What Is Rational Appeal in Advertising?

What Is Rational Appeal in Advertising?
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Advertising messages are intended to persuade a target audience to buy a product or service, but other goals include increasing brand awareness and creating favorable attitudes toward a product or its maker. Persuasive messages generally rely on either emotional or rational appeals. Emotional appeals target the customer's heart, while rational appeals go for the brain using logic and reasoning.

Rational vs. Emotional

A rational appeal in advertising means more emphasis is placed on providing factual information and specific details about product benefits. A household cleaning product ad might show the product in use and then offer an explanation of how it cleans twice as well as competing brands and costs less. The same product could be promoted with a more emotional appeal that emphasizes the ease of cleaning, the hassle-free experience and the environmental benefits it offers.


Advertising in general is much more data driven in the early 21st century. This means companies are spending more time collecting and analyzing industry research and company data. The goal is to deliver messages that most align what research shows will impact customers. Rational appeals tend to turn market data into a more straightforward message that appeals to the intelligent reasoning of the customer. A toothbrush ad that claims "four out of five dentists recommend" the product appeals to your ability to reason that if dentists believe in the product, so should you.


Customers tend to put more time and effort into making informed decisions when purchases are more involving. Big ticket items, those intended for long-term use, and other products of personal importance are all more involving than routine, everyday items like shampoo and milk. A December 2010 article from marketing agency DMN3 indicated that rational appeals typically have more influence on big ticket purchases. Companies still use emotion in messages, but customers need to see more facts and sound, logical reasons to buy when they put more time into their decisions.

Success Rates

Scientific studies that compare success of rational appeals to emotional ones are very difficult to set up. DMN3 cited a British study of 1,400 advertising campaigns that indicated emotional appeals tend to have more persuasive abilities by a 2-to-1 ratio. The same study showed that messages that combined elements of both rational and emotional appeals work more effectively than those using only logic. In general, though, offering some rational appeal to a customer making a tough decision can help him justify a purchase in his own mind.