When talking about advertising, most people, such as Jack Solomon, tend to think of it as a medium used by advertisers to “manipulate” people. In his work “Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising,” Solomon bashes advertising campaigns as “exercises in behavior modification” rather than “sources of product information” (402). Although a large number of advertisements do indeed exploit human desire to cajole people into trusting them or buying their goods or services, there is at least one exception in this sugarcoated industry—the Public Service Advertisement (PSA). The “Liking isn’t Helping” ad series is a powerful example of such exception created by Publicis Singapore for a “Christian disaster relief organization” (Justina 2-3) called Crisis Relief Singapore. It is a nonprofit organization consists of volunteers that aims to help those suffering from terrible situations. The advertisement series captures three real black-and-white pictures depicting heartbreaking scenes of afflicted children which appeals to the audience’s emotion. Then, it ironically surrounds these scenes with hands giving thumbs-ups, blatantly pointing out the brutal reality that “liking” on Facebook does not help these desperate children at all. By highlighting the absurdity of such behavior and relating it to some people’s behaviors in daily life, the advertisement achieves its ultimate purpose to encourage people to stop being internet philanthropists and enter the real world and actively participate in volunteer work that could truly help those in need.
Nowadays, people become increasingly overwhelmed by the flood of technology and social media that they sometimes alienate themselves from reality. As a result, when hearing about disasters happening in the real world on the internet such as Facebook, these people often wrinkle their brows, give it a “thumbs-up”, and then just scroll down to the next post. Most of the time, such indifferent behaviors are judged by others as immoral. However, I think these people are actually being deceived by their own “virtual reality” that they believe simply by clicking the “like” button, they can somehow help to improve the life of those in distress. In fact, the same mental process has been perceived by economic researchers when analyzing the behaviors of bankers in New York City. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely claims that New York City bankers are more likely to cheat than other people around the world, not because they are “worse people”, but simply because “the nature of their work” (Lehrer 00:04:55-00:05:20). In other words, New York bankers live in a society where most transactions are done through symbolic money online. These virtual transactions make it easier for people to be “dishonest and still think of themselves as being honest. [Therefore, we cannot] appeal to moral compass to guide them.” (Lehrer 00:05:20-00:05:40) Similarly, the same statement can be applied to those netizens mentioned earlier. By clicking the “like” button, they feel like their guilt has been alleviated and they are not as cruel as they appear to be. The purpose of this advertisement is to target these people, bring them out of their self-deception, and help them to realize the importance of physical volunteering and real dedication. With the clever use of kairos, Publicis Singapore seizes the opportune moment to address these social issues and misperceptions that are prevalent in our daily lives.
The first image of this advertisement depicts a boy dying in the arm of his mother. The boy’s body is covered with blood and his limbs are relaxed. His mouth is half open as if he is trying to say something but cannot, so he just stares hopelessly at his mother with his glassy and dilated eyes. We cannot see the facial expression of his mother but can imagine her despair from her lonely and desolate silhouette and her left hand which is holding her sons face like the most precious thing in the world. This image strongly appeals to the emotion of every person since family has always been the softest and most sensitive subject of most people. We are either the children of our parents or a parent ourselves. Therefore, we could easily sympathize with the mother and feel her despair caused by the loss of her beloved son. The advertiser effectively utilizes pathos to strike the conscience of the audience and make them feel morally-obligated to take actions to help.
The second image shows a village attacked by a big flood. A girl is desperately grabbing a branch with water already rising up to her thigh. The third image is an infant who has just lost his left leg in the earthquake and is lying alone on the hospital bed. Both the girl and the infant from the two images look helplessly into the crowd, seeking assistance. But ironically, the people just stand there and give them thumbs-ups. Even though this exaggerates human cruelty in real life situations, it does reveal the indifference of many people to some extent, especially when encountering these situations online. Here, the advertiser used children as his subject for all three images. This is because children are the most vulnerable group of people and can easily evoke the audience’s desire to protect. By showing people authentic pictures directly taken from the real world, Publicis Singapore also wields ethos to make its advertisement more credible and persuasive to the audience.
When analyzing the captions, we can see a clear phrase near the middle of the image, which reads: “Liking isn’t Helping.” This is the main topic of the advertisement which directly points out the uselessness of liking on social media. Furthermore, if you observe carefully, you can see a line of tiny characters in the lower left corner, which writes: “Be a Volunteer. Change a Life.” This is the connotative meaning of the advertisement. By extending beyond its perceivable images, the caption employs logos to imply the purpose of this advertisement, which is to persuade netizens to leave their laptops and smartphones, go out to the real world, and truly participate in physical volunteering or community service to help those disadvantaged people and try to bring them out of their current difficult situations.
Overall, “Liking isn’t Helping” provides convincing evidence in the form of real press images, incorporates various rhetorical devices such as kairos, pathos, ethos, and logos into its topic and purpose, and weaves them smoothly together through the use of captions. By incorporating these rhetorical elements together, Publicis Singapore has crafted a well-rounded advertisement for the Crisis Relief Singapore organization, which targets the general public, especially the netizens, to encourage them to support the reconstruction and improvement of disaster-affected areas with not only pious intentions, but also practical actions.
Publicis, Singapore. Advertisement. Crisis Relief Singapore. 2013. Print.
Solomon, Jack. “Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising.” The Sighs of Our Time. The Putnam Publishing Group, 1988. 401-413. Print.