Advertising Lines of Appeal

Lines of appeal are the approaches used by advertisers to attract potential customers or clients. When a clothing company is trying to persuade people to buy its products, for example, it might use an advertisement that shows a group of attractive young friends wearing clothes from that brand and having a great time. In such an ad, the advertiser is appealing to your desire to be part of a group, so this kind of advertising approach is called a social line of appeal.

When you see such an advertisement, you won’t automatically think ‘Gosh, I can have more friends if I wear that T-shirt’ and then rush out to buy it. Instead, the advertiser is trying to plant a seed in your mind—that there is something special about the product or brand. The hope is that you will have a more favorable impression of the product/brand and that you will be more likely to buy it when the opportunity arises.

If you understand how lines of appeal are used in advertising, you can better protect yourself from having your thoughts and emotions manipulated by advertisers and you will be better able to make better consumer choices. 

Here are some of the most common lines of appeal:

  1. Social appeals (Friendship, Part of the gang, Romance, Sex, Stand out, Family, Good Housewife)
  2. Beauty & youth appeals (Beauty, Youth, Natural beauty)
  3. Lifestyle & culture appeals (Prestige/status, Adventure, Exotic, Fitness, health & athleticism, Culture, Subculture & Anti-subculture)
  4. Creativity & humor appeals
  5. Potential/improvement appeal
  6. Personal appeals: positive emotions (Heartwarming, Nostalgia, Empathy, Social issues, Patriotism, Cuteness)
  7. Personal appeals: negative emotions (Fear, Shock, Guilt, Outrage)
  8. Rational appeals (Solution, Bandwagon, Scarcity, Value for money, Authority/expert, Statistics, Celebrity endorsement, Testimony, Technical, Heritage/tradition, Modern/futuristic, Durability)
  9. Nature appeal
  10. Other appeals (Brand, Music, Comparison, Plain)

Trigger warning: some of the ads featured in this article are for addictive products (cigarettes, alcohol) and/or have sexual, racist, misogynistic and/or bigoted imagery.

1. Social Appeals

These kinds of advertisements focus on appealing to our desire to belong, to fit in, to be accepted, to be loved, to be desired and to be appreciated. There are a few different kinds of social appeal.

1.1 Friendship

Friendship appeal ads usually feature two or three people, typically of the same sex, happily enjoying each other’s company.

American Eagle Ad
Maltesers Ad

1.2 Part of the Gang

Having close friends is good, but belonging to a large group of young, attractive, energetic fun-loving friends will make your life richer and more colorful. This is the implied message of the part-of-the-gang line of appeal. Ads using this line of appeal typically feature a large group of laughing or smiling friends having a great time.

American Eagle Ad (The warm muted colors, sea of denim and long hairstyles give the ad a 1970s nostalgia feel)

1.3 Romance

Who doesn’t want to be loved?

Ad for Coca-Cola

Some companies like Hong Kong watchmaker Solvil et Titus make the romance line of appeal an important part of their brand identify. Solvil et Titus advertisements are often melancholic and nostalgic and deal with themes such as longing, separation and loss, which is a very different approach than the ‘love and happiness’ message of the Coca-Cola ad shown above.

Ad for Solvil et Titus

The company has created several long cinematic commercials such as this one (featuring a classic 1980s Canto-pop song, 似水流年, or ‘Years Flow Like Water’, sung by Anita Mui):

It is still quite rare to see same-sex couples in love appeal advertising; however, here is an example from a campaign by Coca-Cola to combat LBGTQ discrimination in Hungary. This ad campaign combines romantic appeal and social cause appeal.

Pro-LGBQT ad campaign from Coca-Cola.

1.4 Sex

Ads using the sex line of appeal tend to focus on the body as an object for sexual desire.

A typical Abercrombie & Fitch ad

Sex appeal used to be one of the most common lines of appeal in advertising, but it is less popular these days. One problem is that it has already been used so much that it has become too obvious. Another problem is that if this approach is done poorly, the advertisement may come across as being tacky or in bad taste. For example, in the following ad from Dolce & Gabbana, it looks like the woman is being attacked.

A questionable ad for Dolce & Gabbana

Sex appeal ads can be more subtle and may focus on suggesting a sexual feeling in they way the model looks at the camera, in the model’s gestures and/or in product shapes.

Coca-Cola ad

1.5 Stand out

Being part of a fashionable and energetic group is great, but wouldn’t it be even better to be popular and ALSO stand out from the crowd and catch everyone’s attention. The stand out line of appeal is based on this desire.

Midori ad

1.6 Family

Ads that use the family line of appeal tie the product or brand to the idea of a warm and loving family. Watchmaker Patek Phillipe, for example, ran a successful family appeal ad campaign in which they presented their watches as part of a family tradition. Each advertisement shows a parent and child bonding over a shared experience with the text explaining that the company’s watches can be family heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation. By focusing on attractive young parents with attractive children doing luxury activities like sculling, the ads combine the family appeal with prestige, potential and beauty appeals. The idea that the watch can be passed down to the next generation is also related to the durability line of appeal.

Family appeal can be combined with a fear appeal (‘Use our product to keep your family members safe!‘), as in this ad by Michelin, a tire manufacturer.

Michelin ad (This ad uses a play on words. The expression ‘ride on’ means ‘of vital importance to’, as in the sentence ‘The success of the program rides on the whether or not we can raise enough money.’ And of course, ‘ride on’ in this ad also literally means that family members are riding in the car)

1.7 Good housewife (outdated)

Here the focus is on being a good housewife. This outdated kind of ad is sexist in nature and implies the true value of a woman is in her ability to do household chores, please her husband and raise children. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, women’s magazines were filled with advertisements such as the following:

Heinz ketchup ad (‘HEINZ KETCHUP beckons a man! It cultivates the habit of coming home to eat’.)
Ad from the British Gas Council

Men’s magazines also used to feature ‘housewife’ ads, but these focused on what a man could buy that would improve his wife’s cleaning or cooking.

Ad for a Kenwood blender (“Cooking’s fun” says my wife “…food preparation is a bore!”)

You still see ads that use this line of appeal, but such ads can attract negative publicity. For example, Hong Kong company Giordano was criticized for this clothing line and accompanying ad. In the ad, the man is wearing a ‘Work’ T-shirt and a woman is wearing a ‘Cook’ T-shirt, thus reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Giordano ad

The decline of the use of the housewife appeal show how lines of appeals can go in and out of fashion.

2. Beauty & Youth Appeals

These two lines of appeal are tied to the desire to be more attractive.

2.1 Beauty

A beauty appeal ad often just features a young, attractive and slim model doing nothing but looking off into the distance, off to the side or directly at the camera. The model in the advertisement is an ideal object to be admired for his/her good looks alone.

Lancôme lipstick ad

The advertisements often feature highly attractive models shot in carefully controlled environments with professional lighting. In addition, the images are also often Photoshopped to remove wrinkles and skin blemishes or even to adjust the body shape of the model. As a result, the images often show a kind of unobtainable ideal.

The beauty line of appeal is especially common in cosmetics, skincare and fashion ads.

Ad for shoes from Giuseppe Zanotti (The model isn’t even wearing the shoes; she just holding them)

This use of beauty appeal is less common in men’s advertising, but it is still a relatively popular advertising strategy.

Calvin Klein fragrance ad

Although the beauty line of appeal is commonly used in ads for clothing and skincare products and cosmetics, it can also be used for any kind of product or service. For example, the following ad for Sennheiser headphones uses the beauty line of appeal.

Sennheiser ad

Nowadays, women and (to a lesser extent) men are exposed to a large number of advertisements that send the message of how important it is to be beautiful. This repeated exposure to beauty-appeal advertising can have a negative effect on one’s body image and one’s self-esteem.

The beauty line of appeal—with its emphasis on physical perfection—is problematic, but it is made worse in the following anti-littering advertisements. The ad featuring a female model has the word ‘pretty’ highlighted, while the ad with the male model has the word ‘smart’ highlighted. When put side by side, the ads are basically saying men should be smart while women should be pretty.

Poorly conceived anti-littering ad campaign

Beauty appeal advertising often includes a youth line of appeal. The models are often very young and any signs of aging are usually Photoshopped away.

2.2 Youth

The message of youth appeal ads is usually: ‘Our products will make you look younger.

L’Oréal ad (‘Fight 15 signs of Ageing’)

When using the youth appeal, advertisers sometimes adopt a different approach in which the message is: ‘We can help you feel young!

Centrum ad (‘It’s better feeling young on the inside’)

2.3 Natural beauty

The natural beauty line of appeal is a reaction against the flawless, Photoshopped perfection of the beauty appeal.

Starting in 2004, Dove carried out its Real Beauty campaign, with advertisements for its brand of skincare and soap products. The ads featured women of all shapes, sizes and ages. The campaign was a conscious effort to fight against the unreal expectations created by the Beauty line of appeal.

Images from Dove’s Real Beauty campaign

The model Winnie Harlow, who has very obvious skin discolorations has been featured in advertisements such as the following ad for Puma sportswear.

Puma ad featuring Winnie Harlow

This message behind this line of appeal is NOT ‘You should be more beautiful’; Instead it is: ‘You are beautiful, and we understand that, and our product will help you keep looking good just the way you are.

3. Lifestyle & Culture Appeals

These lines of appeal focus on a lifestyle or culture. The implied message is: ‘Using our product is part of a the lifestyle you desire or part of the culture you belong to.’

I’ll introduce some of the more common lifestyle appeals—Prestige, Adventure, Exotic and Fitness appeals—but there are many other kinds of ads that make use of the lifestyle appeal.

For example, this video ad for a Hong Kong apartment complex (The Papillons) uses a lifestyle appeal, with the lifestyle being a very westernized urban yuppie lifestyle—gently cycling on riverside bicycle paths, going to coffee shops and cafés, shopping at bookstores and lounging around on the grass in a town square. Tellingly, almost all of the shots in the video are of Melbourne, Australia (and not of Hong Kong). The name of the apartment complex is a mix of English and French (‘papillons’ is the French word for ‘butterflies’), and song accompanying the video is in English and French, further adding a western flavor to the video.

The video also uses friendship, romance and family appeals, but the main line of appeal being used here is a lifestyle appeal—the message is: ‘Even though you are in a crowded city like Hong Kong, if you live in our apartment complex, you can enjoy the same leisurely lifestyle of a yuppie living in Melbourne, Australia.’

3.1 Prestige (aka snob appeal, status appeal)

Here the focus is on wealth and high social status. The implied message is that even if you are not rich, you can get a taste of that lifestyle by using the product. Wealth and class can be shown in things like activities (e.g., yachting), the models’ clothing, the props (e.g., a luxury car) and/or the choice of model (e.g., a famous rich socialite). Frequently used colors are silver and gold (which are are used to represent wealth) and greys and earthy colors (which are used to represent good taste).

Ad for India’s Golden Chariot rail line (Note the slogan ‘Travel Like Royalty’)
Image from an advertising campaign for Roger Vivier featuring model and socialite Poppy Delevingne

3.2 Adventure

The message behind the adventure line of appeal is: ‘Our product is part of an adventure-based lifestyle, so it is suitable for adventurous people, and even if you are not adventurous now, that potential is there within you and our product might bring it out.’

Toyota ad
Jeep ad (combining the adventure and nature appeals)
Mountain Dew ad (combining the adventure and friendship appeals)
Renault ad (combining the adventure and family appeals)

3.3 Exotic

Related to the adventure appeal is the exotic appeal. The implied message of this appeal is: ‘This product is related to something rather unusual and exotic, so if you buy it, that shows your have wide-ranging and adventurous tastes.’

The exotic appeal is problematic to begin with. What exactly is exotic? The word literally means ‘of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad’ as well as ‘strange in a way that is striking’. However, this idea of ‘foreignness’ and ‘strangeness’ is usually from a Western point of view. Therefore, imagery from Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Pacific islands might be considered ‘exotic’ when it is aimed at Western audiences.

In its most innocent form, this line of appeal makes use of tropical settings and colors, as in the following ads for Banana Boat sunscreen and Dubai travel packages.

Banana Boat ad

Exotic animals can also be used to create an exotic feel. Gucci recently launched an advertising campaign for 2022 (the Year of the Tiger) that features real tigers and tiger-themed clothing. In a previous ad campaign, the company used flamingoes.

Gucci ad for the Year of the Tiger

Unfortunately, the exotic line of appeal can easily lead to imagery that is stereotyped and/or racist. Here is an ad using geisha imagery, but with a white model, to advertise flights to Tokyo.

Air France ad

Even worse is the following ad from Max, a footwear company. The ad features a tiny women wearing a kimono tied up in the shoelaces of a man’s shoe. It is unclear what message the advertiser is trying to send, but it does seem racist.

Max Shoes ad

The exotic appeal was quite common in the past, especially for tobacco products and cosmetics. The following vintage perfume ad is an example of that.

Rigaud vintage ad

When using the exotic line of appeal, it is easy to cross the line into racism, so it has largely fallen out of fashion as an advertising strategy.

3.4 Fitness, health & athleticism

Ads using this line of appeal focus on the product as being part of a lifestyle in which physical fitness and being healthy plays an important part. These ads feature everyday people doing a sport or being active.

Adidas ad
New Balance ad

3.5 Culture

Advertisers sometimes try to market their products to a specific cultural, ethnic or religious group. The advertisers are saying, ‘We value you and understand you, so our products are suitable for you.’ Here is a 1970s ad targeting urban black Americans that combines culture appeal and friendship appeal.

Ad by Tom Burrell (an influential figure in multicultural advertising) for Coca-Cola

The following ad from Burger King targets Muslim consumers during Ramadan. The burger eaten into a crescent moon shape refers to two things:

  1. During Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to eat only at night;
  2. The crescent moon is a symbol of Islam.
Burger King ad (the cleverness of graphics means that this ad is also using a creativity line of appeal)

Both the Burger King ad and the Coca-cola ad are done in a respectful way. If created carelessly, however, advertisements based on the culture appeal can come across as being disrespectful. For example in this ad for YellowPages (a business directory app) in Britain, the text encourages people to find out about a Korean rice dish, but the illustration displays a noodle dish.

Poorly conceived YP ad

3.6 Subculture & anti-subculture

There are many smaller subcultures in society. Subcultures in the West include punk, steampunk, new age, hipster, cosplay, goth and normcore communities. Japanese subcultures include lolita, gyaru and yankee communities. The idea behind the sub-culture appeal is to associate the brand or product with some aspect of the subculture.

Let’s look at punk as an example. Punk has a clear visual aesthetic, clothing style and music, but more importantly (for the advertiser), it is associated with things like rebelliousness, youthfulness and energy.

Eurostar ad

The above ad for the Eurostar rail line does not work well. The advertiser is trying to show how the new railway is changing London. The intended message of the ad is that Eurostar is able to make even a nihilistic hardcore punk believe in the future. However, to get that message, the viewer needs to already know that ‘no future’ was a popular slogan in the late-1970s punk movement.

Image from

Here is a page from 1980s catalogue for punk-style clothing. The design of the catalogue is based on punk music fanzines (i.e., fan-made magazines) from that era.

An advertiser can also take the opposite approach and disassociate the brand/product from a subculture—in this case, the advertiser is saying: ‘You know this group of people? You hate them, right? Oh, we hate them, too! Therefore, our products are suitable for you.’ Here is a clothing retailer criticizing the hipster subculture (and clothing style) in one of its ads.

Carhartt clothing ad

The anti-subculture approach can be problematic because it is (1) based on hatred and (2) focuses on what the product ISN’T as opposed to what it IS.

4. Humor & Creativity Appeals

In ads using humor and/or creativity appeals, the focus is largely on the advertisement itself. The message is that the advertiser, like you, has a sense of humor and the ability to appreciate funny, creative and clever things. Besides sending this message, a successful creative or humorous ad can also attract more attention with eye-catching visuals, and the ad may even end up getting shared on social media.

In the following ad for JBL headphones, there is creativity in the use of the white space in the design to create the shape of headphones, and there is humor in the exaggerated faces of the screaming children and the poor teddy bear.

4.1 Humor

Here is an example of an ad using the humor line of appeal. The following ad from Foster’s, an Australian beer company, is based on a typical friendship appeal ad—one that features a few male friends presumably sitting in front of a television watching a sports match and cheering for their team. However, in this ad, one of the friends is a little different.

Foster’s ad (The kangaroo helps identify Foster’s as an Australian brand)

The following ad for Facebook mocks the fonts, futuristic imagery, graphic design and writing style of 1950s advertising. The retro style is played for laughs, so the main line of appeal being used here is humor.

1950s-style ad for Facebook

4.2 Creativity

The following ad from Heinz uses two main lines of appeal: one is the natural appeal (with the tomatoes and the garden emphasizing the product’s natural ingredients) and the other is the creativity appeal, with the artwork cleverly putting the tomatoes in the form of a bottle.

Heinz ketchup ad (compare to Heinz ad shown earlier in this article)

The above ad calls to mind the fruit-and-vegetable portraits of 16th-century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

Evian’s ‘Baby Me’ commercial effectively made use of creativity, humor and music appeals.

5. Potential/Improvement Appeal

The message of ads using the potential appeal is that the thing being advertised can help you improve as a person and help you realize your potential. This appeal is often used in ads for sportswear.

Asics ad (‘I am made of more today than I was yesterday’)
Nike ad (‘Anticipate Greatness; Find Your Greatness’)
Adidas ad (‘Greater Every Run’)

In the following ad (in which the model is bursting through a wall of water on which the left are words like rage, anxiety and insecurity), the message is: ‘The physical wellbeing that our product can help you attain will lead to emotional and mental strength.’

Asics ad

The potential line of appeal was famously used to by the American military in many of its recruitment campaigns during the 1980s with the slogan ‘Be all you can be’.

US army recruitment ad

Potential appeal is sometimes combined with family appeal in advertising for children’s products (with the following ad even explicitly using the name of the appeal in its text).

Wyeth infant formula ad

Although the beauty line of appeal is also about self-improvement, it only focuses on one narrow aspect—appearance. Ads with the potential line of appeal are more about becoming a better person and reaching your potential.

6. Personal appeals (positive emotions)

These are advertisements that aim to get a positive emotional response from the viewer. The implied message of these ads is: ‘We are a caring company and we share the same values that you do, so if you are thinking about purchasing this thing that we make or are thinking about using this service we provide, well…you might consider us, right?’

6.1 Heartwarming

These are sentimental ads meant to tug at your heartstrings. Thai advertisers seem particularly good at using this line of appeal. Here is an example:

Silence of Love: Ad for Thai Life Insurance

It is difficult to be heartwarming in a single image, so this line of appeal often works best in video ads. The drawback of this line of appeal is that viewers can get so caught up in the heartwarming story that they don’t pay any attention to the company, product or service actually being advertised.

Ripple: Ad for the Singapore Community Chest

6.2 Nostalgia

This line of appeal, in which the advertisement looks fondly back at a time gone by, is often combined with a family or romance appeal.

As mentioned earlier, Solvil and Titus’s watch commercials often use this line of appeal combined with romance appeal. The purpose is to associate their product with a sense of timelessness. Here is one of their ads featuring Chow Yun-fat that leans heavily on feelings of nostalgia.

Solvil & Titus ad

The following ad from Nintendo makes effective use of nostalgia appeal (as well as family appeal and heartwarming appeal). The message here is that the company has been a part of the viewer’s life from childhood to adulthood.

Two Brothers: Nintendo ad

6.3 Empathy

In the empathy line of appeal, the advertisers are trying to show you that, like you, they are concerned for others and try to help others. For example, in the following Pedigree dog food ad, the focus is on the fact that for every purchase you make, the company’s will contribute some of the money to finding homes for stray and abandoned animals. There is a picture of an adorable dog named Echo to arouse your emotions.

Pedigree ad

To further drive home the point, the text touchingly describes how excited Echo is whenever potential adopters appear and how disappointed she is when she is not chosen.

Text from the Pedigree ad

The following is an empathy appeal ad from CARE international.


6.4 Social issues

Advertisers may try to associate the products with various social issues (anti-discrimination, diversity, anti-climate change, environmentalism, women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, etc.). Such ads carry two messages: the first is the message associated with the cause itself (e.g., ‘We all should take care of the environment!’) and the second is the message that the company behind the advertisement shares your values and your concerns.

It is important to note that we are talking about the message the advertiser WANTS to send about its values, not the actual values of the company itself. For example, many oil companies like to present themselves as being concerned about the environment, when in reality their actual business practices are often horrible for the environment. This kind of playacting is known as ‘greenwashing’. For example, in 2019 BP (British Petroleum) ran a series of ads depicting the company as being dedicated to fighting climate change. The campaign was heavily criticized for being misleading.

BP ad
BP ad

Using the social issues line of appeal is a risky advertising strategy. One risk is that viewers may think that the advertiser is being insincere, which is what happened with that BP ad campaign.

A second risk is that the advertiser may anger some its potential customers. For example, Nike’s use of ads featuring Colin Kaepernick—the American football player who popularized the practice of kneeling while the national anthem was being played as a form of protest against racism and police brutality— angered some of those Americans who think the practice is unpatriotic.

Nike ad

Here is an inspiring Nike video ad focusing on the issue of female empowerment in Muslim societies.

Nike ad: What will they say about you?

The above ad is inspiring, but the following ad, a Women’s Day ad from Bic, is awful. The text implies that (1) it is important for a women to look youthful and (2) men are smarter than women.

Poorly conceived Bic ad for Women’s Day

This is the third major risk of the social issues line of appeal: the advertisers may show that they don’t truly understand the cause they say they are supporting.

6.5 Patriotism

Some ads appeal to the viewer’s sense of patriotism. In the following ad from Chevrolet, the text at the top refers to the American Revolution (followed by BEST) and the red bars forming the letter E represent the red stripes on the American flag

Chevrolet Ad

In the next ad, there is already patriotic branding in the product name (Canadian) and the logo (a maple leaf), but this is emphasized even further by the large ‘Made from Canada’ text and the prairie scenery.

Molson Ad

6.6 Cute/kawaii

This line of appeal typically features baby animals, mascots, cartoon characters and/or little kids. Cute things tend to have babyish features (e.g., small size, big eyes, round body) and tend to elicit feelings of amusement (They’re fun!), safety (They’re harmless!) and care (They’re helpless!). Consequently, though the cute line of appeal is especially popular when advertisers are targeting children, it can also work well with adults. For example, the mascot Kumamon features prominently in the tourism advertising of Kumamoto prefecture in Japan. The mascot is used to present the prefecture as a friendly, fun and nature-oriented tourist destination.

Kumamon in his office.
Kumamon products

7. Personal/Emotional Appeals: Negative Emotions

These lines of appeal are similar to those in the previous section in that they aim at getting an emotional response from viewers. However, the emotional responses here are negative ones like fear, shock, guilt and outrage

7.1 Fear

When using the fear line of appeal, the advertiser is trying to tell you that its products or services can protect you from something bad. The ad will show the ‘bad thing’ (e.g., a car crash) happening or about to happen or will show the results of the ‘bad thing’ (e.g., a child waiting alone at home for a parent who was killed in the car crash).

The fear appeal ad is often used by insurance companies. Here is a template that has been used by different small insurance companies (they add their own logos and text to the image).

Life insurance ad template

Fear appeal is quite commonly used in campaigns against drink driving, drug abuse and domestic violence. Here is a fear appeal ad being used in a child car safety campaign:

Child Car Safety Ad

Fear appeal ads can be very negative. For example, the video ‘Break in’ is a fear appeal ad from the Republican Party for the 2020 presidential elections in America (see video: Break in) . It depicts an elderly woman fearing a break-in but not being able to get through to the police while the text informs viewers that the competing candidate, Joe Biden, would reduce police funding if elected. The dark footage, ominous music and strange camera angles create a suspenseful, threatening mood.

Sometimes fear appeal ads cross the line into bigotry and prejudice. The most famous case is the 1988 US presidential campaign ad focusing on a black convicted criminal, Willie Horton (This is the 30-year-old Willie Horton ad everybody is talking about today). Another example of a bigoted fear appeal ad is the full-page ad that was published in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily in 2012 (‘Locust’ Ad Breaks in Apple Daily) in which Mainland immigrants and visitors are described as being locusts who are consuming Hong Kong and its resources. In Britain in 2014, the United Kingdom Independence Party ran this anti-immigrant ad:


7.2 Shock

Shock appeal ads intend to grab the viewer’s attention with shocking visuals. The advertiser’s hope is that the feeling of shock will motivate the viewer to take action. One of the most commonly used kind of shock appeal ad features an image of a sickly, skeletal child accompanied by a request for a donation.

One problem with advertisers using shock appeal is that many viewers may simply not want to see such a shocking image at that time, so they may get put off by the ad.

Here is an relatively mild example of a shock appeal ad from World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The ad aims to persuade you not to buy exotic animal souvenirs when travelling.

WWF ad

When I was working with students on a fundraising project for Operation Smile China (a charity which provides free surgery for children born with cleft palates), I found that the shock approach worked well when (1) the potential donors were warned in advance (in person) that they would see disturbing images and (2) the shock appeal was combined with a solution appeal (e.g., in this case the potential donors could also see the ‘after’ photos of children who had already been treated).

7.3 Guilt

An advertisement using the guilt line of appeal tries to get the viewers to look at their own actions (e.g., wasting food) or lack of action (e.g., simply having a comfortable life and not doing anything to help while others are suffering). Compare the tone of the following ad from UNICEF to the similar (but not-guilt-focused) ad from CARE International that is shown in the empathy section.


Guilt appeal ads may also stress how inexpensive it is to do something such as support a poor child in a developing country and the ad may emphasize how little that amount is compared to what people in your country normally spend on non-essential things.

7.4 Outrage

Ads using the outrage line of appeal try the get the viewer angry enough about something to take action. For example, this ad from Moms Demand Action (an American group that would like to see better gun control laws) points out how ridiculous it is that Kinder chocolate eggs are banned in America for safety reasons (because the toys inside the eggs are considered choking hazards) while many children have access to firearms at home.

Ad from Moms Demand Action (In this ad, image of the classroom in the background has been desaturated to give image a more ominous feel)

8. Rational Appeals

While personal lines of appeal focus on evoking an emotional response, rational lines of appeal try to focus on giving a logical reason why you should prefer a particular product/brand.

The terms ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ are used very loosely here. The reason given in an ad may NOT actually make sense, may NOT be logical and may even be misleading or false; using a rational line of appeal simply means the advertiser is TRYING to present some kind of logical reason.

Many of the following rationales are based on ‘bad logic’, mistakes in reasoning known as logical fallacies (Purdue Writing Lab: Logical Fallacies).

8.1 Solution

This is a straightforward kind of appeal. The message is simply: ‘You have a problem; our product is the solution.’ In the following ad, the top two-thirds of the ad presents the problem (different kinds of allergic reactions) and the bottom third offers the solution (allergy medicines to relieve symptoms).

Activis ad

The following ad from Nike uses this line of appeal in a humorous way. The problem? Your lover has gone away and you are annoyed. The solution? Go for a run (in Nike shoes) and reduce your stress.

Nike ad (‘If something is burning you up, burn it by running’)

8.2 Bandwagon

The implied message of the bandwagon line of appeal is: ‘Our product/brand is popular. If so many people like it, it must be good.’

This way of thinking is a logical fallacy known as the bandwagon fallacy. Just because many people like something, that doesn’t mean it is good. This fallacy is also known as ‘argumentum ad populum’, ‘appeal to common belief’ or ‘appeal to the masses’.

The bandwagon appeal gets its name from the English expression ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ (which means to do something because it is already popular). The Activis allergy medicine ad featured in the previous section also makes use of this line of appeal in the text ‘Switch to New Zealand’s #1 allergy brand’.

Here is an example of a bandwagon appeal ad from Nike.

Nike ad: (‘Loving it is easy. That’s why so many people do.‘)

The ‘billions served’ text at the bottom of much of the signage at McDonald’s is also an example of this kind of appeal.

A McDonald’s sign (‘Billions and Billions Served’)

8.3 Scarcity

Ads using the scarcity line of appeal focus on how rare the product is and/or how it is only available for a limited time. The implied message is that the scarcity makes the product more valuable and therefore worth having. This line of appeal also often plays on your fear of possibly missing out on something because you were too late

However, unlike naturally scarce things like diamonds or gold, the products being advertised are usually deliberately made scarce or made to appear scarce by the advertiser.

McDonald’s frequently uses this line of appeal, with some products—like McRibs—only being served a few weeks during the year.

McDonald’s ad

Starbucks uses a similar strategy with seasonal and holiday-related drinks that are only available for a short time.

Starbucks’ ad

Besides limiting the availability of products, companies can also limit the availability of special prices. For example, to encourage shopping, many American stores offer discounts on ‘Black Friday’ (the first Friday after Thanksgiving).

Black Friday ad from Carter’s

Another form of this line of appeal is to say that the stock of something is almost sold out. This combines scarcity appeal (‘There’s almost none left!) with bandwagon appeal (‘It’s so popular!’) and fear appeal (‘If you don’t act now, you might lose out!’).

Boothstock Festival ad (‘Last Tickets; 81% Sold Out!)

8.4 Value for Money

This line of appeal has a straightforward message: ‘If you buy this product, you are getting good quality for the prices.’ The following two ads, for example, explicitly stress ‘value’ in the text of the advertisement.

Subway ad (‘Every Day Value Meal. What can $5.90 get you?’)

Sylvan ad (‘Value for Money; We are always concerned about your hard earned money!)

8.5 Authority (aka expert)

Ads using the authority line of appeal rely on an ‘expert’. The message is: ‘This expert says our product is good; therefore, it must be good.’

This way of thinking is a logical fallacy known as ‘appeal to authority’, ‘appeal from authority or ‘argumentum ab auctoritate’. It is a logical fallacy because the opinion of one person does not mean much. For example, television personality Dr. Oz (Mehmet Oz) is regularly used in advertisements for homeopathic cures; however, he has been heavily criticized by scientists and other doctors for his anti-science views (Dr. Oz Shouldn’t Be a Senator—or a Doctor).

Weightloss ad

Statistics are sometimes involved in the authority appeal (e.g., ‘9 out of 10 dentists recommend….’), but the main point is that the people referred to are experts in their field. For example, dentists are considered experts in oral hygiene.

Colgate ad (‘#1 Toothpaste Recommended by Dentists and Hygienists’)

In the past, cigarette ads often featured dentists or doctors recommending various brands. Once people became more aware of the dangers of smoking, they realized that all those ads were incredibly misleading.

Old Viceroy ad
Old Camels ad (‘More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette’)
Luckies cigarette ad (‘20,679 Physicians say Luckies are less irritating. Your throat protection against irritation against cough.‘)

Nowadays, the most effective use of the authority line of appeal is probably in the use of top athletes to promote sports brands. One would expect that a star basketball player like Michael Jordan, for example, would know a lot about basketball shoes.

Nike ad for Air Jordan shoes

8.6 Statistics

Ads using this line of appeal rely on statistics to persuade you that the product is not just of high quality, but also that this quality can be proven scientifically.

The following advertisement shows the statistics line of appeal being used in a clever way. The company’s products—popchips—and other kinds of potato chips are stacked up to create a bar chart to show that its products are lower in calories (so you can eat more of them!).

Popchips ad

This ad for Burger King implies that the new fries are relatively healthy because they have 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories.

Burger King ad (‘40% Less Fat’ 30% Less Calories’)

However a few things have been left out of the ad:

  • It doesn’t say if the portions that were compared were the same size
  • It doesn’t say how much fat or how many calories there are now (just that there has been a decrease)
  • It doesn’t say what they are comparing it to (40% less fat than what?).

The problem with using statistics in this way is that the statistics may not really reflect reality. Those Burger King fries may still be very high in fat and calories.

In the following ad, there is a claim that 9 out of 10 dentists recommend Sensodyne toothpaste. In the previous section, there is a Colgate ad saying that it is the brand most recommended by dentists. How can both claims be true?

Sensodyne ad (9 out of 10 Dentists Recommend Sensodyne Toothpaste)

The reliability of statistics depends greatly on how the advertiser gather the data. For example, if you ask ten dentists ‘Do you think people should brush their teeth without using toothpaste or should they brush their teeth with Teethwhite toothpaste?’, and you get nine of them to choose the latter option, you can say, ‘9 out of 10 dentists recommend Teethwhite toothpaste.’

Misuse of scientific-looking statistics in advertising has long been a problem. The tobacco industry, for example, for many years paid scientists to produce research that would show that smoking was relatively harmless and even beneficial in some ways (Contesting the Science of Smoking).

8.7 Celebrity endorsement

This is somewhat similar to the authority line of appeal, but the selling point is the famous person that is endorsing the product or brand. For example, here is a skincare ad featuring singer Justin Bieber (early on his career).

Proactive ad

One of the most successful celebrity endorsements is the George Foreman grill. The cooking appliance is even named after the famous retired boxer, and Foreman himself regularly participates in advertising campaigns. The slogan of the George Foreman grill—It’s so good I put my name on it!—basically sums up the implied message of this line of appeal:

George Foreman promoting the George Foreman Grill

When a celebrity like Michael Jordan appears in basketball shoe advertisements, that would be authority appeal combined with celebrity endorsement appeal, but if he appears in an ad for McDonalds, that would mainly be celebrity endorsement appeal (as he is an athlete, not a food expert). The following ad for McDonalds features Michael Jordan and is a combination of celebrity endorsement appeal, social issues appeal, empathy appeal and humor appeal.

McDonald’s ad

8.8 Testimony

A testimonial ad features a seemingly ordinary person describing how good the advertised product or service is. The implied message is: ‘This person is an ordinary person and is someone who is just like you. He/she likes our product, so you should like it, too.’ The main idea is that advertiser is trying to make its product more relatable.

California Closets ad

The following ad for Microsoft Office 2010 is a testimonial from someone who who creates testimonial videos.

Microsoft Office ad

This way of thinking—using one person’s example to prove a point—is a logical fallacy known as argument from anecdote. Just because one person had a good or bad experience, it doesn’t mean that such experiences are common.

Another issue with testimony appeal ads is that quite often the person giving the testimonial is just an actor reading from a script. Do Jennifer (California Closets) and Melissa (Microsoft Office) really exist? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. If they do exist, are they the people in the photos? Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t.

8.9 Technical (Customer Expertise)

Ads using the technical line of appeal focus on giving technical descriptions of specifications and or functions.

There are two main messages in this line of appeal.

  • The obvious message is: ‘As you can see from this information, our product is good.’
  • The implied message is ‘We are similar. We both have expertise and know what we are talking about when it comes to this kind of product. We respect your expertise!’ For people without the technical knowlege to understand the jargon in the ad, that message becomes ‘Hey, we know what we are doing. Trust us!’

Here is a classic ad from Zenith watches with descriptions of each function of one of its watches.

Zenith ad

Here is a more up-to-date example of an ad with this line of appeal.

Steelseries Headphones ad
Detail view

Sportswear ads also sometimes make use of this line of appeal.

Asics ad

8.10 Heritage/tradition

Some ads focus on how long the company has been around or how they still keep doing things the traditional way. The idea behind this line of appeal is that if something has existed for such a long time, it must be good.

This way of thinking is a logical fallacy known as ‘appeal to tradition’ or ‘argumentum ad antiquitatem’. Just because something is a tradition, that doesn’t mean that it MUST be good.

This line of appeal seems to be becoming less common, with few companies going all out in emphasizing how old they are. When advertisers do introduce the heritage line of appeal, it tends to be more subtle. For example, this ad for the men’s fragrance Fougère Royale, a fragrance which was first produced in 1882 by Houbigant, only mentions in very small font the date the year the perfume house was established (1775) and the slogan ‘Be seduced by tradition’.

Houbigant ad (‘Be seduced by tradition’)

In the following ad for Creed’s Bois du Portugal cologne, the product’s label includes the tagline ‘From father to son since 1760’ in English and French. The slogan refers to the company’s long tradition as a family-run business (it was opened by 1760 by James Henry Creed and is now run by Oliver Creed and his son Erwin Creed), but it can also had a second meaning—the product itself is something that can be passed from generation to generation (i.e., the family line of appeal). The tree trunk is used to show the the forest-like scent of the fragrance (i.e., nature line of appeal).

Ad for Creed’s Bois Du Portugal cologne
Detail view

Similarly, the advertisements for Hong Kong sauce manufacturer Lee Kum Kee, don’t play up the company’s long tradition, but their heritage is apparent in many of the designs related to the company’s branding (e.g., web banners and product labels).

Lee Kum Kee web banner (‘Your companion for superb taste and quality through the centuries’)
Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce label (with an old-fashioned graphic and the text ‘since 1888’)

Here is a tourism ad for Italy that emphasizes the country’s historic art and architecture.

Visit Italy ad

Some heritage appeal ads focus on the founders, owners or long-time employees. This can give the appeal a more personal touch. For example, the clothing company Columbia was founded by Paul Lamfrom, and his daughter Gert (featured in the ad below) was president of the company and then chairperson of the board of directors from 1970 to 2019. The text of the following ad explains that Gert ‘transformed Columbia sportswear and the entire outdoor industry’ and even at the age of 93 is still actively involved in the company’s operations—she is a part of the company’s long tradition.

Columbia ad

Ads for Levi’s jeans used to focus on the brands origins manufacturing and supplying durable clothes to cowboys in the American west in the 19th century (as in the 1960s ad shown below), but the company does not seem to use this line of appeal anymore.

1960s Levi’s ad (‘America’s Finest Overall Since 1850’)

8.11 Modern, Novel & Futuristic

Ads using this line of appeal emphasize how new, up-to-date, modern or futuristic the product is.

In the iPhone ad shown below, the graphics emphasize the product’s sleek design. The black background and the planet-like image on the phones’ screens give it a futuristic outer space feel.

iPhone ad

Here is an ad campaign by the Tai Hing restaurant chain in Hong Kong that really goes for the futuristic look. The results are a little odd because some of the imagery is reminiscent of dystopian movies like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and also because Tai Hing restaurants are very basic and traditional restaurants. The intended message seems to be: ‘No matter how wildly crazy hi-tech the world becomes, we will always be there for you‘.

Tai Hing ad
Tai Hing video ad

The following ad for Banrisul, a Brazilian bank. also uses dystopian sci-fi imagery (with the terminator-like hand holding a bank credit card).

Banrisul ad

The modern/futuristic appeal has been popular for a long time. For example, here is an ad for the 1952 Oldsmobile automobile.

Oldsmobile ad

8.12 Durability

The durability line of appeal is straightforward. Ads using this line of appeal stress how long-lasting the product it. This implies that the product is of good quality and is good value for the money (so it is related to the value-for-money line of appeal). Duracell and Energizer both use this line of appeal, and both have frequently used bunny toys to demonstrate the durability of their batteries. Here is one of Duracell’s ads:

1979 Duracell ad

9. Nature

In this line of appeal, the advertiser tries to tie the product to nature. There are all kinds of associations that nature imagery can bring: healthy, clean, fresh, environmentally friendly, down to earth, peaceful and, of course, natural. The advertiser is looking to connect the product with some of those associations.

For example, air fresheners ads often feature nature imagery to show how clean and fresh and ‘natural’ they can make your home smell. In the the following ad for Glade air freshener, in which living room furniture is in the middle of a lavender field, the imagery can also represent the scent of the product.

Glade ad

The nature line of appeal can come across as being insincere if it is used in products that aren’t very natural and/or that are bad for the environment. For example, drinking Coca-Cola is not good for the environment (Not all cans and bottles are recycled, and manufacturing and transportation processes cause pollution) and most of its ingredients (caramel color, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, caffeine) are heavily processed and/or artificially produced. Therefore, if a Coca-Cola advertisement leans heavily into the nature line of appeal, as in the following example, the ad is not going to fool anyone.

Coca-Cola Life ad (The main difference between Coca-Cola Life and regular Coca-Cola is that instead of using high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, the Life brand uses cane sugar and stevia extract)

10. Other Lines of Appeal: Brand Appeal, Music Appeal, Comparison Appeal, Plain

Here are four additional lines of appeal:

10.1 Brand Appeal

In this line of appeal, the advertiser tries to get a consumer to buy a product or use its services simply because of its brand. For example, in some Apple advertisements the message is simply: ‘Buy this Apple product because it is an Apple product’. However, this kind of strategy is only possible because Apple has already built up its brand identity over decades of advertising using other forms of appeal (e.g., lifestyle appeal, modern appeal, humor appeal etc.).

10.2 Music Appeal

In some ads, the advertiser tries to associate the brand with a specific song. The purpose may be to associate the brand with a musician (celebrity appeal), lifestyle or culture (lifestyle & culture appeals), message (social issue appeal) and/or emotion (personal appeal). A good example of how music can amplify the emotions and messages in an ad is the use of Bob Seger’s song Like a Rock in Chrevrolet commercials (1992 Truck Commercial). The Apple ad featuring Jet’s song ‘Are you gonna be my girl’ (Apple Ad) is another famous use of music in advertising. In this ad, the music is used to give the ad (and brand) a high-energy, youthful feel.

10.3 Comparison

I would argue that ‘comparison’ is a format rather than a line of appeal, but the comparison appeal is mentioned in several lists of lines of appeal, so I will include it here. The comparison approach involves directly comparing a product or brand to its competition. This is a format that uses statistics appeal, authority appeal, technical appeal and/or testimony appeal to make its point. Two famous ad campaigns that make use of the comparison approach are from Pepsi (The Pepsi Challenge) and Apple vs Microsoft ads (Mac or PC?). Here is an example of a comparison ad that focuses on the technical line of appeal.

Samsung Galaxy ad

10.4 Plain (i.e., no appeal)

These are ads that simply show the product (and might include a short description and/or the price). For example, a restaurant owner may display an ad outside the restaurant that merely shows the food without any attempt to attach any sort of personal or rational appeal to it. The ad is simply saying: ‘This is the food you can eat in our restaurant.’

However, there is one kind of personal appeal that can be related to this ‘plain’ approach. Advertisers can use a plain advertisement to try to send the message: ‘Hey, we know that you’re the kind of person that doesn’t like being manipulated. We get it; we’re just like you. And we don’t like manipulating people either, so here is a plain ad for you!’

Even the simplest of ads can have underlying messages!


Let’s round things up with a few points:

  • There are many different lines of appeal.
  • Lines of appeal CAN be abused, with advertisers attempting to manipulate your emotions or mislead you.
  • A single ad may combine a few different kinds of appeal.
  • Lines of appeal can go in and out of fashion.
  • Some lines of appeal naturally go better with certain products, services or situations.
  • The effectiveness of an advertisement may be affected by the line of appeal used, but other factors are also important. A poorly thought-out, unoriginal and poorly executed ad won’t work well no matter what line is appeal is used.

Further reading

Your Feedback

Did I leave any lines of appeal out? Can you think of an ad campaign that makes great use of a particular line of appeal? Let me know in the comments below.

~ by longzijun


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