We’re out to change the world. For this assignment, our aim shifts from classmates, instructors, blogs, or approvals and turns toward the world around us. We look outside of class not for examples, but for an audience. For this assignment, start thinking of how you can influence society.
In class on Tuesday, I suggested that a PSA has a few distinguishing characteristics, namely that a PSA is:
- designed to influence public behavior for broad social benefit,
- aimed at behavior, not profit, and
- based on values, but not preachy.
That last item — the values inherent in a PSA — creates a challenging rhetorical situation. Those who create PSA campaigns must understand the values of the campaign and those of the audience, then determine how to align the two. For this assignment, examine the differences between your values and those of the audience you wish to reach. Keep in mind the behavior you wish to change. Why would the members of your audience perform their current behaviors? What value system would cause them to want to change that behavior?
We’ve talked a lot (almost too much) about logos, ethos, pathos, and kairos. I hope you’ve seen that there’s more to rhetoric than those four components. Using rhetoric successfully requires skill, attention, and a degree of artistic/stylistic flair. For this assignment, feel free to touch on the appeals, but treat them as a starting point, not a goal. If you identify ways in which you will use appeals, explain why your solutions work for the audience you selected. What about your appeal to pathos matches the expectations of your audience members? How does your audience perceive your ethos, and how will you manage that perception? What form do appeals to logos take in your audience’s world?
Answering that last question requires more than a passing awareness of the group you’re targeting. The kinds of arguments made by one group will fall flat in another. For a few examples off the top of my head:
- Citing Pope Francis holds little sway over decisions of Protestants, just as citing passages from the New Testament will not sway the decisions of Jews.
- Asserting that a process can be accomplished with a small number of clicks rarely influences a Windows user, just as commenting on hardware configurability rarely influences a Mac user.
- Explaining interface simplicity rarely appeals to the priorities of an Android user, just as explaining customization of software rarely appeals to the priorities of an iOS user.
- The growl of an engine rarely impresses an EV driver, just as fuel economy rarely concerns muscle-car enthusiasts.
Let’s look at that last example in a bit more detail.
Appealing to Oppositional Audiences
First, so you know where I’m coming from, I’m probably the biggest Tesla nerd at Saint Leo. Previously, I owned a VW Beetle. My transportation priorities are, shall we say, distinctive.
If you wanted to get me interested in a high-performance vehicle, how would you do that? I likely don’t value performance as much as folks who drive classic cars with big engines. Ford took a shot at it.
If I wanted to get a stereotypical “tough guy” interested in an EV, how would I do that? That person likely thinks little of electric motors and equates them to golf carts. Tesla gave it a try.
Now, looking at the products themselves is one thing. It’s obvious they’re designed for different people. But once you get past that, examine the design and rhetoric of the websites. Look at the colors used, the imagery included, heck, look at the page URLs. How do the two manufacturers make their claims? Both car companies have significant reputations. How do they leverage those reputations in their respective appeals to ethos? Those questions dive deeper than simply identifying ethos/logos/pathos/kairos. Answering those questions gets at the subtle artistry of rhetoric.
By now, you’ve created a rhetorical situation for yourself. You know who you want to reach and what you want to encourage them to do. Now look at the details. What does your audience expect — of their behaviors, their trusted informants, their arguments, their aesthetics? What does your audience need? How will your proposed behavior help them meet those needs? What values does your intended audience hold, and how will you uphold and demonstrate them? Those questions help ensure your PSA will be effective.
This assignment requires little writing but lots of thinking. Write a memo to Friend proposing a Public Service Announcement about an issue of importance to you. Include in your proposal an analysis of the needs and expectations of the audience you wish to reach. Convince me that your PSA makes sense and will effectively change your audience’s behavior.