rational audience to be effective. This is not to say that the audience lacks logic but the video is not trying to prove or argue a logical point and hair products such as Pantene serve a function of beauty in many instances, not practical purpose. This understanding provides a strong underlying argument for the effectiveness of the Gomez video and the effectiveness of visual texts.
Visual texts effectively use rhetoric such as appeals to emotion and character even in the absence of rational argument or facts. Pantene’s video provides the evidence of this as Salena Gomez being a brand ambassador based on no expertise in shampoo and having a strong appeal to young Latinas. The strength of persuasion in this video highlights a number of elements within the analysis of rhetoric. Most important is the idea that persuasiveness is not dependent on logic. If logic were applied to the video the argument would be, Salena Gomez uses Pantene and therefore it is a good product to use, or some other unsound argument. The appeal of the advertisement is emotional and this works for a variety of reasons but most importantly as an appeal to vanity and happiness.
Young, Latina Millennials are the obvious target market for Pantene and more specifically a fun oriented demographic that is family focused. While Gomez represents young, family oriented, Latinas, she is also a highly popular artist of the Millennial Generation (Valdez). This target is spoken to through the visual text using images of and the feel of music but not in an overt manner. This makes her reach long amongst young women targeted in this video which provides cross demographic appeal. This appeal changes nothing but does deepen the lack of logos inherent in the advertisement. Literally, there is nothing beyond Salena Gomez’s youthful, Latina appeal and upbeat music to persuade the audience, but it is enough.
Genius Lyrics. Back to You Selena Gomez. 2020. 1 February 2020.
Pantene. Selena Gomez — English Pantene Commercial (2019). 9 January 2019. 1 February 2021.
Valdez, Maria G. Bad Bunny Asked Selena Gomez If She Felt She Represented Latinxs, and Her Answer Makes Total Sense. 12 February 2020. 1 February 2021.
Walker, F. R. “THE RHETORIC OF MOCK TRIAL DEBATE: USING LOGOS, PATHOS AND ETHOS IN UNDERGRADUATE COMPETITION.” College Student Journal 39.2 (2005): 277–286.
Wheeler, A. Designing Brand Identity. 3. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2010.