“Do you struggle with acne? Have you tried everything?” “For a limited time offer we will be offering our product for $29.99 and we will add a free gift!” This type of scenario is very similar to how the acne solution Proactiv company advertises on television. This has made Proactiv very successful over past years, trying to grab the attention of individuals with this very problem. In recent years, however, they have made a slight change in their advertising techniques. They now use many celebrities to promote the products to the public which has caused an even greater success for Proactiv than before. What in particular caused the public to love these products more when the celebrities were involved? With the use of Keith Grant-Davie’s essay, “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents,” I will rhetorically analyze the Proactiv commercial starring well-known singer, Katy Perry. I will begin with the history of Proactiv as well as how advertising for their acne products began.
Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields met over 20 years ago while they were both at Stanford University. They kept in touch over the years and as they both built on their own private practices, they noticed more and more people coming to them with acne. On the Canadian Proactiv website, Dr. Fields explains more about what the patients were actually saying about their acne, “The thing is, they didn’t call it acne. They called it there breakouts or blemishes, but it was blackheads and whiteheads.” She goes on to say that they weren’t only seeing young adult patients, but patients of all ages; even up to their 40s. At that point in time, Rodan and Fields decided to get together and create Proactive. They wanted a solution to the acne problem, not just what most over-the-counter treatments offered, which was only something that solved the symptoms. After five years of developing, the Proactiv Solution was born.
According to Liz Hull in her news article, “’Miracle’ Spot Cure Beloved by U.S. Celebs Set to Cause a Storm When it Goes on Sale at Boots this Week,” since the creation of this product, Proactiv has had over 15 million customers in 60 countries. These huge numbers may be caused by some of the celebrities that advertise for the company; Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and Avril Lavigne (Hull). Hull’s article points out survey facts about the UK women population such as that “more than half of UK women over 30 struggle with spots or blemishes, while as many as 14 per cent are diagnosed with acne.” She goes on to explain that over 1,000 UK women tested Proactiv as an eight week trial and “a staggering 88 per cent said they had less spots and 86 per cent said they had a clearer complexion-some in less than two weeks.” Are success stories enough information to conclude that the product is almost selling itself? Or is the success of selling the product dependent on the use of celebrity advertising?
If success is not because of the celebrities, why would Proactiv choose to spend so much money on this marketing? In Kate Lunau’s article, “Pretty Valuable Faces: How Spending Million to Reveal Celebrities’ Pimple Problems has Turned Proactiv into an International Bestseller,” she states that “Proactiv spends up to $15 million a year on celebrity endorsements,..” and made about $800 million in revenue in 2010. The decision by Drs. Rodan and Fields to use the infomercials is actually a well thought out plan. They were determined to use the half-hour infomercial to create a deeper connection with the public (Guthy-Renker). In 1995 the first featured celebrity, mostly known by her role as Angela on Who’s the Boss, Judith Light made other stars realize that the public actually liked the feeling that these famous people had the same issues that they did (Lunau).
How did this advertising technique work, you might ask? It is actually pretty simple. As described by Grant-Davie, there are many factors that play in a rhetorical situation, or in this case, an advertisement. First and foremost, there must be what is called discourse. This is basically a communication that tries to get people to do something, like get rid of your acne. You also need the rhetors who tell the public about their product or idea. This leads to an audience who must hear and want to listen to the rhetor(s). Lastly, the communication between the audience and the rhetor probably has some sort of restraint, good or bad. All of these factors play into the overall idea of communicating with other people no matter what you are trying to inform others of (Grant-Davie 106-11).
Discourse communities are everywhere; if we are talking, texting, in a sport, on social media, in an academic club, etc. we are participating in some sort of discourse community. Proactiv has defined a community all on the fact that everyone has acne or knows someone with acne. It has capitalized on the idea that acne needs a solution and not just a one-time treatment when it is too late. They have successfully taken their audience and discussed with them that lots of people have the same problems; celebrities have acne just like the general public. We all suffer through difficult times that our bodies go through. The exigence is the most interesting part in this analysis. As described by Grant-Davie, exigence is “The matter and motivation of the discourse” (106). This is the most important because this is what gets people to buy Proactiv.
All of the Proactiv commercials attempt to connect with the viewers. However, the ones with the celebrities do the most with connection. When we see famous people on television, sometimes we become encapsulated in what they are saying and doing. We do not think that some of these celebrities, like Katy Perry, actually struggle with confidence issues because of acne. These infomercials are just long enough to convince us that “Oh, this celebrity uses this product and says it really works. It boosted her confidence, so I should try it too!” This is exactly how Proactiv maximized profits; even though they paid many millions in endorsement deals, the revenue was greater.
In addition to the Proactiv advertisements being a rhetorical situation, it also has the four modes of persuasion. First, ethos, or the credibility of the work, is used with the actual celebrity (him/her)self. We want to believe that person who we trust in and wish to be like in certain ways. Pathos, or emotional appeal is why something might affect us with our emotions. We become one with the celebrity when we hear that we have similar problems and can fix them with the same products they used. The logos, or logical appeal, tell us that the price is affordable, and if it works for the stars, it just might work for me. Lastly, the timeliness of the advertisement, or kairos, is perfect.
When dealing with ethos and advertising with celebrities, the rhetor has to be very careful. It needs to really be credible to have a success like Proactiv. In our example of Katy Perry, not only is she a celebrity, but she actually looks credible; her hair is fixed very nice, and she confesses that she actually was not that confident before using Proactiv. If Katy Perry was not a credible person, Proactiv would not use her in the commercial to advertise their product.
In the commercial you see that before Proactiv, Katy Perry was not as happy, she had a lot of acne, she was not very confident in herself etc. and after, she is glowing with radiance and extremely proud of her skin. This is an example of how an advertisement can appeal to you emotionally, or pathos. The commercial helps portray this to the audience by using darker colors and lights for the before pictures and videos and then using calm colors that are also very bright. It reflects the mood that Proactiv wants you to feel. They are bringing you on an emotional ride of before and after. Before, we are sad, depressed, embarrassed, etc and after, we are vibrant, happy, and confident. Along with the celebrity credibility, we have the real success story. You can actually see Katy Perry’s before and after pictures and know that this product really works.
As far as the logos is concerned, there are a few examples within the Katy Perry Proactiv commercial. First, she has her own proof to show the audience that Proactiv really works with her own before and after pictures. Further, the price is not a celebrity price; it is a price that a person on a normal salary can afford. This is logical for the audience because the commercial proves that the product works and the price is affordable. The audience might think, “It works AND is affordable?! Wow, I need to order me some!”
Considering the time period is crucial when using a particular celebrity in an advertisement. Katy Perry is one of the well-known singers of this generation. The people who will want to be like Kary Perry and try what she is using are in there early adult lives. This makes her a perfect candidate for a Proactiv commercial. If it would have been someone from years ago that only the older generation know about, it would not have been successful because it did not give the appeal to the younger audience. In the same way, you would want to use someone that an elder could relate to when advertising for an electric wheel chair. It all depends on the generation and what you wish to accomplish your goal.
Selling tactics are used all the time. Whatever makes a product sell is the best strategy for a product. The developers of Proactiv made a decision years ago to use infomercials as their selling technique. As you can see, this has been a tremendously smart decision for the company. The discourse involves all of the rhetorical devices that are described by Grant-Davie, all of the modes of persuasion, and has proven success without a doubt. Celebrities are people that the public look up to and always want what they have. If something is affordable, proven to work, and a celebrity uses it, it has to be successful.
Grant-Davie, Keith. “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents.” Writing About Writing.Ed. Elizabeth Wardle & Doug Downs. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2011. 101-19. Print.
Hull, Liz. “’Miracle’ Spot Cure Beloved by U.S. Celebs Set to Cause a Storm When it Goes on Sale at Boots this Week.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers Ltd., 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 7 February 2014.
Lunau, Kate. “Pretty Valuable Faces: How Spending Million to Reveal Celebrities’ Pimple Problems has Turned Proactiv into an International Bestseller.” Maclean’s 124.1 (2011): 42-45. EBSCO HOST. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.