Rhetorical Strategies in Complained-About Offensive Ads: Pathos in Non-Profit Advertising

Kristina Auxtova

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Shocking and offensive advertising tactics are increasingly adopted by public and non-profit organizations across the world in order to break through the advertising clutter by attracting attention through breaking social norms. While these tactics have been shown to be more tolerated when used for a good cause or social issue, the ethicality of their use remains debated. The effectiveness of such appeals has been widely studied; however, little is known about how the emotion of offence is created or what persuasive strategies are deployed within the ads themselves. This study presents a rhetorical analysis of offensive advertisements by specifically exploring the classical Aristotelian rhetorical appeals and the rhetorical figures applied. It draws on a rich archive of advertisements from the not-for-profit sector that generated complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority UK on the basis of offence during a period of six years (2009 – 2015). This paper illustrates the rhetorical analysis approach on one specific ad – ‘Barrier’ by Children’s Hearings Scotland. While appeal to logos is little used in the complained-about ads, pathos and ethos are found to be of particular value in understanding the persuasive power of such offensive ads. Multiple appeals to emotion – pathos – are often observed through different characters present in the ad highlighting the complexity of emotional appeals. Ethos is found to be implicitly present in the ads as all non-profit organizations demonstrate their moral character by working towards social betterment. By analysing rhetorical strategies in complained-about offensive ads, this study contributes to our understanding of actual offence in advertising and introduces an innovative method that encompasses both visual and verbal rhetorical strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVanilla, shock and entertainment - marketing in the era of emotions
Subtitle of host publication17th International Congress on Public and Nonprofit Marketing
EditorsElvira Bolat, Julie Robson, Kaouther Kooli
Place of PublicationBournemouth, UK
PublisherBournemouth University
Number of pages1
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78926-644-3
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event17th International Congress on Public & Nonprofit Marketing Conference Proceedings: Vanilla, shock and entretainment - marketing in the era of emotions - Bournemouth, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Sept 20188 Sept 2018


Conference17th International Congress on Public & Nonprofit Marketing Conference Proceedings
Abbreviated titleIAPNM
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Rhetorical Analysis
  • offensive advertising
  • Aristotle
  • rhetorical figure
  • complaint


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