What is an Appeal in Rhetoric?

Young man brushing teeth in bathroom
"The act of substituting a new position of value for a more obvious one works like a metaphor. . . . Instead of saying, 'Product Z promotes dental health,' we can say, 'Product Z gives you sex appeal.'" (M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Appeals in Modern Rhetoric: An Ordinary-Language Approach. Southern Illinois University Press, 2005). Simon Ritzmann / Getty Images

In classical rhetoric, one of the three main persuasive strategies as defined by Aristotle in his Rhetoric: the appeal to logic (logos), the appeal to the emotions (pathos), and the appeal to the character (or perceived character) of the speaker (ethos). Also called a rhetorical appeal.

More broadly, an appeal may be any persuasive strategy, especially one directed to the emotions, sense of humor, or cherished beliefs of an audience.

Etymology

From the Latin appellare, "to entreat"

Examples and Observations

  • "Appeals are not the same as fallacies, which are simply faulty reasoning that may be used intentionally to deceive. Appeals can be part of a reasonable argumentative case. The potential for misuse, however, is present in all appeals . . .. Two of the most common appeals are those to the emotions and those to authority." (James A. Herrick, Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments. Strata, 2007)
  • "Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate." (Bertrand Russell, "Freedom in Society." Skeptical Essays, 1928)

The Appeal to Fear

"Fear appeals are one of the most common persuasive devices encountered by consumers today. In a class lecture at our university, a product manager at a telecommunications giant acknowledged that one of the firm's most common sales techniques is to use fear, uncertainty, and doubt--also known as FUD .

. .. Using FUD tactics also may be a component of propaganda campaigns where appeals are made to people to support various causes such as saying no to drugs or smoking." (Charles U. Larson, Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. Cengage, 2009)

Sex Appeals in Advertising

"[L]et's take a quick look at texts that work--or fail to work--using relatively simple appeals.

The best examples come from advertising....

"An ad campaign for a certain toothpaste ... promised that the product would enhance buyers' 'sex appeal.'

"The structure of this appeal is very simple and clear, but the direction of the appeal is anything but straightforward. The toothpaste company occupies the author position; the TV viewer, the audience position. The company has toothpaste to sell; viewers need to care for their teeth but are faced with many choices about which brand to buy... Product Z decides to bypass the whole health issue. It creates an appeal to an altogether different position of value: sex.

"It is fair to ask whether toothpaste has anything to do with sex at all. On the one hand, it hardly seems sexy to think about cleaning food from between your teeth and polishing off plaque and coffee stains. On the other hand, sweet breath and shiny teeth have traditionally been associated with physical beauty (at least in a Euro-American culture). Shiny, healthy teeth also suggest youth and prosperity.

"To capitalize (literally) on these associations, the toothpaste ads show lovely, young, prosperous-looking men and women whose gleaming teeth occupy the central focus of my television screen.

I'm looking at them, without the least hint of doubt that these people have sex appeal.

"The act of substituting a new position of value for a more obvious one works like a metaphor... Instead of saying, 'Product Z promotes dental health,' we can say, 'Product Z gives you sex appeal.'"
(M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Appeals in Modern Rhetoric: An Ordinary-Language Approach. Southern Illinois University Press, 2005)