This paper will discuss a commercial for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), a network of animal protection organizations that features the singer Sarah McLachlan. The nonprofit’s primary activity is the management of shelters for pets that have been abused by their owners. The SPCA name is used by organizations across the world, including the United Kingdom, numerous states, and counties across the United States and Canada.
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The commercial asks the viewer to contribute to the cause by either agreeing to adopt an animal that SPCA rescued or donating to BC SPCA, a Canadian branch of the charity. It was uploaded to YouTube in 2008 by an anonymous user who used the name Hollatronix. Overall, the ad strongly appeals to emotions in all aspects of its presence in an attempt to evoke viewer empathy and move them to action.
The advertisement begins with several lines of white text on a black background with simple effects used to introduce new ones. They are spliced with footage of animals who appear to be stressed or injured, which have presumably been rescued by the shelter. The text claims that there is widespread animal abuse and describes the victims as alone and terrified while waiting for help. The footage changes to a dog who is being scratched behind the ear by a person who is mostly offscreen and responding contentedly. Then, Sarah McLachlan, whose song Answer has been playing in the background, appears on the screen, sitting in an armchair with a happy-looking large dog next to her, and introduces herself. She asks the viewer to help the SPCA’s cause by calling or donating through the website.
At this time, the BC SPCA logo appears on the screen along with the organization’s website and number. The footage of the animals resumes while Ms. McLachlan continues speaking, showing animals in the shelter being treated and fed. The singer promises that people who do as she asks will receive a photo of an animal rescued by the shelter shortly. The footage shifts to a photo of a BC SPCA-branded bag with two AnimalSense journals protruding from it as she adds that supporters will receive the bag for free. Ms. McLachlan appears one last time to deliver the final verbal message of the ad, a personal appeal to the viewer. The commercial ends with a final reel of animals that either looks sad or appear weak and defenseless, such as kittens.
The advertisement initially establishes its ethos in the moral sense, calling attention to animal abuse and highlighting how often it is overlooked. By showing injured and unhappy animals, it displays its commitment and opposition to behaviors that an overwhelming majority of viewers will consider highly unethical. This initial display is reinforced later by the footage of shelter workers caring for animals at the facility and being affectionate with them.
The commercial claims that BC SPCA’s activities consist of rescuing animals from abusive owners and finding better ones for them. Most audiences should agree with the desirability of this goal and view the ad’s message favorably.
While many people will identify animal abuse when they see it occurring, a variety of circumstances often prevents them from acting on their moral impulses. Among them is the unwillingness to confront the owner or to take on the burden of caring for an animal, much less all the different animals one can encounter. By showing that the shelter can rescue animals and help them, BC SPCA demonstrates its possession of useful skills and gains the audience’s goodwill. It implicitly promises to improve animal lives in place of the viewer, who may lack the resources or determination necessary to achieve this goal.
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The advertisement relies heavily on pathos, most likely due to the subject matter. Many people are strongly empathetic toward animals and will be emotionally moved by footage of their happiness or suffering. The commercial uses this perception heavily, featuring footage of former pets in a variety of physical and emotional states. As described above, the tone of the videos shown shifts from distress to happiness as the ad progresses before shifting to sad and lonely-looking animals to punctuate the final message. As a result, the viewer will be affected significantly in the short term regardless of their intention to donate.
The audio track, particularly the speech by Ms. McLachlan, is also heavily reliant on pathos. The song used is slow and somber, and the lyrics, which talk of the singer supporting someone, can be taken to refer to the viewer’s choice to help an animal that cannot aid itself. The song’s author begins her speech with an immediate demand for the viewer to support an animal that is suffering “right now.” She then reinforces the urgency of the issue while using modifiers such as “innocent” and “love” to evoke an additional emotional response. The goal is to move the viewer to donate before the emotional effects of the advertisement wear off.
The commercial’s use of logos is considerably less extensive than its application of pathos. The only potentially verifiable fact used to support the argument is the claim that an animal is abused every hour. However, the claim is provided without a source or any more specific information. As such, there is no guarantee that it is relevant to the commercial since the area where BC SPCA operates may have a considerably lower incidence rate of abuse. In this case, the omission would be unethical and damage the reputation of the organization if people learned the truth.
Overall, the ad attempts to formulate an impression that by refusing to support BC SPCA, the viewer affirms their disregard or support for animal abuse. However, it tends to omit facts and rely on emotion to the exclusion of most other rhetorical elements. Once the viewer stops to consider the charity’s proposition, they will realize that other animal protection organizations exist. They will then look for information about different shelters, which the commercial cannot control and which will not necessarily favor BC SPCA. As such, while the ad promotes animal protection in general, it does not necessarily help the organization that funded it from a logos perspective.
The BC SPCA commercial is heavily reliant on emotion and intends to sway the viewer to donate to the organization immediately rather than reinforce the charity’s image. To that end, it emphasizes pathos with imagery that evokes emotion on a fundamental level and immediate, emotional appeals. The ad establishes an ethos automatically through its subject matter, and it mostly omits logos. One can argue that since charity is usually not based on rationality, this approach is appropriate. Regardless, while the commercial is competent with regard to promoting the overall cause of animal protection, it is not necessarily likely to benefit BC SPCA significantly.